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AN IRISH TIMES REVIEW of  a  Kathlyn O'Brien exhibition from 1996 can be found hovering like a UFO in the cornerless corridors of the Internet. No author of the piece is given. No images of the exhibition are shared. No location of the exhibition is noted – just the isolated breadcrumb that it was "O'Brien's first solo in Ireland".



The Times established a website of sorts in 1994. But this short-and-curly review looks like it was retrospectively and hastily added with the whispered addendum – 'fuck it, who's gona read the arts column anyway!' With its missing punctuation and gap-toothed adjectives it reads sometimes like a stream of consciousness that Jack Kerouac might be proud of:



An uncomfortably angular pram, makes a swimming pool, in which sharks patrol in green jelly a doctor's bag ruptures to release a spluttering, bronzed alien presence a curtain of cooking utensils hides three tiny dolls a bush of metal hair is hung, like the most unnatural of Christmas trees, with tiny glass eyes. None of the pieces has an individual title, so that each opens onto the next and the entire group sets up an endless circulation of tarnished nostalgia, half forgotten images and buried shacks.



Although accidental, I can only imagine the anonymous art critic's style complimenting the content and form of O'Brien's onreiric splashes in the gallery. So much so that I wished I had been there to experience the 1990’s Kathlyn O'Brien relative to the present-day Kathlyn O'Brien currently on show at Dublin's Kevin Kavanagh Gallery.



If you go on the critic's words alone – as I am here – a lot of growing up and maturing on the part of O'Brien's art has taken place in the 20-years interim. At Kevin Kavanagh there's no sign of "green jelly", "tiny dolls", or "Christmas trees". That said, a deep-seated Father Time and Father Freud still seem to lurk behind the shapes and shaping of O'Brien's art.



Surrounded by the artist’s repurposed and tinkered-with readymades I did feel at first that I had walked into an auction house in the middle of the night, switched on a violent light, and BAM! – the garden rake is found wearing the closet's six-inch heels. Whether votive or funerary, fetish or dreamcatcher, O'Brien's gallery furniture comes across as too personal to procure – some objects are on a first name basis (Monica, Eamonn, Frank) – and too sealed-in in the 'making of' to emotionally or conceptually enter. Others I feel are too dusty with the tropes of Time to ply with new memories (Pendulum, Happy Birthday). Adorned by past lives they are to be adored at a respectful distance.


However, we could look at this another way.


O'Brien offers up tastefully crafted and centred sculptures that are less high-heeled dreams and more waking memories that are kept in subjective check by the rigidity of the readymade. Taste is a big thing here too. The installation ventures into the museological and tasteful displays of Ydessa Hendeles, but without the curatorial freedom. But at times I found myself wishing for O’Brien’s subjectivity of yesteryear as told by the Times critic, when sharks patrolled in a pram with green jelly (But that could've been just the critic's Kung Foo talking).



Although O'Brien comes across as more maker than dreamer at Kevin Kavanagh, as we all know there’s a gulf that separates the dream experienced and the dream remembered, never mind redescribed or remade. In a manner of speaking the dream emerges from us like life's evolutionary sequence, from primordial mudbank to weightless moonwalk. Crudely put, dreams are dumb things in translation; words never do them justice, and images invariably get the melting clock treatment. Further, the line between dream or memory and its manifestation as an objet d'art is tenuously tricky, with visual clichés at every turn.



Oddly, on the gallery website an artwork called The Dinner Party is pictured but is not included in the exhibition at Kevin Kavanagh. Like the 1996 Times review I became enamored with this missing object because it offered the prospect of violence in an installation that is primarily submissive. The Dinner Party also links to something ‘extra’ that was written in the press release about O'Brien being under the radar and further, being untroubled by the flotsam and jetsam of artworld trends. This gratuity in a press release harks of bottled-up scepticism if not cynicism. No issue there! But The Dinner Party says it much better. With its burnished-blue cabinet and underbelly of knives it violently serves up a glut of imaginings that involve the facilitators of the flotsam and jetsam getting served something cold. Take your pick: steel, revenge, or just desserts.



If O'Brien's work from 1996 awakened the child in the aforementioned and anonymous critic, then for this critic the artist’s current show at Kevin Kavanagh is about submitting to Time with the hope that an ocean without sharks lies beyond. Failing that, let's hope the pendulum stops swinging sometime soon.


[James Merrigan]


Through February 11.

2. 2. 2017.

UFO