We spent the last few days making a quick break for the city with a trip to Dublin. When you live in the middle of the Burren, it’s very necessary to spend a little time in more populated areas every once in a while. When I first moved to the Burren I nearly despised cities, but now I really appreciate all they have to offer. There’s greater diversity in all things when you’re in a city—food, people, art, entertainment, shopping, men. Though I love my simple life in Ballyvaughan, I appreciate the buzz and bustle of a new scene every so often.
We left on Thursday morning and began the weekend with a visit to the IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) to see the work of photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and painter Mary Swanzy. Both exhibitions provided a large selection of each artist’s work. I always enjoy retrospective exhibitions. They give a glimpse of the distinct moments and phases within an artist’s life. There is such energy in seeing work that’s been created over decades.
Swanzy’s work ranged from very traditional portraits to compositions clearly influenced by Cubism, Surrealism, and Futurism. She is an Irish-born and educated artist who lived from 1882-1978. At the start of the exhibition there were two portraits Swanzy had made of her neice and nephew. Along with the portraits a note on the wall described her loving relationship with those members of her family. She insisted on them calling her Uncle Mary, claiming they already had enough aunts. It was hard to decide which work or body of work within the exhibition I enjoyed the most. I really Swanzy’s paintings depicting her travels in Hawaii and Samoa. She showed people engaged in their daily activities without sexualizing them in ways many other traveling artists did at the time, particularly male artists. It was clear Swanzy was a feminist, fighting for equality for all. Through her paintings it’s clear she lived a full and joyous life, she lived consciously and with intent…before it was trendy.
Wolfgang Tillmans is a German artist who lives and works in Berlin and London. His work at the exhibition in IMMA was titled Rebuilding the Future. I was particularly impressed by the range of mediums and topics Tillmans uses in his photography practice. His work is moving, emotional, playful, and has an aesthetic excellence without gaudy frames or special effects. I was particularly moved by three parts of the exhibition. The first is a photograph of a man in child’s pose juxtaposed with a naked man in the same pose. I liked the vulnerability and exposure created by the combination of the images. The next piece that really stuck with me was several images of refugees in a camp which protected Ugandan homosexuals. In Uganda, it is a crime penalized with a life sentence if you are found to be gay. I feel ignorant for not knowing this terrible fact. Reading the descriptions that shared the fear and sadness felt by the individuals made my heart sink into my stomach. I am grateful when artists bring social issues to light, it creates a responsibility of viewers to be aware of the injustices of the world and hopefully work towards changing them. The last part of the exhibition I wanted to share with you brought tears to my eyes. I rarely get emotional over artwork, but I think these words hit in a time of my life when anything involving the politics of the United States makes me reflexively upset. On a wall which displayed many pictures and words involving time, I read “Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech was 27 years prior to 1990. 27 years past 1990, Donald J Trump was sworn in as the President of the United States.” Tillmans imposes no clear judgement with the statement. For me, these words send a message of alert—alert to consider what we as Americans have deemed acceptable in our leadership and social atmosphere. In nearly 60 years, what positive improvements have we made? Are we headed in the right direction? Maybe it’s time we do a society-wide reflection on our country’s past in order to move in a positive future direction.
Moving on from the heavier topics, on Thursday evening Mark Francis had an exhibition opening that we attended at the Kerlin Gallery, titled White Light. His paintings were large, simple, shiny, and elegant. There were many people filling the opening with their bodies and voices. A wide range of ages could be seen discussing and appreciating Francis’s work with wine in hand. Some may call Francis’s work simple. Though they are aesthetically minimal, Francis creates them with complex meaning.
Francis describes his process: “As a starting point, I visualize the universe being made up of a loosely structured grid where order and chaos can reside. As the work develops, this quickly gets lost or moves aside in the painting process. I like to visualize the paintings as the photographic moment capturing the birth and death of invisible energy.” According to one of the women who helps run the gallery, Francis makes these paintings by coating the canvas with a colored layer of acrylic paint, dripping white oil paint in vertical stripes across it, and then making larger pools of the white oil paint that he fans out with a brush. The paintings were well-crafted and fit the space well. Seeing them on opening night and sharing in the excitement of a new body of work was a special gift.
After a clumsy night of attempted sleep, I went for a morning run around Dublin before heading to the LAB gallery to see Marielle MacLeman’s exhibition: In Course of Rearrangement. Marielle came to the Burren College of Art last year to give an artist talk and I lucked out with some one-on-one time with her in my studio, not only is she a fabulous artist, she’s a generous and lovely person. Her new work at the LAB gallery displays her wide range of interests and influences. It also shows her versatility in working with many different mediums. She’s unafraid to experiment and explore. This body of work involves MacLeman’s interest in economics, the wool industry, a newly constructed park in Dublin, grass, constructivism, plants, and differing perspectives. I am not going to do it justice with the description I can provide, her work is incredibly layered and not shy of complexity. In some of the images below you can see her sculptures and works on paper. This body of work revolves around her research that seemed to begin with the building of Weaver Park which opened in October of 2017. Many of MacLeman’s sculptures allude to its construction. During construction, the site was surrounded by a black netting. A Chinese plant called Buddleja davidii grew on the netting and MacLeman used this plant to dye the wool for the rug and some of the decorative parts of her netted sculptures. In one of the photographs below, you can see the different dyes she made on the wool and her handwritten descriptions. In visiting this exhibition, I learned that the majority of wool produced in Ireland is exported to China because farmers are unable to profit on the product internally. The works on paper that Marielle created for the exhibition are created from the first cut of grass taken from Weaver Park. She asked the park maintenance to save the cut for her and then used the bags of freshly cut grass to press into paper. Combined with goldleaf, these images are striking. They reminisce on a constructivist ideal, though appear modern. I’d love to hang a few in my future home.
After a wonderful experience at the LAB gallery, I headed over to the Fire Station Artists’ Studios. Having not done my research, I assumed they had a gallery space and rung the bell to see the gallery (which is nonexistent). Luckily, I was greeted warmly by John Beattie, a film artist who works there part time while pursuing a practice-based PhD. John kindly showed me around the space—let me tell you it is an artist’s dream! They receive the majority of their funding from the arts council and welcome artists and curators to stay and work onsite. Artist residencies are subsidized and last 2 years and 9 months. The artists can choose between small, medium, and large living and working spaces. I got to sneak a peak through the window of one. John began his time at the fire station artist studios as a resident. He told me that all the artists are there to get work done and it’s a pretty get-to-business type of environment. Having curators around helps develop a pretty healthy ecosystem for artists of all stages in their practice to thrive. In addition to everything they do for their artists and curators in residence, they also run workshops and allow outside artists to use their facilities for a small subsidized fee.
With a perfect morning behind me, I met up with some of the girls at the Winding Staircase, a fabulous bookshop on the River Liffey. My stomach began to rumble, so Kaitlynn and I decided to try Falafel, a small Mediterranean restaurant near Temple Bar. I feasted on a 5 euro steal of an Iranian style falafel wrap. It was fresh, flavorful, and delicious. With plenty of sustenance, we headed to the Royal Hibernian Academy for more art.
The RHA was showing the work of Amanda Doran, Orla McHardy, and Brian Eno. Doran’s work was in the gallery on the ground floor. Her paintings were playful and painted with childlike skill. I enjoyed the movement and vibrancy of her work. I felt empowered standing in her room filled with women of all shapes, goofily depicted. Doran’s work “considers what it means to be a woman at a time when the feminine is being redefined by generation Y, social media, self-care advocates and well-being advocates.” I have an affinity for the narrative behind her paintings, and I also enjoyed the titles of her work. Two of my favorite titles were: Love Above all Else and All is Fair in the Garden of Love and Equality. For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a bit of a hippie and Doran, I think you’re my long lost sister.
Orla McHardy and Brian Eno’s work were in the gallery spaces upstairs. McHardy’s work is a mixed bag of sculpture, video, and animation. Her work is curious and lacks a clarity of intent in my opinion, but I am not disinterested in it. It’s enjoyable and elicits more questions than answers. Across the hall in Brian Eno’s space, I felt like I was entering a new world. He installed trunks of trees lit with a golden hue and piles of what looked like sand, which were also colored with light. The center of the installed “forest” was a kaleidoscopic image, which continuously changed. Ambient music created by Eno played throughout the space. His work exists in the space as an immersive experience of meditative reflection.
With a very full day behind us, Kaitlynn and I mustered up the energy to head to a bar for a Salsa dancing lesson and to our surprise, multiple men showed up for the event! We expected to be among an overwhelming majority of women, I guess Dubliners are a little more into dancing than your typical American boy. There were a little less than two women per man, so we got to dance with partners for the majority of the evening. We learned a basic set of moves in an hour and had a blast! We would have stayed around after for a beer with some of the Italian men who swept us off our feet with their dance skills, but instead we met Morgan and Katie for some Thai food…priorities people.
When we arrived back at the hostel on Friday night, we were all exhausted. A poor night’s sleep and nearly 18 miles of walking definitely called for a good slumber ahead. The accommodation that felt less-than-satisfactory with noise and light disruptions the night before suddenly became a perfect oasis. I slept like a princess, and I don’t think there was a toss or turn between the four of us.
Saturday morning began with another run around the city. I spent more time running by the river than the previous morning, maybe I was missing the Atlantic coast in Ballyvaughan. For some reason running near water makes the experience significantly more pleasant. When I got back to the hostel, I got ready, ate breakfast, packed up, and met the group in the lobby for a morning of gallery tours. We began at the Kerlin Gallery, but since we’d just been there for the opening, we didn’t spend too long. Still, it was nice to see Francis’s paintings without the crowds of people.
After finishing at Kerlin, we walked over to Trinity College’s campus for an exhibition at the Douglas Hyde, one of my favorite galleries in Dublin. They always select really interesting artists to show work and they allow the artist to choose another artist to show work in a smaller gallery space, just off the main exhibition area. It’s intriguing to see who the artists choose to show alongside. Right now, the main artist is Jumana Manna. Manna is a Palestinian artist who works with both film and sculpture to explore interactions between power and the human body. Her feature length film was shown in the gallery along with her roughly constructed sculptures. Though we didn’t stay for the duration of the film, I was impressed by the beautiful cinematography. I photographed a few of the images that came across the screen, which you can see below. Manna chose Haig Aivazian to show in the smaller gallery during her exhibition. Aivazian displayed a series of five wooden sculptures. These sculptures hold an underlying narratives of fire, violence, monumentality, politics and the Olympic games. In creating these sculptures, Aivazian was “exploring the layering of violence that occurs in the passing of the torch, both literal and metaphorical, from term to term in the four year increments that make up both the presidential and Olympic cycles.”
With only a few hours left in Dublin, we made our way to the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. They were showing Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s solo exhibition, Inscriptions of an Immense Theatre. The exhibition included works on paper, sculpture, and film. I was most impressed by her film. The film was created to seem surreal and it combined multiple shots within any one frame. I particularly liked the images where a small animal was placed sitting in an unusual environment, yet content in the midst of the unfamiliar.
Just next door to the Temple Bar is the Library Project. In the small space, they packed the work of four artists to create an exhibition titled Some Concrete Possibilities. The artists, Cara Farnan, Garreth Joyce, Helen MacMahon, and Lee Welch, are all based in Dublin. Their work collectively “looks at the role of chance and the different ways in which it impacts and influences the development of the artwork.” All of the work felt explorative in its own right, but I was most intrigued by MacMahon’s work, Interface. It was a grid of lenses hung on the window of the gallery. It turned the people of the street upside down and reflected colors in an interesting way.
As our energy for taking in more art faded, we ended our tour at the Gallery of Photography. Let me tell you, it was worthy of the grand finale! They showed the work of several international photographers who each decided to highlight aspects of normal life of individuals, some with the intent of highlighting global issues. It forced the viewers to question what we deem acceptable and also notice aspects of the everyday. These photographs filled me with feeling and made me proud to be a part of the art world. Below, you can see the work of Michael Wolf, Richard Mosse, Mandy Barker, Benny Lam, and Saskia Groneberg. More fabulous work is on the walls at the Gallery of Photography, but I feel the work of these artists were most pressing to share. Wolf’s work, titled Tokyo Compression, were three portraits of individuals pressed against the glass of subway doors on their commute. According to the image description, the only affordable housing is hours away from the city center and this train station, Shinjuku Station, “is used by an average of 3.64 million people per day.” I am not a huge fan of tight spaces and can’t imagine having no choice but to sardine myself into a subway car every morning just to maintain a living. Mosse presented a couple of large black and white photographs he calls Heat Maps. They are documentation of European refugee camps and migrant staging sites. Mosse used a thermal camera to detect the body heat of the individual people and created these images from almost 1,000 smaller photographs. Each of the works has shocking power, even at a glance.
Barker’s work looks like scientific studies of specimen, but in reality, the images are created from small pieces of plastic she’s found to appear like microscopic samples of organisms. Barker names each of these plastic pieces “scientific names” and hides the letters of the word “plastic” in their titles.
Lam’s Subdivided Flats shows three living spaces in Hong Kong. These small rooms provide just enough space for a sleeping area and room to pile storage. Can you imagine living in a 40 square foot box? You’d be living on top of your bed, all of your daily activities within reach. It’s pretty crazy to think about the reality of that circumstance. How much space does an individual need to comfortably live?
The final work that I wanted to share is Groneberg’s Büropflanze (Office Plants). With these eight black and white photographs, Groneberg shows several different office plants. She photographs them almost as if they are portraits, each seems to have a character of its own. They are beautiful and humorous at the same time—a great reflection of life itself.
With plenty of inspiration to bring back to the studio, we wrapped up our three days in Dublin and headed back to the Burren. I snagged a few persimmons at the Moore Street Market on the way out of Dublin. Looking forward to having them as morning treats this week with my overnight oatmeal. Now that I am back in the Burren, life feels quiet but comforting. When we arrived back last night, we realized our oil had run out over the weekend. Unfortunately, that means we’re hanging out without heat until more oil can be delivered. Instead of ruminating on the discomfort brought on by the cold, we all made hot water bottles for our beds. It’s amazing what a steamy sack of water can do for the soul! Hope you all have a restful Sunday and a great week ahead. Thanks for reading.