Friday, September 06, 2013

"Death Drive" - Galway Arts Centre, 06 SEPT 2013

I've been meaning to update this blog with more of the stuff I jot down to myself - reviews, books etc. This is an experimental stab at writing up a group show review I went to see this evening with mostly my first impressions. I don't know if I'll leave this here or dump it when I read it again tomorrow - any unjustified superlatives and/or insulting tones (sub-latives?) should be politely pointed at in the comments section and I'll respond to them. They may just be the result of talking (almost) straight off the top of my head.

"All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music" - Walter Pater

To continue the metaphor, a group show is like a compilation album. Some are good, some bad and some you wonder why those Artists were picked to be together on that CD that came free with the newspaper. "Death Drive", running in the Galway Arts Centre from 07th September to October 5th is quite good. Theming is important in these types of shows, both in the work the Artists put in and in how they are curated to flow together as you move around the exhibition space. The staff of the GAC know the building of the Arts Centre intimately and know how to structure your experience of a show. It feels like the just-right order for the works organised, to the point of it being hard to imagine them set to a different "playlist".

The exhibition theme comes from the Freudian theory of the "Death Drive" and the artists were asked to consider trauma and traumatic memories and the idea that we subconsciously enact and re-enact our anxieties concerning our fear and attraction towards becoming inanimate/dead in the pieces for the exhibition. Specific attention is drawn to Melanie Klein's theories on the Death Drive in disturbed children in the exhibition literature, which emerges here and there throughout the space.

Over-arching themes serve to unite any exhibition for its temporary assemblage from its parts, and can be more or less successful. The theme here, which could easily have become heavy handed or literal, is treated with a light touch and can be ignored or brought back into your mind as you walk through the space, which is appealing. It's easy in front of an interesting piece to forget the main theme temporarily and just enjoy it, or to look down through the exhibition space and see it in light of the "Death Drive" lens while watching other attendees interact with the area. Attendees tend to enact and re-enact the same behaviours, making them seem part of the curation themselves.

Light plays a big part of the experience. Siobhan McGibbon's work in the front room, small glass-enclosed sculptural work made of human nail clippings, is exciting to view with the sunlight streaming through the window, making the material translucent and ethereal. It makes for a great opening "track" that really draws you in and sets you up for the mood to come. Her other work, punctuated through the show, feature wax, human hair and model trees. That work is less delicate than the nail clipping pieces, but still feel thematically linked through the translucency you expect of wax and the visceral feeling from the human parts used.

Siobhan McGibbon - Photo from GAC on Facebook

The first of Maximillian Le Cain video works come next, Areas of Sympathy, which brings the tempo up with its disparity between pace and stillness, weird interruptions of lo-fi personal footage between slices of old films and sci-fi. His work feels like Aphex Twin, stuttering but repetitious, beating along with its own logic. It felt like channel-hopping between MST3K and Youtube, and I found it really transfixing and oddly affecting.

Vanessa Donoso Lopez's work, which you find yourself walking into as you ascend the stairs, is a powerful middle section to the playlist. Poppy with a dark twist (and situated in a dark room), the kinetic assemblages and weird Rube Goldberg devices spin and act while fans blow, spinning and lifting, and lights shine through the pieces and into the audience, reaching out and almost inviting you to play. Certainly the piece that evokes the Klein's theory the most, it feels like children's play, but the individual parts are all too delicate, too creepy to be only objects of delight. There's a hint of discomfort, of childhood nightmare, in the glitchy, sporadic movement imparted by the assembly of magnets, motors and fans in the dark. Very inventive and experimental.

Stine Marie Jacobsen's Vinyl-printed wall mount forms a nice counterpoint, a text piece to consider after the emotional resonance of Lopez' in the previous room. Formed about a humorous anecdote about early portrait photography, it weaves memory and the fallibility of the human psyche together very entertainingly. It's a nice counterpoint to the pieces by McGibbon that are around about it. It may also have been my least favourite of the works - I enjoyed it, but I could certainly imagine myself skipping it on hypothetical future playthroughs.

Just to finish torturing my metaphor, LeCain's piece "Point of Departure" makes a great end-cap on the tour, slow and meaningful. It's that last thoughtful (or even a little sad) track on the compilation that gives you either a good end point to the experience or a moment to decide to start again from the beginning. More narrative than his other pieces in the exhibit, it is still recognisably the work of the same person. Quite excellent.

There's more pieces than I briefly discussed here, well organised with each flowing into the next. The surrounds of the Arts Centre makes for a good space to experience this work in. Maybe to correct my metaphor, the show ends up feeling more like a well-crafted mixtape - more personal - than a commercial compilation album.

"Death Drive" runs from the 07th of September to the 05th of October.
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