I was briefly in Dublin recently, a city I love and have subconsciously avoided for an entire decade, perhaps because I had a lengthy relationship once end in Connolly station, like some kind of mutated Woody Allen film (I did pick up a vinyl copy of Live at Folsolm Prison that same day so it wasn’t entirely heartbreaking). Anyways, while there this time, I got drunk, wrote down a much-too-sinister Harold Pinter-esque dialogue I overheard in a dank Northside bar, walked along the moonlit Liffey and visited the wonderful Irish Museum of Modern Art, the result of which are the following three reviews. I could write about how ludicrously-underrated these female artists are (I’m a George Carlin kind of feminist) but that would be an insult in itself. Just go see their work; the following is at best an introduction,
“A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not opened,” as Freud, the Surrealists’ unwilling patron saint, once wrote. The domesticated skull and crossbones engraving, the upside-down eyeless reflection and the aged azure ghoul, as well as the title of A Warning to Mother (1973), seem to invite Freudian interpretation. Carrington’s paintings are more interesting and evasive though than textbook psychoanalysis. A much less-quoted Freud line is worth recalling: “In classic paintings, I look for the subconscious – in a Surrealist painting, for the conscious.” Carrington’s supposed secrets could well be games or ruses left for those who underestimate her, or even to undermine the assumptions of armchair psychiatrists. Looking closer at the ghoul, it is possible to see the figure as a representation of reason with a wristwatch, miniature pylon and telegraph wires embedded in its skull, bursting crooked and accusingly into the phantasmagoria, almost the way an art critic might.
In David Eagleman’s series of thought experiments, Sum, the writer and neuroscientist proposes variations of the afterlife. In one, he suggests: “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” For many artists, fuelled by ambition and ego, the third death may be as terrifying as the first and the question of legacy must certainly cross every artist’s mind at some point. In this quietly triumphant exhibition by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, curated by Cloé Pitiot of the Pompidou Centre, there is a reference to how awareness of the extraordinary work of Eileen Gray (1879-1976) had “fallen almost entirely into oblivion”. How could such an innovative artist have almost been lost to us?
“We inhabit the megalopolis only to the extent that we declare it uninhabitable,” Jean-François Lyotard wrote in The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. “Otherwise we are just lodged there.” It is a view that The Myth of Progress seems to confirm. Yet there is a commendably subversive streak in Lidén’s art that defies the pessimism that might accompany such a perspective. With its focus on liminal urban settings, her photographic series within the exhibition suggests that we have built environments around us where paradoxically humans do not fit. In Bowery (2012), a figure has climbed on to a street sign at an intersection; recalling the ghosts of the medieval damned said to be trapped for all eternity at crossroads. Rather than lapse into purgatorial despair, however, Lidén demonstrates that we can resist through small imaginative acts of revolt, or at least express our alienation. She does this with real humour; raising the question with Column Monkey (2013), if this is a concrete jungle, then why not approach it as a simian would? For all the comic effect, there is a distinct note of danger in the photographs. A person who ascended dilapidated structures or descended into manholes (Down, 2011) would soon incur public ridicule and the attention of the authorities, as well as the possibility of coming to physical harm. We may live in the city but we are forbidden from truly exploring it; bringing us back to Lyotard’s very pertinent distinction.