Big foot is the first of a number of collaborations between the RHA and Monster Truck Gallery and Studios. The RHA has closed for renovations and its doors will be shut for ten months. During this time the RHA will be offering its services in regard to administration, marketing, financial management, etc, to the directors of Monster Truck, artists Peter Prendergast and Colm Mac Athlaoich. Big foot was the launch exhibition of the RHA and Monster Truck venture.
The exhibition gets it name from a variety of different avenues; mainly the basis is that the building where Monster Truck stands was at one point a record store – subsequently the prints are all 12″ x 12″. There are also other references that allude to the Monster Truck name in itself, the big wheeled truck of the ’80s and ‘Monster Truck / RHA’s big foot in the right direction for 2008!’  These explanations seem rather superfluous. Big foot features the work of 68 artists, all of whom have previously shown in either group or solo shows in Monster Truck. The mediums covered are vast: illustration, photography, painting, video installations, sculpture, pencil, print, digital construction, etc, and all are kept within the 1ft-square restriction.
|Big foot (selection of works) , 2008 ; courtesy Monster Truck|
With so many works, in such as variety of approachs, there is a lot to take in, but this also leads to a quick judgment (perhaps unfairly) of the pieces as there is so much to contend with. Each piece is priced at a uniform 250 euro. The eclecticism of the works on the display, though, results in an exhibition with an abundance of vitality. The exhibition as a whole delivers mixed results, and that can be contributed to a number of factors. A small amount of work seems to have been created specifically for Big foot and these are the most successful pieces. Others have simply submitted a piece of work and adapted it (often not very successfully) to the 1ft x 1ft format, and it is these pieces that let the exhibition down. One feels that with a little more time spent curating and editing the show, the standard would have been higher.
The exhibition offers up some more classical approaches, namely the works of Michelle Considine, Elena Duff, Julia MacConville and Leonie McMeel; these are ironically hung together and form a grid pattern in their own right. Photography is featured quite strongly, but the quality of the printing and mounting often let the pieces down; Barry Lynch’s Hybrid is a prime example of this. The image is wonderfully evocative and presents us with a landscape akin to the silhouetted oil wells in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There will be blood (what Lynch has depicted here is a farm’s wind pump) and is rich in atmosphere. The printing of the image is so poor, though, that the wonderful textures and contrasts that one knows this image does contain are not apparent and the mounting lets it down further; double-sided tape running along the inner edge of the image, attaching it to foam board, distorts the thin paper on which the image is printed. This is unfortunate as the image had great potential and it therefore becomes difficult to justify the 250-euro price tag it carries with it.
|Big foot (selection of works, clockwise from; Raoul Empey, Amanda Elena Conrad, Alan Butler, James Early, Michelle Considine, Elena Duff, Leonie McMeel, Julia MacConville, Deirdre Byrne, Fiona Chambers, Louise Ward, Siofra Stack) , 2008 ; courtesy Monster Truck|
Other photographic pieces worth mentioning are Richard Gilligan’s Insomnia – Untitled 1 and Amanda Elena Conrad’s Untitled. Gilligan’s photograph depicts the view through slanted venetian blinds onto the street beyond and creates, in the most simplistic of methods, a frame within a frame. The light is murky and there is a dominance of hot yellows and solid blacks; it lends itself well to the movie-still aesthetic. This image is reminiscent of Thomas Demand’s Fenster (window) but Gilligan’s image carries with it a great degree of atmosphere and suspense. Conrad’s piece is a photograph of Stephen’s Green taken from the shopping centre. It displays the entrance to the park, the top of Grafton Street and the people coming and going between the two spaces. She has scratched into the photograph, revealing the pure white paper below the surface of the c-type print. It is the outline of the individuals that Conrad has revealed. She then goes on to connect some of them as though they were tethered to one another by string. Conrad has created a link between these strangers who walk the streets unaware of each other, and the work is successful in both aesthetic and approach. Christian Reeves is worth mentioning for his candid photograph of a man on a horse entitled, That’s Dan Patch aka ‘The Wild One’, he came second in the Moy ‘King of the Road’ trap race last year in Belfast.
There are two video installations on display, Joan Healy’s Mass aerobics and Amy Walsh’s Are we compiling a list of the next best flavours of the year? (Philippe Vergne in ‘Ice Cream’, Phaidon, 2007). Both are projected onto the wall as a 1ft x 1ft screen size, thus keeping to the dimensions of the other pieces at Big foot. Mass aerobics is quite simply that; shot from a low angle, it is a speeded-up loop of the rituals of old women at church – the aerobics is presented to us by the variation of sitting, standing and kneeling at church. Walsh’s piece displays a phantasmagoria of colour that consists of an ice-cream sundae as it spins rapidly on a turntable.
Illustration is well represented and two pieces that have responded with great success to the brief take on this form. Clare Henderson’s Our short lives is a delicate pencil drawing of a teenage girl, standing awkwardly, hands in her pockets, head tilted looking down at the ground. It is mounted behind the inner (aged) sleeve of a record cover, the hollowed central circle acting as a frame to the scene. Hand writing, again in pencil, on the the sleeve reads; Our short lives are, after all, the tiniest instants in the progress of time. And on and on it goes… The fragility of the inner sleeve reflects the emotion so subtly drawn. Johnny Fitzsimons’ Untitled is an array of intricate and conflicting scenes. Fitzsimons too has used the record insert as his canvas (but uses a differnet kind with square corners and the solid, complete side). Combining pencil and acrylic, Fitzsimon’s presents us with parallel utopian and dystopian worlds, one filled with rainbows and robots on strike as they march on a picket line. The right-hand side is taken up by an illustration of a man looking through a microscope at a diminutive man perched on the microscope’s edge. The elements work well together in this piece and the eye travels over every inch of the page.
|Big foot (selection of works, clockwise from; Caroline McNulty, Peter Prendergast, Colm Mac Athlaoich, Jonathan Mayhew, Justin Larkin) , 2008 ; courtesy Monster Truck|
Big foot has approximatly twenty paintings on display (there are also mixed media based pieces that incorporate painting). Geraldine Lane’s graphic piece Traffic lights by number is precisely that, a painting by numbers. A bizarrely mundane image of a set of traffic lights with an imposing building as backdrop is painted with the limited and flat colours of a painting-by-numbers set; the objects maintain a strong black outline and the number for each colour is visible through the paint. Colm Mac Athlaoich’s La plage préfère les blondes is in equal mesures sultry and surreal. It depicts a ’50s pin-up blonde bending forward from the hip, resting her weight on an open umbrella. Her body is painted with all the sassiness one would expect of a pin-up, the back arched, the pointed toe, the swim suit all present but the face is missing. The strong green background appears where the face should and only the shape of the hair and strong red lips give it form. The umbrella’s body too is missing and the background too takes its place. The importance placed on the body as object seems to be explored here using the template of the ’50s pin-up as the quintessential idea of faceless beauty.
Other noteworthy pieces are Aileen Murphy’s quirky Shes pregnant and will marry the dog and Peter Prendergast’s two pieces, A street car named desire #1 and A street car named desire #2 that are graphic and minimal in their approach. Aisling Conroy’s print Never trust a hare aches of nostalgia, from the flock wallpaper acting as a frame to the classic train that forms the focal point. It is a print of few elements and succeeds as a result. A bleeding heart is placed in the left of frame, giving room for a chair and a cartoon-like depiction of trees blowing in the wind; across the centre reads: I looked out the window and it was gone .
|Big foot (selection of works, clockwise from; Brian Coldrick, Bennie Reilly, Rayne Booth, Peter O’Gara) , 2008 ; courtesy Monster Truck|
But there are those that don’t work, and whilst these do not ruin the show they do leave a slightly bitter aftertaste. The reason for this being the apparent lack of effort and thought gone into the piece. In the case of a few, it is apparent that archives of works were raided. Two photographic pieces, Lisa Boyd’s Untitled and Allyson Keehan’s Venetian mask and peacock’s feather in Georgian House are examples of this; they started life as portrait format images and the artist has simply placed black lines on either side to conform to the 1ft x 1ft restriction.
Monster Truck is a much-needed gallery in this city and the RHA stamp of approval will give credence to the work done there. Both establishments will benefit from this venture and it is good to see that what Monster Truck has striven to achieve has not been compromised from this venture. It is hard to see the RHA’s involvement, apart from the heightened publicity of the show, which must be attributed to the services provided to Monster Truck by the RHA. Whilst I appreciate and welcome the ‘rough and ready’ approach of Monster Truck (this is also a requirement due to the quick turnover of shows there, with them lasting only a number of days), this does not excuse some of the shoddy printing and mounting of some of the work. Big foot, with its connection to the RHA, will get the message of the Monster Truck ideology to those it previously may not have reached and as a whole it was an interesting, if not necessarily thought-provoking exhibition that will aid in further establishing the brand of Monster Truck.
Laura McGovern is a photographer practising in Dublin.
1 Big Foot press release