Dáithí Magner in Crowded Thresholds, National Design & Craft Gallery, Kilkenny.
While viewing Dáithí Magner’s work at the National Design and Craft Gallery, I was drawn to certain pieces that seemed to evolve beyond architectural designs to become living creatures. The form of 00-09, in particular, was almost person-like: a triangular house for its base, wings on either side, chair legs below, and two facing discs on top. When looking past the silhouette of this creature, seeing in detail all of its features, we are presented with a discomforting sight. Its wings soaked in thick black oil, feathers sticking together, it is restrained to the earth and consequently to depravity. Moving upwards from the wings, we see that the neck is wrapped in barbed wire; its mouth is cracked wide open, in perpetual agony. Rows of metal rods jut outward from its exposed gums. This is the sight of divinity corrupted. Similarly, 00-17 is restrained. The sculpture is of a quadruped creature resembling a horse with a serpent’s head. This eccentric creature wears flamboyantly patterned tights, red stiletto heels — and rosary-bead shackles around its ankles.
These hybrid building-creatures offer windows into their thoughts and emotions: each room is a chamber of the heart, and in them thorn bushes grow. The absence of inhabitants adds to the melancholia of these pieces. The traces of lives once lived within still linger in the personal belongings, the photographs hanging on the walls. Those photographs were taken to preserve a moment after it had passed, to relive its joy over and over, but now they have been stripped of this purpose and serve only to make the absence of those missing all the more palpable. What has caused their departure? Is it the abandonment of traditions, certain ways of life? The abandonment of religious practice?
The constructions that behave not as creatures, but as buildings, similarly carry a recognition of a changing Ireland: an Ireland of gentrification, rising housing costs, and homelessness. What we typically associate with a home, stability and security, Magner contrasts with precariousness and vulnerability. Concrete rests on stilts. This sense of instability suggests another possible cause for the abandonment of these buildings – forced displacement.
Despite recognising the confining nature of tradition, Magner seems to harbor nostalgia for days gone by, and laments that their remains are forgotten, even invaded and abused, by the present. Like Magner’s constructions, our society stands upon antique cabriole legs. If our negligence allows them to rot, we are certain to tumble.