When first confronted with the recent art work by musician Jim White (whose exhibition, Deep fried ephemera, is currently on show in the smaller exhibition space [Gallery 2] of the Douglas Hyde Gallery at Trinity College), I found it difficult to suppress the notion that it was somehow inexorably connected to the concept of the curiosity cabinet, in that the viewer is subjected to an array of disparate images, objects and texts which, personally, resulted in the cultivation of a perception of contemporary (or close to it) Americana. Granted, it did not deliver the same scope of erudition as was intended to be espoused by the microcosms of archaic Wunderkammern, but then, I guess, its success in this regard is dependent on the proclivities of the observer and what, for them, constitutes ‘all worldly knowledge’.
Having perused the work more thoroughly (on my second visit, when I was afforded the luxury of time to do so), I was surprised by how much my interpretation of it changed. There was still a resilient sense of it being a collation of things which, viewed as a whole, were more adept at communicating a general idea than if the collection were reduced to its singular constituents, but there was definitely something else, something more affecting. This was manifest in the way that the work (presented as a series of wall-mounted tableaux, a video piece, and a table upon which resides a miscellany of texts, from a scientific dossier to a guidance book for Jehovah’s Witnesses) is punctuated by a sizeable quantity of personal effects (photographs, handwritten letters, a birthday card, etc). It was this facet of the piece which I found to be of particular note. As White intimates in his statement, the origin (for his usage, at least) of everything contained within the room was at the bottom of any number of trash receptacles, yard sales and thrift stores in the southern states of America. Essentially, the items were, to those responsible for their eventual deposition in said trash containers, worthless. Paradoxically, the photographs of various people, and the subjects discussed within the letters, were evidently of sufficient importance at the moment of their inception to warrant time being spent on their execution. Therefore, White’s work instigates a sense of uncertainty. The fact that these objects, which would (at one time or another) have occupied a position of worth for the subject or recipient, have now been reduced to the status of rubbish can be considered a negation of the validity of the subject of the work in question in the first place, while also questioning the transference of the meaning which becomes attached to certain items and the transience and malleability of the concept of value.
Another aspect of the work, which White addresses within his statement, is the pervasiveness of a theory of redemption. He asks “What are the odds? That some piece of North Georgia garbage about to be destroyed forever might end up being considered, perhaps even admired, by thousands of people in a fancy art gallery in Ireland? Slim to none, right?” With this work, White has, by amassing a collection of what could be considered the trivial detritus material that one accumulates over time, constructed what can be construed as a mausoleum for the mediocre. He has rescued these decidedly abridged versions of complete narratives and has elevated them, situating them in the realm of art. In so doing, he has furnished them with a new meaning. Their situation in the past tense and the position they previously occupied, despite the possible gravity of their antecedent incarnations, is inconsequential. White endeavours to elucidate on the relative value of what the audience is presented with. When, for example, the disembodied head of a child’s plastic toy is glimpsed through the remnants of a dinner party or dead flowers in a bin, such an instance will have very different implications for its prospective significances than if it is viewed within the boundaries of a gallery, surrounded by others of its persuasion. (It can, of course, be argued whether or not such an item can be a work of art, but such an argument, in this instance, is wide of the point.) With Deep fried ephemera, White casts himself in the role of resurrectionist, his assemblages essentially reanimating the Lazarus-like debris. With this act, the seemingly inappreciable, sedimentary evidence of various existences is redeemed by the metamorphosis of re-contextualisation.
Diverging from the prototypical postmortem of an exhibition, White’s installation is also possessed of a great deal of humour which, taking into account the aforementioned assimilations of the work, is quite an achievement. The content of some of the stories, gleaned from the inclusion of a number of newspaper clippings and journal entries, is, in many cases, intentionally ridiculous and hilarious (look out in particular for the rendition of a tale involving a deer and an ambulance), thus imbuing the work with a light-heartedness which works in conjunction with the poignancy of some of the other commodities from which the piece is constructed, a juxtaposition which White has executed with aplomb.
Deep fried ephemera is complemented by periodic screenings of Searching for the wrong-eyed Jesus by Andrew Douglas, a “musical road trip” in which White investigates a somewhat clandestine “home made” culture in presentday Southern American states, and features contributions from country music luminaries such as Johnny Dowd and The Handsome Family (Thursdays at 1pm for the duration of the exhibition).
John Patrick Egan is an artist based in Dublin.