Mark Clare’s My world is over is a Tardis of heavyweight ideological reference. In only eight works, Clare pushes, pulls, and points to references as diverse as the building of observation towers in Palestine, political activism in Communist Poland, pastoral rebelliousness in nineteenth-century America, and Cold War diplomatic relations in China.
There’s a hint of Clare’s mercurial approach in the title-work of the exhibition: a framed world map with topographic markings and place names scrubbed to nothing with a pencil eraser. Borrowing the club-room style of another era, a small, frame-mounted plaque declares the title of the work like a sigh of recognition. My world is over, it seems to crone, and although the world that Clare refers might be his, the sentiment lends itself to the world of land speculation, global capital, and other well-known demons of recent times that have cut their lines across the world map.
The sense of totalizing ideas and their weakened legacy continues in works such as Democracity, Splendid isolation, and others in the exhibition. Ou-topia is a triptych of prints which reference Henry Thoreau’s nineteenth-century literary classic Walden, and most particularly the woodland cabin, which continues to exist as a symbol and symptom of Thoreau’s ideology of self-reliance and earthy spiritualism. Walden has found influence amongst a confusing set of interest groups (hippies, backwater fundamentalists, entrepreneurs), and it’s precisely this awkward space between Thoreau’s idealism and its contradictory follow-through that is of interest here. At the centre of the triptych is an image of plans (available on the internet) to ‘make your own’ desktop maquette of Walden cabin; on either side are photographs of a derelict structure that the artist found in woods whilst on residency in Norway. Taken as one work, Ou-topia brackets the discrepancy between the commodified icon of Walden cabin and the abandoned hope of woodland retreat.
Both a video and a photographic work, From left to right shows tourists posing in front of the Marx-Engels monument in Alexanderplatz, Berlin. A tribute to the ideological founders of Communism, the monument is now a photo opportunity for healthy-looking, holidaying Westerners. In the video version, the footage has been accelerated, so that tourists colorfully flit and flicker across the screen in contrast to the monolithic presence of Marx and Engels. In the background of all of this, we can see cranes in motion, working on the deconstruction of the East German parliamentary building, the Palast der Republik.
The only sculpture in the exhibition is a participative one. In the context of The Lab’s admin architecture, which is not conducive to the right kinds of conviviality, Ping-pong diplomacy seems a little too expectant here. Consisting of a table-tennis table, fabricated by the artist from a medley of common woods, and presented together with the necessary extras of net, bats and ball – the table is both ‘official size’ and playable. The title of the work references a seminal table-tennis tournament between American and Chinese teams, held in China in 1971, at the height of Cold War animosities. With one side of the table surface made from rough transportation pallets (think: free trade), and the other made from smooth domestic flooring panels (think: home-improvement and property obsession), Ping-pong diplomacy does more than any other work in the exhibition to reconfigure the formal and material capacities of reference.
In an exhibition jammed with anecdotes and metaphors of major ideological embattlements from the past 100 years, it’s perhaps inevitable that the more interesting works in the exhibition come to be those that are more doubting and less certain of how they support their references. The video work The World could wait no longer fits into this category. Produced in a theatre studio, employing a suited actor and the simple props of two soap-boxes (one of which has wheels), the actor recites a monologue extracted from the Manifesto of the Orange Alternative – an experimental group of Polish activists led by Major Waldemar Fydrych in the 1980s. The actor speaks vehemently of surrealism and its philosophical, political agency. It’s a speech that is difficult to follow, but that needn’t matter. The World could wait no longer represents a voice that has lost its main antagonist and rhetorical partner following Poland’s break from Communism in 1989, prompting a question that hovers over the exhibition as a whole. What remains of the manifesto’s original agency, when spoken by an actor in 2009, on stage, on camera, in permanent rehearsal and endless playback?
Matt Packer Curator of Exhibitions and Projects, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork.