author: Jessica Foley
byline: Jessica Foley is a writer and artist currently working as Assistant Lecturer in Visual Art Education at MIC, Limerick.
venue:Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
dates: July 2009
“I am firmly in the 10%,” he said to me. I stirred my cappuccino, feeling the damp rise in my socks, a negative side-effect imposed by Irish rain and the drawbacks of generic tailoring. He had a copy of the Irish Times distributed across the edge of the little circular coffee table at which we were sitting, allowing it to spill onto the next. The pages featured images of buildings burning; it became a temporary and fiery tablecloth. It seemed appropriate, or at least it seemed to be in some kind of semiotic collusion with the conversation we were having.
The air was in some halfway place – and it all felt very out of time: simultaneously young and old, im- patient, waiting, livid to get rid rather than change…or to just push off, push out, get gone. I wondered if the encounter between us was becoming some kind of a character in itself. His speech was neither self-conscious nor polite – he seemed to be well rehearsed of his own script: here was a guy who knew more about what wrecked his head rather than what satisfied him … or at least, seemed more interested in conflict than resolution – as if resolution was some kind of cop out, a sedate and fluffy place of denial and self-delusion. Sustaining the advance into torched and desolate terrains seemed to be an imperative for him. Listening to him, I felt that everything to do with his approach to life and his work seemed powered by an assertive and aggressive certainty, fatalistic I suppose. His attitude reminded me of a handwritten sign that I’d noticed earlier on my way to meet him – it was taped up inside the back windscreen of a small maroon car, facing out either to the passer-by or to the traffic bound driver. Scrawled in black ink, it read: Good health is simply dying at a slower rate, or something to that effect; the kind of logic that is just plain difficult to deny.
On his website he has a short statement about the terrain of his work:
I am interested in these grim places, places where aesthetic value is no longer viewed as important or enforced. A nomadic existence is at the centre of my practice, I travel around in search of these new environments in order to create work, often empty places, deserted by people for some reason, temporary or permanent.
His most recent travels had led him to Bosnia and Herzegovina – well, there was nothing so passive about it – he’d grafted his way to Sarajevo, twice, once in 2006 and most recently in 2009. He’d sent me a text he’d written; Pots and kettles – scenes from a split city – wherein he elaborates upon his observations with a voice blessedly free from condescension or anthropology, steadied by a humour gravitating towards the darker recesses of the human soul, and with an emphasis true to his origins in the flatlands of Offaly: no-place-to-hide-call-it-as-you-see-it-blunt- as-a-hurl eloquence.
Meanwhile, in our corner of the makeshift coffee shop, a third round of caffeine is ordered and he’s talked to me about the implications of filming in a place like Bosnia, the necessity of a bodyguard, and the dangerous driving habits of the natives. Sure, he goes off and watches buildings and people in other lands, particularly places of relative ruin, places of economic, political or social disintegration, but as far as I can tell he’s not judging anybody, he’s just formally expressing an observation, as an outsider. This nomad seems pretty straight-up – he’s taking himself out into the world to remind himself of his existence in it–and he’s acknowledging the lottery of his birth–the fact that he’s a part of the tenth-percentile privilege of a boggy grey, green and brown lineage–what Geographical Fortune! In the places he goes to he watches–keenly. He meets the people and chats with them–briefly he shares their habits, and engages in their sales techniques – it’s not about them–no more than it is about him – it’s a bit bigger than that, probably a good bit bigger. He knows his luck–his passport is good–it will get him over that line that so many others can’t cross – it will get him over again and again. And I suppose that he sees all the lines and the tape – perhaps he’s going to watch till time itself strips away all the categories –he’ll watch–and time will force reality through–the inevitable is usually invisible–the entropy of humanity. What comes across in his work, and in meeting him, and maybe this is because I’m tying my interpretation to the land we’re both from, is that there is no exterior so to speak, or there is no centre – there is us and there is vastness, there is up and out and time and space in every direction – all these other delineations are arbitrary, they are barriers, they are distractions – and maybe that’s why he’s looking so long at them all – staring them out of it – staring out the divides with his lens. It’s not the image really, it’s the watching, and the translation of the watching into seeing, or thinking, or something.
The caffeine has definitely hit at this point. And he’s gone, and I’m remembering, or trying to. Trying to piece it all together. And later I go to see the images he’s taken, displayed on the walls in the Molesworth Gallery. I’d never been there before, and am slightly nervous about the crowd–the nervous- ness of the old familiar – faces from home, speckled between images of Bosnia. The starkness of them straining out of the white walls – the earnestness of the gallery space. I think about the stories he’s told – remembering the metre of his speech – I think how it’s all baffled out within an art world, on an art market. I think about how important the watching is – though it’s the eye of a different beast at openings – but then I think that maybe there’s something suitable in it at the same time – all conflict against resolution – the eye against the lens – an acknowledgement that certainty is fatal.