Daire O’Shea, As She Climbed Across The Table at The Gallery at No 46 Grand Parade

Art should not merely illustrate a theory. Thus the claim that Daire O’Shea’s solo exhibition, As She Climbed Across the Table at The Gallery, is the “physical sculptural outcomes as the tangible result of [O’Shea’s] research” did not bode well. I mean, a steel and concrete array of minimalist objects with philosophical undertones? How much longer must we endure such exhausted clichés and artish-sins. O’Shea is certainly not immune to the generic tendencies of sculpture. It may even be far fetched to parallel his work to the genius of minimalist sculptures by Donald Judd for example. However, somehow O’Shea’s sculptures reconsider concrete blocks and steel pipes in a way that reignites my interest in contemporary sculpture. While materially I am impressed by the apparent weight, design and structure of work such as Destitute Formalism (2018), made of galvanised steel, mild steel and polycarbonate forming six standing pipes. Their harmony looks simple but reeks of labour intensive detail. With that said it is in fact O’Shea’s fresh take to the near-exhausted minimalist culture present in 2019 that cries out: we don’t need more minimalism, we need more materialism.

O’Shea’s focus is relationships, representation and objecthood with titles that trigger pop culture references. Paralleling the themes of the Jonathan Lethem 1997 novel, from which the exhibition get its name, relationships between humans and objects, and objects and other objects, are the primary tensions dealt with here. These tensions are particularly entangled in You, Me and the Wine-Dark Sea (2018). The useless yet meticulous accuracy in which these faux-found objects of concrete, aluminium and chipboard are subtly slotted into each other, with such care as to suggest a rejection of human-centrism in favour of object on object relations.

Don’t be misled in thinking ‘objects’ are necessarily of the flesh and blood kind that flop, flump and perch before you. Objects here are all those things that are singular and made of fragments, themselves a fragment of the wider world. Following Object-Oriented-Ontology – OOO for the initiated, a philosophical movement that has gathered much influence in the artworld and is clearly important to O’Shea’s work – we cannot exclude fictional objects in favour of the ‘real’, nor can we exclude the digital in favour for the physical. Hung behind You, Me and the Wine-Dark Sea (2018) are One Armed Bandit (2019) and The Yurt Locker (2019). These are digital prints of digitally constructed objects – complete with shadows. The two-dimensionality of these images do not exclude them from our object-oriented consideration of the back and forth present between the You, Me and the Wine-Dark Sea, The Yurt Locker  and the echoing themes of As She Climbed Across The Table. The digital objects have just as much material consideration and detail as those objects made of ‘flesh and blood’ which sit evenly throughout the space. O’Shea’s sculptures, both digital and physical, deeply consider materiality and propose new relationships we may never access but which still permeate with our human-centric tendencies, whether welcome or not.

Written by Sara Muthi

Sara Muthi is a researcher and writer based in Dublin.

Daire O’Shea, As She Climbed Across The Table at The Gallery at No.46 Grand Parade, Cork.