Sean Lynch’s exhibition Recent Finds at the Gallery of Photography sets out to explore what might be called the material conditions of our shared cultural mythologies, in particular how archival forms of documentation can function in the same way over a range of different contexts, each bringing up the same themes of artifice and the unstable nature of collected information.
|Sean Lynch, cut-out archival photograph from the series Views of Dublin, 2008; image held here|
The main gallery space is occupied by an archly titled set of collages, Views of Dublin, based on newspaper photographs relating to the production of the 1965 film The Spy who came in from the cold . Set in post-war Germany, it required a replica of the Berlin Wall to be built in Dublin’s city centre and a prolonged stay for the film’s star, Richard Burton, accompanied by his then wife, Elizabeth Taylor. For the most part these collages are quite striking – the artist has set about removing large portions of each image and the most successful are those examples which make the best use of the resulting ‘negative’ space. It is perhaps intentional that when viewed even reasonably close-up the images dissolve into a scrim of pointillist half-tone dots, frustrating any attempt to read the embedded narrative which, in the context of the other work, is obviously concerned with the various ways in which history can be constructed – or reconstructed (given that the accompanying text informs us that the materials used in the construction of the imitation ’wall’ was recycled into the building of a school).
These same themes of construction/ reconstruction are sustained throughout the exhibition, with a room dedicated to the mutable forms of Earth Art practices (in this case the sculpture of Richard Long) and the way it is documented, calling attention to the fact that interventions of this sort (perhaps a quintessential form of ‘post-modern’ artwork) can exist not only as an object in the landscape, but conceptually as an event and historically as a photographic document. On the surface this like a fairly commonplace insight, but in this installation Lynch is cleverly highlighting the unstable spaces between these categories. Perhaps the most effective single image in the exhibition is a small and very plain photograph of a dust pile allegedly created by erasing the chalk from one of the famous blackboards by Joseph Beuys. This diminutive, austere work neatly encapsulates the artist’s central theme of a history subject to sudden reversal and reconstruction – to use a recent academic cliché, it is literally a history written “under erasure.” The pile of chalk cannot be reconstituted to show what it once made legible, but here in this image it forms an altogether new history, or rather it is kind of meta-history that reveals how our collective mythologies are altered over time.
|Sean Lynch, photo of the hotel in which Walter Benjamin died, from Recent finds; image held here|
This is a collection of work that aims to deal with a powerful and not inconsiderable theme – the various ways in which historical narratives can be constructed and manipulated; the shifting aspects of ‘historical’ truth. Yet its thematic potential is not altogether realised. There is a certain reluctance in how the ideas are voiced and a lack of cohesion to the works on display, as well as a sometimes frustrating exhibition design (such as the awkward placement of the chalk photograph discussed above). It does, however, reward a careful reading with a richness of thought not entirely present in the aesthetics of the artwork itself, but which is a product of how the artist creates relationships between the unstable spaces of our cultural mythologies.
Darren Campion is a writer and photographer living in Carlow.