Sheil / Beattie
David Beattie: A dog, a ball and the infinite, 2006, DVD still; courtesy the artist

Within the oblong hall of Broadstone Studio’s gallery, artists Sonia Shiel and David Beattie paired themselves together for one of the first shows to open in Dublin this year, setting a tone of cyclical introspection for the year ahead. In a series of well-paced paintings, installation and video, the artists chose to each occupy the separate halves of the exhibition space. Their decision to exhibit in tandem is a welcome chance to explore work that uses a variety of materials, in two very different guises, to question our own encounters with the world, real or imagined.

Sheil / Beattie
David Beattie: Phonic rotations, 2006, mixed media sound installation at Broadstone XL, Dublin, 2007; courtesy the artist

Beattie’s contribution consisted of a video piece and an installation, each delving into the creative moment of the repetitive action. A dog, a ball, and the infinite is set among a tableau of the ocean shore, a calm view punctuated by a red ball thrown repetitively into the water; an energetic and enthusiastic cocker spaniel inexhaustibly runs into the water and retrieves it. Though the name of the piece seems to overstate the deliberately unresolved nature of the work, the repetition begins to pose the act as an honest existential inquiry, connecting the rhythms and cycles of a game of fetch with the movements of the sea. Phonic rotations, listed as a ‘sound installation’ that clearly has a visual, homemade aesthetic as well, is a small wooden pedestal supporting a round turntable that revolves a nameless seven-inch vinyl record, undulating irregularly. Three oversized paper cones, in ascending size up to a meter long, branch out from the record, a record needle from each touching and resounding the record’s groove when the turntable rises to meet it. The serial rhythm of these scratching glimpses enacts a selective resampling, brief sounds that hint at what you might imagine to be on the unlabelled record. The manifest circularity maps the record onto a spatial relationship with gallery, creating a hesitant balance between the audience’s active construction of a personal musical creation, and an anonymous, automated détournement of the encoded vinyl being interpreted by the sampling apparatus.

Sheil / Beattie
Sonia Shiel: Run rabbit run, 2006, mixed-media installation with DVD, installation shot at Broadstone XL, Dublin 2007; courtesy the artist

While the segments in Beattie’s sound piece suggest a gestalt -like whole that might be put back together, similarly the collection of Sonia Shiel’s works seem to contribute in a more narrative bent towards the creation of an intimate and daunting fantasy world. In a series of three small paintings, Shiel presented seemingly idealised images of a child on a swing, an angel in the clouds, and a cocoon-like sleeping bag hanging near a fire, painted in bright colours evocative of illustrations from children’s literature. But these are children’s illustrations brought into an eerie dream reality, that push out from the canvas imbued with meanings from fairy tales, childhood memories, and a wondering creativity, blurred lines literally pregnant and sagging off the canvas. Shiel brings this into the third dimension with Run, rabbit, run, constructing a wooden children’s playhouse in the gallery into which we climb up stairs to an intimate hideout, to find a black velvet rope hanging from the ceiling, winding around a monitor embedded in the floor. The video shows a similar black rope being pulled through a hole, the knots’ resistance creating a punctuating rhythm that resonates through the structure, and emphasises the tenderness and violence of the object. The sturdy, immaculate construction of the playhouse differs in tone from that of the paintings, but cumulatively they suggest a mutual contamination of the fantastic and the realistic, the subjects and materials suggesting a nostalgic ideal that is inhabited, pushed out and distorted from within by its own creation.

Sheil / Beattie
Sonia Shiel: Swing, 2006, oil on canvas; courtesy the artist

Shiel’s and Beattie’s work pushes at the facing walls of our imagination. Their different lines of inquiry, however, caused some muting effects in the exhibition. Beattie’s fetching dog risked being drafted as a gleefully tragic protagonist in Shiel’s more melodramatic narrative, while the velvet-rope video took on more everyday, material concerns in light of Beattie’s work that seemed to question the need for a structure such as the playhouse to show the piece. Otherwise, the differences between their work provided challenging counterpoints, highlighting the ways in which each explores the construction of our daily rhythms and the mediation of perceptual experience, through an inquiry into the quality and qualification of internal and external phenomena.

Sheil / Beattie
David Beattie and Sonia Shiel: installation shot at Broadstone XL, Dublin, 2007

Chris Fite-Wassilak is a writer and curator currently based in Dublin. He is the former editor of collaborative comic This Way Up ( and is currently working towards the ‘Lighthouse’ caravan cinema as part of the House Projects series of exhibitions.