|Flight of the Dodo, Installation shot; Right foreground: Martino Gamper: A Sunny Day on Arnold Circus, 2007 (stools) and Ryan Gander: The Boy Who Always Looked Up, 2006 (book). Left Foreground: Tim Braden: I spend my evenings sitting by the fireside hunting tigers, 2008. Left wall: Irene Kopelman: Monsters, 2006. Background Centre: Francis Upritchard: Sloth, 2004. Rear Wall: Eoin McHugh: Untitled I, II, III, 2008. Right Background: Douglas White: Crow’s Stove, 2006; courtesy Project|
The exhibition title, The Flight of the Dodo, diverges from the most commonly heard phrase, ‘As dead as a dodo’. While the dodo is usually associated with extinction brought about by human causes, ‘flight’ as opposed to ‘death’ evokes whole new connotations. ‘Flight’ expresses hope, future, progress and escapism. Per contra, ‘dodo’ suggests peril, destruction, stupidity, death, the annihilation of a species, and it is this disjuncture that is captured in the exhibition.
Universal concerns over environmental issues that occupy contemporary consciousness are contrasted with the history, legacy, and modern incarnation of globalisation and postcolonialism. Adventure, discovery, myth, global warming, capitalism, progress, cultural relativism, evolution, hybridity, survival, extinction and destruction are mish-mashed together to create an exhibition with clear coherence. All artists are delving in to the realm of further evolution, be that through escapism, bleak pessimism/ rationalism, or the salvation of technology; all are envisioning the possibly not-so-far-off next step.
In reaction to the threat of environmental issues in the twenty-first century, two lifestyle epidemics have emerged: those who embrace environmentally friendly tactics and those who ignore them, escaping, hoping, believing that everything will turn out fine. This dichotomy is captured in the double meaning of Francis Upritchard’s Sloth (2004) Her work is an actual sloth, the South American primate, lying on her back with her arms and legs stretched out to capacity. The pose is not totally unusual for the sloth, which spends much of its time hanging from trees in a similar fashion; however, here the sloth is on the ground and the reaching-out begins to look like being pulled and takes on a torturous undertone of being pushed too far. The similarities of the sloth to human beings, like most primates, is further emphasised by the mask placed over the face and the aged white dress gloves. The mask references ideas of the hidden, the unknown, and appearance, while the dress gloves bring the sloth to the human realm where sloth – spiritual or actual apathy or laziness – is a deadly sin and a capital crime in the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Sloths were not always just tree-dwelling creatures: they are related to the ground sloth which, with the advent of human settlers to the Americas, was forced to extinction.
|Flight of the Dodo, Installation shot; Right: Eoin McHugh: Untitled I, II, III, 2008. Centre: Douglas White: Crow’s Stove, 2006. Background (in the cornor): Martino Gamper: A Sunny Day on Arnold Circus, 2007 (stools) and Ryan Gander: The Boy Who Always Looked Up, 2006 (book). Left: Sven Johne: A Walk in Lusatia and 5 diptychs and corresponding text, 2006; courtesy Project|
The consequences of man’s actions are further evoked in Douglas White’s Crow’s Stove (2006), which is like an inorganic palm tree constructed of discarded tyres growing out of a decaying antique cabinet situated in the centre of the exhibition space. The truck tyres used to construct the tree were found in Belize, Central America, along the side of a highway. The piece probes the concept of organic and industrial hybrids caused or constructed by wasteful ways. Mimicking the structure of natural growth, the topography of the exhibition is formed and altered by this central piece. The cabinet must not be overlooked: as a relic of an imperialist and expansionist history, it is a reminder of the consequences that grow from our actions. Crows, who often feature as harbingers of doom in European myth, are an omen for how the future is stewing.
Again staying with the themes of the organic and the industrial, Sven Johne’s five diptyches taken with infrared at night deal with the cycles of industrialisation. However, here the process is inverted as the natural begins to reclaim sites once occupied by people. ‘Reck’ appears as any normal town but in reality it is an abandoned military base. ‘Trunka’ was originally a quaint village surrounded by woodland which the townspeople happily cut down to make way for industrial progress, yet the site still lies dormant and the woodland is once more encroaching. None of Johne’s work contains actual people, only the remnants of their existence, creating an eerie, ghost-like atmosphere. Man’s touch has been felt but now man is gone.
The five diptyches were the results of Johne’s A Walk in Lusatia, where the concept of the frightening unknown and people’s reaction to it come to the forefront. Inspired by an image of wolf attacks on the German-Czech border, Johne begins a night walk on which he takes his diptych images. He hears what he believes are wolves and tries to capture their image but all come out blank; yet in the morning, when he returns to these places, he can see pawprints. Exploring what’s lurking in the dark, Johne questions human reaction to the unknown, be it to avoid or attack, rational or irrational. The undercurrent of the possibility of the monstrous is punned by its Latin root monstrare (to demonstrate), which conversely show us more about human nature than the unknown. Like Irene Kopelman’s Monster, based on drawings by adventurers and researchers after encountering radically different cultures, the monster is created in the human mind and not as any reflection of the actual ‘other’.
|Flight of the Dodo, Installation shot; Centre Foreground: Francis Upritchard: Sloth, 2004. Right Background: Tim Braden: I spend my evenings sitting by the fireside hunting tigers, 2008. Left Background: Martino Gamper: A Sunny Day on Arnold Circus, 2007 (stools) and Ryan Gander: The Boy Who Always Looked Up, 2006 (book). Left and Rear Wall: Sven Johne: A Walk in Lusatia and 5 diptychs and corresponding text, 2006; courtesy Project|
Martino Gamper’s A Sunny day on Arnold Circus (2007) is shown in unison with Ryan Gander’s The Boy who always looked up (2006). Lying on top of Gamper’s hybrid stools, made from discarded furniture parts to create a new useful object, is Gander’s children’s book, illustrated by Sara De Bondt. It tells the story of a young boy and his relationship with an architect, supposedly Erno Goldfinger. Goldfinger is famous for designing urban towerblocks, such as Nothing Hill’s Trellock Tower, which he envisioned as the way of the future. The book then contrasts the hopes Goldfinger had and the reality of the urban towerblock at the end of his life with the abstracted escapism of the story, which emphasises the individual’s possibility to overcome despair through belief in imagination and creation. It campaigns for hope in the face of the future. A surreal escapist vision is again evident in Eoin McHugh’s watercolours, and while they are influenced by familiar retro futuristic design, they leave the viewer with a disconcerting sense of disconnection.
The coherence of the exhibition then culminates in Tim Braden’s I spend my evenings sitting by the fireside hunting tigers (2008), which brings together any disparate elements still at bay. The installation piece appears like a classroom setting anchored by a sail attached to a small library. On first glance, the work could be labelled as a nostalgic throwback to an Indiana Jones-adventure-fuelled boyhood; however, under further surveying, it reveals itself as a critical statement about Western cultural standards. The title, I spend my evenings sitting by the fireside hunting tigers, is a quote from a letter by Gustave Flaubert, in which the writer describes how the mind can be transported by reading and by extension through language. Braden’s piece investigates how our mind-set is formulated in youth through the classroom, the adventure-filled storybooks on the shelves and, in this case, CBS Radio Adventure Theatre, which was playing here in the background. In turn, standards of language become standards of culture, eurocentric and not necessarily culturally relevant outside the western sphere. The sail filled by artificial means, the fan, is a reminder of an expansionist history justified by the ‘need’ to civilise, while the whole installation lies on oriental rugs.
This exhibition explores human relations to our surrounding and their consequences. The historical legacy of exploration, colonisation and expansionism is used as a springboard to investigate the more current issues of globalisation, environmental damage, global warming and ethical trade. Using the past and the future to explore the problematic crossroads of the present, all artists engage with human responsibility towards our future and the world we affect.
Two of the strongest pieces in the exhibition are White’s Crows’s Stove and Braden’s I spent my evening sitting by the fireside hunting tigers, due to their physical presence and immediate effect on the viewer. However, the unique testament to the Project Arts Centre is its ability to take such a small space, fill it with diverse and sometimes contradictory work, and create an exhibition with such a strong sense of cohesion and unison. The exhibition adheres to and delivers in relation to the universal conundrum, what happens next?
Gemma Carroll is studying for her masters in modern and contemporary art at UCC.