I thought of talismans, objects bearing magical symbols often used for protection against evil spirits, whilst looking at the current showing of Paki Smith at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. The proliferation of sketches relaying progress in the artist’s practice is becoming a mainstay and it is no bad thing. However, when these objects take on the power of the talisman for the artist or gallery one has to question the validity of showing them. In some cases such items result in a distraction from the rest of the work.
In the case of Smith, the paintings were placed at the periphery whilst the sketchbooks commanded centre-stage. Some of the weaker paintings had a talisman-like sketch situated alongside, offering a tag of de-merit as it were. The better paintings were allowed to stand alone.
A similar feeling entered my head at the Alan Phelan showing at IMMA. The tyre-track clapper-boards appeared immediately upon entry to the gallery in a quixotic manner, as if to clatter the negative spirits away. Not only were they there immediately to greet you, they seemed to be thrown at you in a forthright defensive manoeuvre. This work was unavoidable and had to be passed through to move into the other galleries. In this case such was the corrosive terror of demons that further talismans were produced in the form of very detailed tombstones. Historical argument was thrust at the viewer in the defense of each and every work.
I don’t know why I refer to the tyre-track piece as a ‘clapper-board’ other than it was wooden and it looked to be in a state of post-clatter. But I found out something interesting in relation to clapping that seemed à propos. Clapping can apparently be taken as an interweaving topology of sound and movement which converts adversary stand-offs into cohesive interrelations. This is why one ‘claps one’s opponents in’ after a game. Thus through the motion of hand meeting hand we become incorporated and are no longer ‘an outsider’; the gap between two sides has been shut by the closing of the hands. The suggestion here is of course that we started out as an outsider. Why are we suddenly being clapped into exhibitions? And why is the defensive talisman being more and more employed? Do these measures automatically situate the viewer on the side of the opponent or simply convey a niggling terror on behalf of the establishment?
Now when I enter a new show I am often left to question, wherein lies the talisman?