I have seen quite a few works of art over the last few days in Dublin and Cardiff and here are some highlights. At the Irish Museum of Modern Art, I saw some fascinating sculptural installations by Sheela Gowda and a site-specific installation made with neon lights by Vong Phaophanit called Line Writing. In this piece the floorboards were removed from one of the gallery spaces and the dirt on the ground beneath the surface of the building became the backdrop. The words are in Lao and are the names of six Equatorial diseases. The artist was thinking of the ripping away of the floorboards as a metaphoric action that could represent disease or illness. In the 17th century the museum was a hospital for British soldiers so her work is a specific response to the site. I always think learning about art is discovering what is permissible to do and while there have been other artists (such as Chris Burden) who have excavated beneath the floors of a museum or gallery, this is the first time I have seen a work of art installed in this manner. I like to see how artists can reinvent an ordinary gallery space and make us see things new.
In a contemporary art space that was a twenty minute walk from Cardiff’s city centre, I discovered the work of Jonathan Baldock. His work filled three rooms, each painted a specific colour to create an atmospheric effect. The work consisted of a range of pieces constructed of felt and knitted surfaces, looking somewhere between children’s toys, natural history artifacts, folk art and sculptural forms. Although this is not mentioned in the write-ups of the work, I learned from the gallery’s director that the work is named after William Burroughs story, The Soft Machine, with each room representing a section of the story. Its worth a read because you can see how an artist would be inspired to translate Burrough’s story into a visual form as it is packed full of strange and fantastical imagery. The strength of the exhibition is that the artist took a very imaginative and non-literal approach to interpreting Burrough’s narrative. As a viewer you are immediately engaged by these extremely well-crafted and bizarrely elegant objects that are scattered throughout the rooms.
The National Museum in Cardiff had an exhibition called Wales Visitation: Poetry, Romanticism and Myth in Art This exhibition included the some landscape paintings by Graham Sutherland, a UK artist who worked in a surrealist style, with a definite Francis Bacon influence (they were good friends) in the 1940’s up until his death in 1980. Juxtaposed with Sutherland’s work was one painting by a young contemporary artist Clare Woods. Woods’ work is oil and enamel on board and there is a sense that it is depicting a paint-by-number painting that has gone awry. The work is rich and imaginative and it is easy to see how Clare Woods might be the Graham Sutherland of the present time in the way she is pushing the boundaries of how we might define landscape painting.
Included as part of the above exhibition was a video projection of Allan Ginsberg reading his poem Wales Visitation to conservative anchor person, William F Buckley. I have included a link in the video below because it was extremely delightful to see how Buckley, despite his own expectations, was quite moved by Ginsberg’s reading. You can see from this video how the power of Ginsberg’s physical expressions and vocal intonations truly brings the poem alive.