Friday, 16 August 2013

Dublin Revisited

It's a long time since I was last in Dublin - 15 years to be precise. As a consequence I missed the Celtic tiger thing completely although the difference in the price of everything since I was last here was pretty shocking. Nevertheless, Dublin is still an absolutely great city and I think its recent financial shenanigans have given it a renewed edge that suggests a resurgence of self reliance and a customarily ironic take on the recent past.

It's still doing very nicely out of the tourists and given the amount of bars featuring live traditional music there can't be a musician in the Dublin vicinity who is ever out of work. This is great although I personally don't want to spend every night in a bar listening to music. It's partly age but I have spent a lot of time over the years with assorted folkies and musicians so I can get my fix of Irish musical tradition from my MP3 player any time I like. I am also unlikely to go to the Leprechaun Museum and while I am happy to sample the products I don't need to go on the distillery and brewery tours either.

Perhaps the assumption that tourists know little, or are expecting a very particular experience, means there is a general confinement of national promotion to very predictable areas. Coming from the land of fish and chips-the queen-London bus I get easily frustrated with this kind of thing and am on the lookout everywhere for a more contemporary and innovative take on things.

Howth Beach County Dublin 

The universals of the natural environment and beauty of a landscape that doesn't really require much human intervention to sell is fine. It's all that other human stuff. So I was delighted to find a crossroads of back streets covered in murals celebrating the whole spectrum of Irish cultural icons. This means literary giants, musicians, political and popular personalities who have had an impact on Irish society, sporting heroes, thespians and a whole lot more. Sitting at the centre of the crossroads was the organisation responsible for this magnificent display - The Icon Factory

Like Francis Bacon (see below) this artist collective manages to cram a massive amount of stuff into a small space including T-shirts, coasters, mugs, magnets, jigsaws and prints featuring a huge variety of images by Irish artists each celebrating their heritage in their own unique way.

This project highlights a lot more than the enormous scale and quality of Irish cultural output. It provides a valuable service to its own residents by attempting to beautify these otherwise unremarkable streets in which someone noted there was 'a defecation problem'. The first time I perused the murals there was the vague smell of the alley urinal but nothing out of the urban ordinary. The next time I went earlier in the day and got a sense of the parameters of the 'problem'. This really begs the question of where the public toilets are or are they only for the tourists on the main drag?

Up on Parnell Square is the Dublin City Gallery. Unusually for a gallery of this size the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity although the amount of stuff Francis Bacon crammed into his relocated studio covers both of these categories. The Bacon studio project was another real highlight. Rather than just recreate his working space there were screens with photographs and commentary on the contents of the studio. This was very well documented and put together and provided a fascinating and easy accessible insight into the man. The only problem was that only two of about eight possible screens seemed to be working.

The night before we left we went to the Abbey Theatre to see George Bernard Shaw's 1904 play Major Barbara. Still very relevant to the present in terms of the ethics of the arms trade and the compromises of both politics and faith, it featured a great set and several storming performances especially Paul McGann as Andrew Undershaft. The audience were unfortunately not as appreciative as they should have been but I think the problem was the conclusion of the play itself rather than the performances. Had  Major Barbara decided to maintain her idealism and deny pragmatism, status and acceptance of the inevitability of war I am sure the audience would have been on its feet....

Monday, 3 June 2013

Packed and ready to go

Here is the trunk all packed and ready to go. Everything that needs to be secure is secure (I hope!) and everything else can be tested and improvised on the road. When Annie and Anna come to pick it up later we just need to work out where and how the video will go and to do an unpack-display-repack rehearsal or two!

Friday, 31 May 2013

The contents and their challenges

So....  lining the case with maps and postcards was easy. In fact it took longer to come up with those ideas than it did to do the work...... actually that's a lie....  

Anyway before getting onto the main subject of this post - the contents of the trunk - I am happy to say that the third map arrived yesterday so here are a few pics of the fully lined case. Isn't it lovely?

The first thing I did in relation to contents was to scale down one of the components of my own installation in the original exhibition. The suitcase full of keys has shrunk to the size of an old cigar box and has also been modified to harmonise it with the case and to slightly expand its conceptual remit.

All the other contents of the trunk were provided so it was just a matter of working out where and how they were going to go. This has been the most difficult part of the exercise. Helen Omand's fragile cradle and Penze and Fiore's figurines in particular needed to be presented in such a way that did them justice but also gave them a lot of protection.

After lots of thinking there was a eureka moment as I remembered the delightful shop fittings, displays and accessories store that I used to frequent on Seven Sisters Road. Paid a visit and right by the door as I walked in was the answer......

Not only was this item perfect in terms of display function and size it was also half price which I knew would make the Something Human team very happy indeed. Will fix everything safely in the display case and also fix the case securely in the trunk today and post results later.

There are two other content challenges. John Clang's has been resolved by fixing an old radio aerial inside the lid of the trunk and draping his photos over it. This has several benefits. The photos can be seen from both sides, the aerial effectively creates another space / dimension to the whole spectacle and it can be neatly retracted when the trunk is on transit.

The other challenge of how to display Gloria Houng's prints may be irresolvable in the short term. However, this just means that the travelling team will have to transport and display them separately until we find a longer term solution.

I will leave you with this little abstraction....

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Maps and postcards, velcro and glue

After the initial experimentation with arrangements I emptied the trunk and using a combination of maps and Nina Feldman's postcards, covered some of the flat interior spaces. Rather than put up  whole maps, I cut them into strips and reassembled them in a grid to make things more interesting.

Despite measuring I didn't account sufficiently for overlap so ended up getting through the two maps I originally thought I would need pretty quickly. I did manage the cover the vertical lid and one of the vertical interior sections. There's another map in the post so will complete the other sections when it arrives.

I arranged some of Nina's postcards so that they covered the entire base of the trunk. This was great! I really enjoyed having the chance to look closely at all these images of Victoria Roads around the world in a way that I didn't have time for during the original exhibition. The effect is good too.

I think I have to remark already that this project would not be possible without glue and lots of Velcro. The Velcro is particularly useful - it not only enables everything to stay in place during transit but also allows for future options. All the decorated surfaces on the floor, lid and sides of the trunk are removable thanks to 25m of this.... :)

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

First Steps - Preparing the trunk

Before starting to pack there was a lot of thinking.

The main conceptual (or was it aesthetic?) challenge was harmonising the trunk in a way that made it a completely new project whilst seamlessly integrating as much of the essence of the original exhibition as possible.

The main logistical challenge was ensuring that the contents of the trunk, once definitively arranged,  would be secure enough to be thrown around, possibly on conveyor belts and planes, without moving, breaking or damaging the interior of the harmonised trunk.

When Annie delivered the trunk and most of the exhibition contents to my studio we were able to talk about possibilities and also play around a little with arrangements. The case itself, with its separate compartments, hanging area and internal covers dictated the initial possibilities. However, as soon as the red silk dress from Penzo and Fiore's piece in the original show was on its hanger we had a great focal point from which the internal arrangement of the trunk began to flow.

And that was how we got the first picture:

Thursday, 23 May 2013

WITH(OUT) is going On The Road...

WITH(OUT) was the great little exhibition curated by Something Human at the Brockspace last December which I both participated in and reviewed (see review here).

Well.... it's going on the road and the curatorial team of Something Human have asked me to prepare it for the journey. In essence it is the entirety of the WITH(OUT) exhibition condensed into a big travelling trunk which will be presented like a theatrical installation. In keeping with the nature of all journeys it will not only take things with it but will inevitably pick other things up along the way.

The trunk and some of its contents (either modified or as presented in the original exhibition) were delivered to me a few days ago. I will start working fully on the project next week and will also be photo and text documenting the process and its challenges both here and on the Something Human WITH(OUT) blog.

In the meantime here is the awesome trunk ....