Thinking in English
Thinking in English (detail) on wood, 122x122cm, made with wire, sized plaster, and oil paint
Part of a series of paintings exhibited in London, Dublin in Belfast. Some more paintings from the same series can be seen here.
Hunger Strike Scarf
This artwork comprises of a square of habotai silk in the form of a woman’s scarf, 36 by 36 inches, modeled on the design and materials used by French luxury goods company Hermés. The background colour is white, and the surface pattern is a delicate filigree of blue lines. Closer inspection shows that these patterns are formed by handwriting in blue ink, which appear to be smudged, aged and altered by use. The text, although greatly enlarged, is almost illegible, but with some effort, can be deciphered to reveal that it is a reproduction of prisoner’s letter, written on cigarette paper to be smuggled out of prison, seeking help from the human rights group Amnesty International. The letter dates from the 1980 hunger strike in Long Kesh/The Maze prison.
The motive of this work was to try to give form to the nagging idea of finding beauty in artifacts related to conflict and destruction. Walter Benjamin says that in some circumstances mankind “can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure”.
23 Small Pieces
This is a series of toy boxes, asking the viewer imagine a variety of model kits and toys based on the political violence of the recent past. The designs are based on the style of Airfix and other companies which catered for the toy soldier and model maker market in the 1970’s and 80’s.
These boxes functioned as an examination of the visual legacy of the fighting, and also worked as devices to evoke memories and reactions through of prism of childhood constructions.
For the artwork on the boxes, rather than depictions from the media, imagery derived from things that the parties to the conflict had actually made themselves was used; such as graffiti, recruiting posters, and other visual artefacts.
There is a Circa review of the Dublin exhibition here
When the work was exhibited in Dublin and Belfast, a brief questionnaire was included asking visitors for their own visual memories of the armed conflict.
Whisper It To Me
Texts from questionnaires about visual memories of the armed conflict were paired with images painted on to glass sheets in clear acrylic medium. This pigment, although only slightly visible itself, makes shadows appear on the walls behind the glass.
The shadows varied depending on the ambient light of the room. Visitors could pick up the texts (printed on display board) and try to match them with the shadowy images.
Although this work seems quite unexciting in reproduction, it was by far the most popular piece when it was exhibited with other work in Belfast.
An edition of t-shirts exploring the idea of finding imagery associated with the armed conflict aesthetically pleasing. The notion of a “conflict giftshop”- imagining motifs designed to decorate souvenirs, an attempt to push the imagery further and further away from its origins, and allow space for its misinterpretation.
Mapping the Coastline
A painting, in wire, sized plaster and oil paint, examining what is a -to some extent- taboo image of the country.
Saro Wiwa Street
Street signs at both ends of Adelaide Road changed to honour Ken Saro Wiwa. These stills are from Saro Wiwa Street http://youtu.be/yBHp–u4QVk
Adelaide Road is the site of the head office of Shell in Ireland.
Statement by Senator David Norris on the sign change here.
Essay by Clare Flannery on this work and other examples of socially engaged art here
The Television Will be Revolutionized
Film about Ken Saro Wiwa projected on to the front of Shell head office in Dublin on the anniversary of his hanging.
The Way Things
The Way Things is a series of paintings and drawings derived from imagery of environmental protests in Mayo. The paintings are made in shallow relief in wire and plaster, and then painted in oils. The surfaces are treated to create a mixture of textures.
These images are influenced by religious art (Via Crucis paintings) and things like the stone carved faces at Dysert O’Dea in County Clare, as well as direct experience of attending protests.
More images of these paintings can be seen here
Coláiste Náisiúnta Ealaíne is Deartha
Coláiste Náisiúnta Ealaíne is Deartha was the restoration of the broken sign at the entrance to the National College of Art and Design.
“Rather than replace the old NCAD sign, I chose to make the new sign in the Irish language. This might seem like a fairly uncontroversial thing to do, and many people could walk past the sign without a thought, but for others it obviously caused a strong reaction.
“Like a lot of my work, one of the most the important aspects of the piece is the opening up of space for reflection on the issues raised by the existence of this object in the real world. Photographs of these pieces are a poor substitute for their physical presence.
“However, since the pieces are often short-lived -this one, for instance, was torn off the wall by a professor- photographs and stories are usually all that remain. So, I use pictures and stories to illustrate a slideshow that I try to give whenever I exhibit. In some ways, these talks are the actual art works.”
Tadhg McGrath 2013