Primal Architecture is a loaded term, as one would expect of such a title’s source. Expanded from one artwork into this exhibition basis, its anchor is the 1995 piece by Mike Kelley, currently on display in this show at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. It is a sculptural piece made of small totemic shapes of acrylic pigment, smeared and formed on white small circles atop a floating plane of geometric metalwork. The pigments are pure and lurid, greasy in a way that recalls caked and smeared makeup. They are landscape and lesion-like, an order aligned with human mess. It is explained in the exhibition preface as a work “in which the artist…(maps) a history of his personal genealogy.”
Architecture is both known as a practice inherent to civilization’s form, and suggestive of inherent frameworks that sit beyond this, applied often in retrospect, to aspects of the social, the unseen, and the natural world. “Primal Architecture” is not a vacant, punchy contradiction in terms but instead indicative of this reflective nature, the overlay of formula and structure to certain states that Kelley’s work suggests.
The placement of art within this idea becomes interesting – it is not so much an ordering force as turned into a special kind of residue, playing with this kind of categorisation in society, yet mirroring or retrospective of an act of ordering. Working across many of these categorical themes in society, as a group show it is surprisingly self-supporting: work by Keith Atherton, Mike Kelly, Linder, Bedwyr Williams, Jeremy Deller, Conrad Shawcross and Jesse Jones is presented individually in IMMA’s linked square rooms, adjacent to the long corridor space filled with works from Kelley’s Categorical Imperative and Morgue. The artists touch upon ideas such as notions of self and others, the geographic and socio-political, and the placement of science and sexuality within society, with Kelley’s series forming a kind of backbone for the work in the east wing gallery space.
The show opens with Kevin Atherton’s In Two Minds Composed of two crossing projections, the artist argues with his younger self – one sat in London’s Serpentine gallery in 1978 and the other in IMMA, filmed recently, in the same spot as the projection. They argue about what is physically and non-tangibly in the space, addressing the subject of film as art medium. Whilst the original work was made of two projections filmed in the same time and space, here the artist both argues against and explains his old position, where words often overlap and tension appears to rise and ease. The benches sit in an equal sign formation between the two projections. The work does not appear to be arguing didactically over film’s place in art – a debate long since moot – but instead play with what can be done in revisiting work and “zeitgeist” in a physical way, employing different contexts and movements in technology.
Linder’s collages also demonstrate a movement in context through her practice. Exploring the relationship between sexuality and consumerism, her early work is comprised of vintage lifestyle magazines, soft-core porn and images of commodities from advertisements. Later pieces such as Revolutionary Hardcore Formula XI use more explicit contemporary sources, with the images losing their soft focus, pasted over in places with bright, crisp florals. Whilst blackly humorous, the volume of her work in this show grows to be almost overwhelming – each collage is no bigger than the page of a magazine, arranged in one room like a contact print. Yet in contrast to viewing these works in a magazine, as the collages move from ironic classical beauty to the more garish and hard-edged, being within and a part of all this consumption is unexpectedly disorientating.
In terms of the qualities of its arrangement, Linder’s work echoes most strongly with Kelley’s work in the Categorical Imperative and Morgue collection. Made up of items that Kelley had hoarded solely to make art, these groupings bring found handmade objects and mass-produced items together into a number of defined categories, mixing together the histories and aesthetic values of both individual people and product target demographics.
These groups have a dark kind of fun about them, contrasting underwhelming commercial objects and their ulterior motives with naïve-looking craft. In an accompanying audio to the Bunnies work Kelley describes finding a block-like rabbit toy beautiful, and discusses whether there can be a way of distinguishing between “good” and “bad” folk art through something other than visible skill. Every item included just falls short of some kind of bar as an object, whilst also given a false “hope” – in a peculiar, fresh-eyes kind of way – with its new points of reference in the artwork.
Alongside these collections is Performance Related Objects, another multipart piece, this time from older works and documentation arranged on a wooden platform. Objects such as musical instruments, a megaphone, cardboard tubes and whoopee cushions sit and combine with made wooden structures. As “leftover items” it’s like a composite of peripheral visions, again a structuring of mostly worthless things to play with any kind of new, combined relevance, using their halves to try to make up a whole.
This seems to typify the approach of this exhibition: where combination exposes and refreshes often underwhelming, twisted things, yet are only really made and viewed this way in the first place through the worth we prescribe in repeated systemisation. From one angular, phonograph-like object in Performance Related Objects is a repetitive shout/wail, finally distinguishing the source of what was heard throughout the whole exhibition. For its distribution it is surprisingly quiet.