Whilst the concept suggests a future utopian/dystopian knife-edge, the pieces in “The Plough and Other Stars” use the benefit of hindsight in working with death alternatives, taking in areas such as time travel, fantastical exploration, space travel and non-linear views of humanity. The four gallery-based works refer to events that exploded new pockets of knowledge within a collective consciousness; once viewed in retrospect, however, they show issues in how they were moulded by their receptive environments.
Richard John Jones, for example, paints on free-hanging textiles and scores into unfired slabs of floor-based clay, accompanied by rough glyph-like forms poured with white slip or glaze. Titled Public Sculpture I dissolve in Your Perennial Tears, this and the fabric paintings are suggestive of pre-historic mark-making amongst natural history textbook illustrations of squid-like and pomegranate-like forms.
It can’t be claimed for certain that’s what they are; the work references medieval travel journals that blurred fact and fiction, early forms of mapping the “other” that helped to mould impressions of “here”. The real combined with the exaggerated turns all images into symbols of apparent pasts, and the soft, cracking floor-based work is like a malleable palimpsest or re-formed archaeological dig, cordoned off by the classic mini-rope of the active dig site, or passive museum piece.
Grounded by a modest size and the ephemerality of its materials, the show plays on the temporal values assigned to museum: that of the exhibition as a continuous presence of irrelevant relics, in a set time and space. The bounds and lifetime of the show are made vague with announced and unannounced programming, such as film screenings by Riccardo Arena, play rehearsals by five artists for a future work to be shown in Wexford Arts Centre, and an upcoming performance lecture by Lara Khaldi and Yazan Khalili, described as an exchange of letters between a couple and their friend in space, never knowing if the other receives them.
The limited physical presence of the show is latently suggestive of what an imminent and unpredictable temporary event – a new reference point – could evoke. Curator Kate Strain’s interest in performance and performativity – detailed here – is felt in this potential energy, and the pink and brown coloured gels that line the gallery windows. They tint each room almost imperceptibly, until seen in contrast to its neighbouring space: a literal colouring of the works within.
This potentiality and staging is echoed in the drawn-together threads that make up these tangible pieces. Riccardo Arena’s VAVILON 1 Solovki Island – Project C is an installed map of visual references, bruise-like in colour, pinned like specimens to the museum wall. The acetate and paper links events and trajectories through life – space travel, slave ships, low Egyptian and high soviet sculptural reliefs, moons and engineering. The project’s conception brought the artist in close contact with Russian Cosmism, a philosophical movement encouraging thought beyond the realms of human conception and seeking eternal life via space exploration. It resembles a parsing of human history entirely from scratch, ignoring linear narratives for something that can be extrapolated into the future.
In the next room, Yazan Khalili’s film Hiding Our Faces Like a Dancing Wind is an agitated computer desktop, contrasting a “live” view through an iPhone photo app (with Lara Khaldi testing the limits of its facial recognition abilities by obscuring her features) with making screenshots from screenshots, again taken inside the same technology. These were captured whilst in front of colonial artefacts in European museums, and like Khaldi, are forms beneath facial recognition’s now-frozen yellow box.
It’s a kind of unofficial re-imaging process, filtered through so much data interpretation it’s dizzying to watch and work out. A text box on screen refers to the removal of humanity and feelings of ancestry from these relocated items. Now exotic curiosities through their re-siting, the process of abstraction is intensified in this constant re-imaging and obscuring, relating fast-pace concealment to slowly degrading memories, new filtering layers and classifications of self.
Together, these referential works have a suggestion of mapped and projected data – showing how any future scientific, technological and spatial advancement has our flawed and footloose past experience as a rudder. The obstacle to realising an immortal process is that mortal life is the only thing ever known, the only frame of reference there is. Despite fitting in a post-human narrative arc, the alternatives remain as enigmatic as death.
“The Plough and Other Stars” continues at IMMA, Dublin until 26th February 2017.