Writing by Paul Murnaghan
for the forthcoming publication, 'Don't look back', (10
years of Platform) book launch 6th May 2011 at Platform in Vaasa, Finland.
Murnahan's interest in psychoanalytical theory is ubiquitous in his video piece And I was happy just to breath. This video work recalls Freud's writing on the unheimlich translated as the uncanny or unhomley. The otherworldly is manifested through everyday objects and surroundings. This uncanny experience is prompted when what we view as imaginary appears in reality before us. This idea of disruption of our perception of what is real or unreal forms the basis of the piece. The simultaneous existence of multiple levels of realties or reality enclaves is highlighted, creating an awareness that we only have to shift our attention to this possibility in order to experience other dimensions of reality.
The title And I and silence some strange race is taken from Emily Dickinson's poem I felt a funeral in My brain in which she explores the inner workings of the mind. This piece illustrates the presence of the unnatural and spiritual in the natural world and the transient nature of being. In Avery F. Gordon's Ghostly Matters, she posits that "Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither pre-modern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it." Gordon's primary argument is that "that which appears absent can indeed be a seething presence" The ghost becomes an empirical sign that a haunting is taking place. The ghost for Gordon is a social figure where history and subjectivity make social life.
The core of Paul Murnahan's work can be applied to the individual and the universal nature of existence. What resonates in the works is the notion that belief is inherently flawed but it is from these flaws that we construct the collective. The systematic calling into question of belief systems is fundamental to Murnahan's practice, allowing the viewer to suspend or question the nature of truth.
Mary Cremin in an independent curator currently working as part of the IMMA curatorial team.
Gemma Tipton, extract from ''A line Describing Nothings' , the LAB' Catalogue.
There must be something inside.
Neocredo at Platform, Vaasa, Finland 2008
The work that he constructs develops in sections. The Neocredo exhibition at Platform contains only part of the work. The key for the artist is the whole project which has lasted a lot longer than it's current realization.....
exhibition is presented through four video works installed within a purpose
built installation. Content is provided by Finns, Swedes, Slovenes and
Estonians and anyone who was willing to add to this universal hymn. The
piece is not documentary film or about musical talents, but rather it
opens up the psychology of belief itself. This is a far more conceptual
work, which questions what lies behind belief. Maybe you have lost your
faith, can you attempt to express that?
The exhibition contains three video works, which have been placed in consciously difficult positions, and the fourth video is seen only when darkness arrives. This underscores the importance of content out of reach. Maybe we do not understand our own belief. The sculptural form of the works is also intentional, using conventions of sculpture itself where the sculpture is raised so high on a pedestal that you almost cannot see it. He has commented on this tradition by building a raised pedestal from recycled wood. The three videos are embedded in, lifted up and placed in narrow spaces in violation of conventions.
I met Murnaghan last week to share a memory with him, for which I am indebted. The encounter opened the floodgates and left me sitting holding my wax-sealed certificate, wondering why I'd responded with that particular memory and where it would nestle in the company of all the other memories he has collected. I wondered about the variety of performances he had encountered and how it must feel to process that kind of information.
In trading something as evanescent as a memory, we encase the selected recollection with another layer of importance, monumentalizing the memory and sustaining it. What we bring to the performance is chosen autonomously and is therefore inadvertently a presentation of the perceived self. As our perception of our present self is inextricably linked to the past, a monumentalized memory should persist and be prompted to the present more readily, as a reminder to the present self of a past self. By superimposition, memories become obfuscated and less accurate; it's not by voiding memories that we forget, it is by the addition of newer experiences. Memory is "finite by nature" and also needs signs or prompts to "recall the non-present" . As Murnaghan wrote out my memory, I considered that his perception of my memory would of course be entirely different from mine and its influence on him subjective to his own past. While the act of writing functions as a visual engram in the mind, the essence of the memory is captured in another way and locates the memory within the familiarity of past experience.
I understood the meeting as a phenomenological exercise, a recollection of an experience that is shared for the purpose of enlightening my own self-awareness and contributing to the listener's understanding of human emotion and interaction. By taking a phenomenological attitude, we ask the experience to explain itself to us and respect it for its role in our personal development.
By Murnaghan's advertising his memory space to a consumer, the selected memory is subject to the value you deem appropriate. This was my biggest dilemma surrounding the event and as a result I am now in debt. The sealed certificate I received and this piece of writing are the only physical testaments I have to my memory and the new event that now surrounds it.
For me this monument is not about to topple any time soon.
from Frieze Magazine,
The interest in archival modes of presentation in contemporary art over the past few years has also recently been contested by some Dublin-based artists. This Must Be The Place (2009), curated by Paul Murnaghan and Sally Timmons, presented works by ten artists collectives at the inaugural exhibition of the self-styled, artist-run Irish Museum of Contemporary Art (IMOCA). Located (just like IMMA) outside the city centre, IMOCA is housed within a leaky, disused warehouse rather than a preserved historical landmark. Participants in the show were asked to respond to a specific question How Do We Think? in any form other than an archive.
The results were startling both in terms of scale and form. Artist collective The Good Hatchery, based in a converted hayloft in a rural area of county Offaly, built a large structure (entitled The Solution, 2009) that referenced Bernd and Hilla Bechers canonical images of water towers and catalogued some Irish examples, while also dispensing water. Pallas Contemporary Projects presented The Greatest (2009), an electric-powered golf buggy, custom-fitted with leopard-print fur, alongside a quote (I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was) from Muhammad Ali, who was apparently a previous occupant. Visitors could steer this vehicle, like a lone fairground bumper-car, around the warehouse at a fairly rapid pace and the experience of sitting in a seat supposedly once occupied by Ali added a temporal dimension to the visceral sense of spatial dislocation. By invoking a compelling historical example of self-transformation in response to the question posed by the curators, The Greatest opened up new vantage points on a familiar scene with a confidence worthy of Ali himself.
Cunningham at 5th Gallery Guinness Storehouse November 2002 - January
and death sells. Apparently, this is something well-known in the commercial
world of advertising but I am not sure what the logic is behind it (how
could this be logical?). The human fascination with sex and death is well
documented, however, and in the art world it was especially popular at
the turn of the last century, in the era of the 'femme fatale'. In his
book Femme Fatale: Images of Evil and Fascinating Women , Patrick Bade
puts this obsession down to the prevalence of syphilis among Bohemian
artists, and the romantic spirit of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.
In flex at the Guinness 5 th Gallery, Chris Cunningham deals with a variation of this theme, concentrating on sex and violence. Perhaps it is my own romanticism surging forth, but while Cunningham's variation is scarier to me, I believe it wholly relevant to the turn of the millennium: terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the ravages of AIDS form the backdrop to personal terror, as there is a growing awareness of abuse and the realisation that the 'enemy' is usually a trusted member of the community and/or family. Although I tend to be wary of exhibitions that come with a warning (as this one did), suspecting the artist and/or gallery of wanting to promote sensationalism, to be suspicious of flex would be to trivialise one of the most thought-provoking videos I have ever seen.
Cunningham: flex , 2001, video installation with sound; courtesy of
Before entering the gallery space, loud, electronic sound (created in collaboration with Richard D. James) is already heard. The video itself is projected onto a complete wall of the square gallery, so one is within a cinematic environment. There is a definite narrative too, so it is important to watch the complete video - which, while it emotionally may prove difficult, is visually stunning.
In a nutshell: from darkness a beam of light illuminates the naked forms of a man and woman who are first seen in the protective spoon embrace; on separating they are both overwhelmed by violence to each other, and the video ends with the woman crawling back to the embrace of the man. The video is filmed in such a way that the human forms are 'other' in that the perspective is distorted and details are too defined. What one hears is a type of hyper-realism (movement, breathing, the meeting of flesh on flesh) and the familiar Hollywood notion of a space vacuum - the impossible sound of the hollow scraping of air... While the video seems to be black and white (as a viewer I found some irony here as I thought of Guinness commercials gone terribly, terribly wrong!), there are subtle hints of colour: the man's ear and the woman's lips are pink. Both the man and woman have very fit, muscular bodies and their interaction is predicated by the white light - at some points they seem to be interrogated, their actions and violence towards each other seem to be caused by this light. Here I considered the effect of the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey , and with this in mind, it is no surprise that Cunningham has in fact worked with Stanley Kubrick. In art and literature 'the light' traditionally represents goodness and truth; in flex, while not necessarily malignant, the beam of light reveals nakedness and fear (like the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden).
Given time and space, I would be able to write a tome on Flex. Cunningham is an experienced maker of videos in the music industry who has brought his expertise and vision into the art world. Fabulous production and thoughtful work; no naval-gazing here, this is video as it should be.
Lorraine Whelan is an artist and writer based in Bray, Co. Wicklow.
To the people of Vaasa: I, Paul Murnaghan have failed as your monument, as your memory, as archivist, as keeper of things private, passionate, frivolous and long pondered. For this, I wholeheartedly do not apologise. Maybe I should rephrase this? I'll start again with a little less grandeur.
To the people of Vaasa: (who where participants in Memorious). Overtime the memories that you entrusted to me have become jumbled, mixed up with my own life and at times, completely erased. For this, I must admit to being human, to being sidetracked, flawed and often only concerned with myself.
this confession as a starting point, I will try to describe Memorious,
the reasoning behind it, the process and some of the memory that still
remains intact.I had decided to look upon myself as a monument. Not a
monument to any specific ideology or event but one that would commemorate
things personal to any individual that contacted me. I would attempt to
monumentalise moments, memories, wishes or lies, too insignificant or
subjective to qualify for the traditional notion of monument. I had previously
visited some of these more traditional works in Memento Park just outside
of Budapest. These enormous statues to a fading ideology stand awkward
and confused, no longer intimidating or inspiring, like some vast monument
to the unemployed. This experience, coupled with a keen interest in the
formation of myth and memory, and a sentence from the book Camera Lucida
by Roland Barthes, formed a catalyst for this work. Barthes states that,
'Earlier societies managed so that memory, the substitute for life, was
eternal and that at least the thing which spoke death should itself be
immortal: this was the monument.'
to Memento Park and it's forty-two pieces of art from the "Hungarian-Soviet
Friendship" and "Liberation" between 1945 and 1989. I was
struck by the sheer scale of these works and how they now huddle together
as if to take solace from each other and to collectively ignore their
original function. Thankfully, memory is subjective and the self-protection
mechanism of being able to selectively ignore and forget may be just as
important as being able to remember. When I now try to recall the many
memories that I have been given over time, I feel a connection to these
fellow monuments, in that I fail at my task. But then I think that to
truly become a monument, one must at some stage fail. I seem to remember
that before my metamorphosis, I was once an artist and I use this fact
to hastily cover my retreat.
nosed, dark flat bog. Full moon. Thin dry crack underfoot, seeing breath,
the smell of cold air. Vague shapes in the low light. The sound of earth
displaced from it's chosen shape. A low vibration, erratic bass spreading
evenly across the rough shadow. Sound travels well out here, sound that
is not of here. I am not here. This is a memory, not mine but others.
We talked in a room in the city center, for about an hour, about a place
and how it may be changed by things put in it. And things, changed by
where they are placed.
You wanted this here because it would not normally be. Now that it is, what have you done?
Tony drives for a living, long hours, seated, smoking, all scapes are one now. Living on automatic takes a toll. Extended periods of abstracted thought while a separate body reacts to light, sign, and instruction. The truck cab smells of human occupation. The Star, Mars bar looks down on small cars. Taken to the odd amphetamine to pay for Christ's coming, always expensive this time of year. Nearly home. Country roads, too small, too curved, surging and slipping toward a static place. To be still.
Even in his favorite chair, always in the same position, front of the T.V. It takes a day before the feeling of motion starts to subside. Driving through Corrie, through football, through the private rooms of willing celebrities. The history Channel, Hitler or Egyptians, Egyptians or Hitler, always the same deal. A well-dressed man communes with the dead while the studio audience applaud. Something catches, a catalyst, jerks a stored image, a light, a form, a pyramid. Recently seen in the wrong place. Small pills and long hours explained it well enough but still, something was there for sure. Close by in a familiar nowhere, covertly viewed from a discreet distance.
moon was distracting, bright pockmarked circle with a halo of soft gray.
Host on high. The bog is flat, low lit and deserted, though not quite.
Something is moving in the middle distance, silhouettes, bodies absorbed
in some kind of ritual. They are humming, it's hard to hear over the engine.
The truck restrains inertia, firmly guiding each cog into place, slowing
towards a better view. Window down, lights off. Bodies part, there is
an object on the ground, triangular, bright, moving and full of colour.
It's hard to perceive but something is caught inside of this object. It
morphs and loops, offering sporadic sights from domestic to geometric.
It seems as if it has witnessed these things and now turns them over in
it's own mind. Curtain, wave, flight, ball, colour, cone, an erratic waltz,
a jostle for place in equilateral windows. This thing is alien here, unnatural
but somehow precise at this moment in time. Take in the whole view, bright
circle, a line, and bright triangle. A child's toy, a puzzle, beacon,
message, siren. Who is this for? Is it for me? Tycho Brahe sends his best.
One of the forms moves behind the object, a face partially lit from below.
It stares straight this way.
Anyway, next day he's back to his old self. I wake to the smell of bacon frying, recent shower and too much deodorant. It's the weekend, a breather between work and more work, words are back on, he hugs me as soon as I enter the kitchen, and he even fried for two. After the usual catch-up he falls silent again, an ominous sign. He looks up with an odd expression on his face. Stares at me intently as if he doesn't even know me. I'm waiting for it, something major, next bloody thing to bring the world down on us. But then his face visibly softens, lifts mug, slurps tea, toast chaser and swallow.
"I think we should go to Cairo".
Juliana Walters does not belong where she is. Her attempts at being there are fractured at best. From Metropolis to village, non place to potential asylum, nothing is found to be any greener. This is most evident in her diverse articulations through drawing, sculpture and video installation.
the video work 'Spaltung', we watch as she physically struggles to link
somewhere just out of our sightline, to her presence within the imposing
aesthetic of a visually mutating forest. This punctum link is tenuous,
never fully forged, snapping back past the peripheral in an instant. The
result of this retort is the multiple splitting of her digital persona
in a digitized space. This same split echoes through much of her work
mirroring our contemporary existence as we endeavor to live in ever changing
environments and velocities, adopting new psychologies as inertia buffers.
There is a constant tension and imbalance palpable here, its cause is displacement. At her core, Walters is a transient city dweller, well used to city culture and its social flick switch. When circumstance conspires to immerse her in domestic routine and rural isolation, the absence left by such a massive shift in her life rises to the surface. The installation entitled 'Seven days again', builds on this tension by listing all of the familiar family garments that have been washed and dried to assemble enough substance (lint garnered from a tumbler dryer) to construct the piece. The aesthetic is soft, clean and abruptly gynecological. The nature of the habitual has made this material, layered, pliable, an archive waiting to be exposed. It puts one in mind of the kitchen implements fashioned by Mona Hatomn, their familiarity, unwarranted sharpness and charged cold steel. Things proverbial yet treacherous, exposing a sense of discomfort mediated by something deeply personal.
Walters has made use of elements such as heat, light and structured time in a practice that engages the familiar whilst tentatively probing its underbelly. Elements of nature are artificially reconstructed or rendered in deceptively simple substances, which on closer examination reveal far more about the concerns of this artist then the immediate aesthetic. Past works have exhibited a degree of playfulness by placing seemingly 'obvious' elements to the fore and challenging the viewer to go beyond the surface. For those that attempt to engage with this strategy there is always reward. A delicate balance is being attempted in this new body of work, no solutions are offered, just documents of observation and fragile equilibrium. It is within this struggle, this perpetual emotion that Walters considers and defines her practice; the residue of being, lending line and form to describe an existence.