An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom, Visual, Carlow

Brian Maguire’s portraits of the dead grin portentously from the walls at Carlow Visual and set alongside the murmurs of Teresa Margoles’ Sonidos De La Muerte (2012), the smell of mortification is present. The portraits are cut at odd angles hinting that a folded part of the original photograph exists – one removed for purposes of clarity. This leaves one in little doubt that these images are in-fact missing person’s photographs. Maguire’s effigies are gaudy in their aspect, skimming the surface of the subject in an almost indecent manner. Unlike Marlene Dumas’ who examines cadaver’s post-mortem, these dead women are being examined pre-death; and for some reason this is more tragic. Even worse, we are looking upon them now as an emblem of a place – Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Collaborating with human rights activists and journalists as well as other artists, Maguire has over a period of several years set out to expose a crime wave that has taken over Ciudad Juárez, much of which is aimed at women and children. For this exhibition Maguire brought together five artists (including himself) to explore these atrocities further and humanize something that can so easily fall into the category of statistic. What weights the images that Maguire chooses is not the fact that these women were once living but the fact that someone is desperately hoping that they still are. Maguire includes several scene-of-crime images in the central gallery; vast canvases violently smudged into discernable shapes and yet each retains a beauty beyond that which it depicts. Gruesome in their acuity, it is in these scapes that the artist shines – his imagery full of drama and narrative; something that remains eerily static in the portraits. In the smaller gallery sits Lise Bjørne Linnert’s Desconocida (Unknown, Ukjent), a collaborative project incorporating the individually embroidered names of women who have been murdered or disappeared in Ciudad Juárez since 1993. These posts give pledge to the cause set out by Maguire and this work assumes the role of memorial. Festooned with tape in an oddly celebratory manner Desconocida illustrates Mexico’s incongruous attitude to death, something that can be seen in much of its religious tradition – the procession of martyrs during feast days. The pilgrimage that takes place in these processionals creates a conscious transubstantiation that speaks to a unity in mourning. And yet for all this collective pain, one feels the strong isolation of each work. The curator here has deliberately chosen to space the work into finite allotments, a separation that proposes the notion that even though one can be mourned collectively – one can only die in solitude. Brian Maguire is brilliant at getting under the skin of something and here he does so admirably; the portraits seem absurd, vulgar even in their superficial analysis of the face and yet they are morbidly accurate. The face here becoming symptomatic of violence, a signifier for finality – nothing will ever be the same once they have been painted. As one leaves Visual, shocked by all that we have seen, a film work by Mark McLoughlin plays in the lobby. In it a woman is telling her story of imprisonment and torture. Ultimately what one takes away with you from this exhibition is that what we have seen is desperate and real and even worse – continuing.

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