The balance of this exhibition of Dorothy Cross’ works at the RHA is exceptional. This may testify to the relationship between artist and curator, but is more likely due to the fact that Cross herself has an innate curatorial bent. What is a very natural composition sits well here; the works speak of the sea, yet give themselves a surreal edge in the internal space. The central element is a shed/currach (a shelter-of-sorts) composed in-part with a boat turned on its head in a manner suggesting it is about to be carried into the sea. Close by and projected onto the adjacent wall sits one of the most impressive projected works I have seen in a long time. This work situates the camera deep within a cave looking out to sea. It is somewhat unusual that the sculptural work that invokes a man-made shelter should sit so close to a projected view of a natural shelter (the cave) – but perhaps there are reasons for this that I have not noticed. The projected work gives the impression of a profound knowledge of the sea, as if the viewer were deep within the cave itself observing the water and waiting for the tide to turn. The framing of both projections (there is another film work featuring “The Shell Grotto” at Margate) is pristine; they appear as two doorways punched through opposing gallery walls, jarring and extending the space into the natural world.
Cross is known for a practice based in the surreal, and yet one feels that the artist is conscious of the chutzpah a life reliant on the sea requires. Life is all around – as is death; the bones of a whale carcass casts its impressive shadow over one wall, while a small shark lies stranded, its flanks pummelled and reshaped by the force of the sea. And there is of course the cast of beautifully composed Spider crabs – the leader adorned with a phallus. Pragmatism remains however and things are re-appropriated; in another corner the skin of a shark is stretched over the hull of a boat. Certain works do not fit in the RHA though I’m sure worked brilliantly at Turner Contemporary. “Shark-heart submarine” a white-gold torpedo lying prone across a paint-spattered easel sits uneasily against the other works in the space simply because the walls are so barren.
This is a wonderfully expansive showing of Cross’ practice and with it the RHA has continued its very impressive programme in contemporary art. The works created for “Connemara” are a treasure and provide true insight into a life lived by the sea. Each piece speaks to the heritage of one of Ireland’s most fascinating areas and artists.