I See a Darkness

Night is not an object before me; it enwraps me and infiltrates through all my senses, stifling my recollections and almost destroying my personal identity. I am no longer withdrawn into my perceptual look-out from which I watch the outlines of objects moving by at a distance. Night has no outlines; it is itself in contact with me, and its unity is the mystical unity of the mana. 1, (2).

Described as “an idea to broadly explore the history and mythology of the black mirror”, ‘I See a Darkness’, curated by Davey Moor, and featuring works by Eleanor Duffin, Lorraine Neeson, Paul Nugent, Niamh O’Malley and Nicky Teegan, also explores the greater complexity of what darkness brings to an object. Alternatively we can enquire, what does light take from an object? And none are more guilty of light over-exposure than museums and galleries. Normally air-tight boxes that purposefully have no windows, light in the exhibition environment, is often something that must be fought over and examined. One thing, most artists and gallerists will not let you do with light, however; is take it away. Given that most museums are harshly (or certainly artificially lit), the imagined curatorial platform for this exhibition is the Museum at night. Importantly, the exhibition is accompanied by a publication compiled by curator Davey Moor, the written works weaving themselves into the totality of the exhibition. With excerpts by Arnaud Maillet, Brian Dillon, Elurd Goodson and H.G. Wells amongst others, the passages filter through ideas surrounding the elemental nature of the Dark, exploring each sinew of its being, and assuming, for the sake of this exhibition, the burden of objectivity.

“To refresh their vision. Renew their reaction to colour, the tonal variations. After a spell of work, their eyes fatigued, they rested themselves, by gazing into these dark mirrors. Just as gourmets at a banquet, between elaborate courses, reawaken their palates with a sourbet de citron” (Truman Capote’s ‘Music for Chameleons’)

Nicky Teegan’s small sculptural works mark a departure, the artist moving away from performative evocations into form. Though the objects retain something of the ritual about them, bones and spheres acquire a totemic feel, something has, or is, about to happen. Teegan is also showing a single larger work, Trap (2014); a ratten-type weaving of wood and magnetic tape, the surface of which creates a series of  pockets over-which light can undulate. It appears as a black ripple overlooking her smaller sculptures, as if it could burst apart at any moment and allow its blackness to pour forth. This threat of activation, exists throughout the exhibition, challenging one to react to the works, and intimating within each, an awareness beyond the viewer. As such, each work is as elusive, deep and alluring as the next.

The title “I See a Darkness” does however seem to have found its rightful place in the works of Paul Nugent. Auspicious because of their lack of flower, Nugent’s fixed, un-flowering flowers, (common weeds, roots and all) are being preserved evidentially, at that point when there is no light. Pressed flowers (denuded now), their leaves embossed into a deep ravine of inked card, the substance caressing the organic, imbibing it, allowing it to breathe now, soon to succumb to the depths. There is also something of the dirge about its mount (on choral music stands), however this work for me is ultimately one of hope. The flickers of light reflected from metal flecks present in the work of Eleanor Duffin, catch the eye; the light glinting out from the blackness, seeming to maintain itself momentarily, but in a somewhat divested form.

The dominance of the visual that creates a type of insensate response to art, often serves to misalign one’s abilities to view a work in all its complex delicacy, as well as abstracting the subtleties of the work itself. The mystifying insouciance that darkness bequeaths to form; that opacity that occurs when light is removed, makes the object very immediate – very real. And thankfully all the works created for this exhibition have resisted the pull to overt mysticism and shamanism, which has become something of a trend lately. Each work has adeptly maintained the subtlety implied in the curatorial concept, and this makes for a generous and multi-layered exhibition.

It is unusual to see a commercial gallery such as Kevin Kavanagh’s showcasing an (externally) curated show containing many non-gallery artists. And it is very refreshing to see it. Often gallery artists tend to be rotated in a series of solo exhibitions over a period of time (normally when they haven’t been seen for a while). Furthermore many of these artists are rarely exhibited anywhere other than in the gallery that represents them. Because of this, gallery-represented artists can exist in a situation where they rarely get the opportunity to exhibit in group shows with younger artists, and certainly, their practice can stall through a lack of interaction. This exhibition however sees a wonderful juxtaposing of established artists such as Niamh O’Malley (fresh from her mesmerising solo exhibition at the Douglas Hyde Gallery), with emerging artists such as Teegan, and it allows for all the artists involved to contrast their work in a variety of ways. Here, each work appears to throw the idea of darkness between them, challenging the next, each absorbing and reflecting what it feels to them to be in darkness.

  1. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, (1945) Phénomènologie de la perception published 1945 by Gallimard, Paris
  2. Sigmund Freud, (1913) Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics. (re. Mana).*Mana is a term used by Freud in ‘Totem and Taboo’. The term is a Polynesian word denoting the supernatural or demonic influence made manifest in taboo actions and thing

I See a Darkness runs at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, Dublin from 19th February-14th March. The exhibition will also travel to Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, 26th March–2nd May 2015.

Main Image: Paul Nugent, Lux (2014)

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