Critics’ Picks

Niamh O'Malley, Nephin, 2014, black-and-white video, 29 minutes.

Niamh O'Malley, Nephin, 2014, black-and-white video, 29 minutes.


Niamh O’Malley

The Douglas Hyde Gallery of Contemporary Art
Trinity College Arts Building
December 12, 2014–February 25, 2015

Often unnoticed, it forms the invisible protective barrier between an artwork and the world, the screen behind which a video plays, the lens of a camera: Glass takes center stage in Niamh O’Malley’s most recent body of work. As a metaphor for the challenge of creating an accurate representation of the world and the impossibility of doing so, the medium is richly understated in O’Malley’s meditations, which form one of her most pared-back and persuasive exhibitions to date.

Hollow (all works 2014) is one of the subtlest. Pencil on paper, it is an abstract accumulation of marks. With these layers of slate-hued material, it’s difficult to know where pencil ends and glass begins. Two video works, Nephin and Glasshouse, are at the heart of O’Malley’s inquiries. In the former, the camera traverses a circuit round the Nephin mountain in County Mayo, Ireland. Sometimes residential, sometimes agricultural, the rural landscape is dominated by the peak, and yet a small, at first seemingly insignificant black mark on the camera lens increasingly troubles the scene, trumping all else. The mote in your eye, the blot on the landscape, the blind spot? The work adds the contingent problem of what our own experience and vision bring to things.

In Glasshouse, the camera surveys a garden through the stained and broken panes of a greenhouse. Trapped inside, we look out, sometimes granted a clearer vision where the glass has been shattered,, but quickly we are back to the inescapable knowledge that there is always something coming between us and the world.