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Alan Phelan

Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
Charlemont House, Parnell Square North
March 10, 2016–October 2, 2016

Alan Phelan, Our Kind, 2016, video, black and white, sound, 30 minutes.

As Ireland marks the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising—the failed revolution that, nevertheless, defined the independent Republic—arts programming throughout the state is exploring that event’s various legacies. One of the most thought-provoking and intelligent exhibitions to come out of this is from Alan Phelan. In a small installation and separate thirty-minute video, the artist imagines an alternate future for one of the revolution’s antiheroes, Roger Casement, who was knighted for his work on human-rights abuses in the Congo Free State and Peru, yet imprisoned for bringing German weaponry to Ireland during World War I. Public sympathy for Casement evaporated when his so-called Black Diaries, detailing his homosexual relationships and fantasies, were leaked during his trial. Not too much later, he was put to death.

Phelan’s black-and-white video Our Kind, 2016, sees Casement exiled instead of executed, living in Norway on the fringes with his former servant and lover, Adler Christensen. Our Kind’s dialogue has been appropriated from another film, Michael Haneke’s Wer war Edgar Allan? (Who Was Edgar Allan?, 1984), a paranoid thriller about a German art student driven to madness by a stranger who follows his every move. This transposition underlines how history is just another form of devious storytelling, always slanted and endlessly suspect.

Excerpts from Casement’s diaries appear on the gallery walls in phantomlike ribbons of text, haunting the space. A central vitrine displays a pack of cards and a pair of neatly folded pajamas. Casement brought a pair of boys from the Putumayo region of Peru to London in 1910—it’s said that one was “won” during a game of bridge, and the other was swapped for a set of nightclothes. Heroes are messier than we’d like to believe, alas.

Gemma Tipton

Kathy Prendergast

Kerlin Gallery
Anne's Lane, South Anne Street
October 29, 2016–December 10, 2016

Kathy Prendergast, Atlas, 2016, 100 road atlases, ink, trestle tables, dimensions variable.

Kathy Prendergast has long made a practice of maps. From her 1983 series of watercolors “Body Maps,” which conflated cartography with the female body, to her delicate “City Drawings,” 1992, which won her the Premio Duemila at the 1995 Venice Biennale, she has proven her observation that “all maps are subjective,” with fresh explorations that address naming, control, personal memory, borders, and exclusion.

For Atlas, 2016, Prendergast has laid out one hundred copies of the AA Road Atlas of Europe, each open to a different page, on as many trestle tables. By painstakingly blacking out all but the white dots signifying settlements, she imagines a Europe freed from territories, boundaries, frontiers, and networks of roads and rivers. Instead, each point glows, defiant in the darkness, yet also somehow lonely.

The outlines of Ireland are clear enough, spread across two sets of pages, but navigating around the tables—which are laid out in a rough schematic of the continent, and further into Central Europe—additional moments of darkness appear. Are these voids seas, lakes, national parks, or perhaps just inhospitable places? Presented as a single installation, this is a powerful work—cultural differences are leveled, while the tiny white dots reveal the tenacity of human endeavor. Our relative smallness among mountains and oceans is utterly laid bare.

Gemma Tipton

“A Weed is a Plant Out of Place”

Lismore Castle Arts
Lismore Castle,
April 3, 2016–September 30, 2016

View of “A Weed is a Plant Out of Place,” 2016.

The curator of this group exhibition, Allegra Pesenti, is a specialist in drawing. This is readily apparent with the seventeen artists she’s selected, who offer up a range of works in varying degrees of subtlety and delicacy. Michael Landy’s series of weed etchings, “Nourishment,” 2002, hanging in a line across an entire wall, are the exhibition’s linchpin. Landy’s renderings of these plants are a testament to the perseverance of the seemingly fragile, highlighting unexpected beauty in the most inhospitable of spots. Adrian Paci’s video The Guardians, 2015, echoes Landy’s sentiments with its depiction of children cleaning an Albanian graveyard. In about six minutes, Paci takes us through life and death via creeping vines that slowly defeat the seeming invincibility of stones.

Equally beguiling is Mat Collishaw’s Whispering Weeds, 2011, an animated homage to Albrecht Dürer’s Great Piece of Turf, 1503; and Dorothy Cross’s Foxglove, 2015, a group of eerie bronze bells made from casts of fingertips. Latifa Echakhch’s humorous “Tumbleweeds,” 2012, are scattered around the gallery. They’re found objects rather than crafted works, which you can purchase by mail order. And Luisa Rabbia’s Passage, 2008–14, makes an emphatic point about migration and the need to put down roots. Her zigzag drawing/frieze depicts what appear to be small grasses growing on a veiny blue earth. On closer inspection, however, what’s revealed is an endless procession of humanity—diasporic masses spreading throughout the globe, seeking out new habitats that might support life and different kinds of cultures.

Gemma Tipton