New York

Patrick Ireland

Visual Arts Museum

Patrick Ireland’s installation piece Camera radiated a genius loci of exceptionally charming gentility. By using his characteristic materials (rope, nylon thread, and now, pale paint on walls) and a minimum of visual manipulation (just “lines” of rope), Ireland does little to upset the calm of the bare white room. He doesn’t push; his perfectly achieved effects are a function of humility and controlled passiveness. There is art which, by being resolutely and aggressively blank and empty, forces the viewer to confront its obstinacy; Ireland walks the thin line between blankness and its tendency to be pushy, and blankness as self-effacement. Such balancing is technically and visually faultless, but it does not leave one with the feeling of full experience: the information is quickly depleted.

The Visual Arts installation filled a room with a number of rope manipulations: one, an incomplete rectangle; two, a curving line, attached at upper corners; three, an angled line from ceiling to floor; four, a “V” formation. The title Camera referred to the correct positioning of the viewer so that the rope figures coincided with painted forms projected from them on the walls—one shape appeared on the first wall, two on the second, three on the third, and all four on the last. The shapes became “framed“ by the rope lines, as if they were seen through a viewfinder. The incomplete rope rectangle was “completed” with this coincidence, because the rectangle was painted down to the carpeted floor, whereas the rope “stopped” in mid-air (although the “invisible” thread which held it was not totally invisible). Each rope was the same color as its painted projections (green paint on wall and outlined rectangle).

This was all very clear to me, but I am used to this kind of thing. I say this because Ireland added small masking tape “X”s on the rug showing the viewer exactly where to stand so that described line would inscribe the proper painted shape. For me this concession was unnecessary, but perhaps Ireland’s experience with his audience demands such indications. In any event, the masking tape “X”s did not upset the over-all atmosphere with a species of executive orders (now stand here), as often can happen in installation pieces which rely on the given specifications of the room. I thought of them as a way of gently, subtly, bringing attention to the whole floor as another part of the room. I am sure I would have been happier with the removal of the dark gray rug, so as to make the architecture (four walls, ceiling, floor) more of a whole, a unit—but this is a niggling criticism.

But it leads me to wonder whether Ireland would have preferred to take the carpeting out, or whether he accepted it as a given, like the size and proportions of the walls. The room was not “transformed” by the presence of this installation, and it was difficult to decide in just what way this room related to this piece. I found myself wondering if it was the work I was reading, or the room, or both, or what. Couldn’t this piece be done in any room? This would be thoroughly in line with the perfect, ideal feel of Camera—that it probably best exists without the room (although this is impossible, like all concrete models of the ideal).

It took me awhile to feel into what Ireland was after, especially because I found the materials, the methods, a little too “nice.” By eliminating the room from consideration, what was left was not the materials of installation, but the implication of adaptability, and that seemed to be at the heart of the work. This is not a strictly empirical observation, but it arrives from a consideration of Ireland’s desire to “travel light.” Rather than the piece reflecting on its specific environment, it posits a really ideal space to exist in, or at least, another space from the one it inhabits. The ropes, magically drawn in the air, straight as arrows, suggest that Ireland disdains an art with support, of support. Or perhaps, the work will rely on the “invisible” support, magical and covert.

In this case, Ireland bases his work (visually and philosophically) on an illusion we tend to discount. I wonder if visual, physical support is a necessary evil, which Ireland reduces to near-invisibility, as a metaphor for his own ideal of an artwork free from the support of the artworld, the artspace, artmoney, or art criticism. That would put his philosophy in line with the near purity, thesimplicity of his installation.

Jeff Perrone