Jaki Irvine

In Jaki Irvine’s installation The Hottest Sun, The Darkest Hour, five short 16 mm black-and-white films (all 1998–99) were projected simultaneously on different walls of the irregularly shaped gallery space. Disarmingly subtitled “A Romance,” the installation punctuated the dark with the pale and languid glow of a series of romantic engagements and disengagements. Exploring the nature of intimacy, the play of memory and fantasy, and the seductions and estrangements of language—especially “foreign” language and language difference—these films were developed over the past two years by the London-based Irish artist during protracted residencies in Rome and Tuscany. In a number of Irvine’s earlier works the distancing mechanism of distressed and apparently timeworn black-and-white imagery has been allied with voice-overs in heavily accented English. In this latest installation the inevitable evocation of bygone eras and faraway places is tempered by an undercurrent of visceral emotion that seems new to the work.

The simplest of the five films, shot on an Italian mountain in june, was the very literally titled Fireflies at 3 a.m., in which the sporadic sound of frogs accompanies the minimal but evocative glowing of lightning bugs. The longest and most complex film was Marco, One Afternoon, which features the interior monologue of a young man who, arriving at a bar in an unknown city, becomes absorbed in the contemplation of an elegant older man whom he envisages as himself, fifteen years later. The three remaining films occupy ground between these two poles, that is, between the quiet contemplation of nature and the self-conscious disquiet of a young man who begins his restless mental peregrination with the desire “to find a feeling that was mine” only to draw it to a close by deciding that he “had to destroy this feeling.”

Sharing the main space with these first two films was the sensuously lyrical Dani and Diego, in which an angularly androgynous woman romps on the bedroom floor with an Irish setter, who pants and licks her while she croons an Italian song, “Quand’ero piccola” (When I was small), lamenting the impossibility of ever dreaming the same dream with someone else. Finally, Portrait of Daniela and The Take-Off faced off against one another along a low, narrow corridor beneath the gallery staircase. In Portrait of Daniela, the same woman lies on a deck chair beneath ominous skies, silently teasing and flirting with the camera, while the footage on the opposing wall, shot from the passenger seat of an airplane, depicts a takeoff from the runway of London’s Stansted Airport and ends with a panoramic view from above the cloudline. The intense, extravagant sound track to The Take-Off was of the Italian diva Mina singing the torch song “Io vivro senza te” (I’ll live without you).

More than any of Irvine’s earlier work, this orchestral installation pitted the seductive comforts of artfulness and artifice against an implied desire for true revelation and exposure. It persuasively expressed the tension between a longing to be transported by genuine passion and a wry acknowledgment of the self-consciousness by which the expression of such passion can be constrained, between really letting go and mentally belaboring one’s emotions. Given that Marco, One Afternoon was considerably more drawn out than the other four films, this latter predilection seemed to be particularly associated with the male of the human species in an installation whose dramatis personae ranged from fireflies, frogs, and dogs to more advanced forms of being and loving. This may have been coincidental. Then again, it may not.

Caoimhin Mac Giola Léith