Malachi Farrell

In installations full of thundering and disorderly machines, the Irish-born artist Malachi Farrell presents the world at its most aggressive, with the accent on irruptions of violence, sonic pollution, and collective outbursts. One may recall in particular his piece Hooliganism, 1997, which simulated and exaggerated the hysteria of soccer stadiums, with recorded screams, mechanically shaken bleachers, and fake money falling from the ceiling like confetti. Or his disconcerting reconstruction of an execution in Nature Morte (Les Chaises Electriques) (Still life [electric chairs]), 1997, where two “human” figures made of live laurel branches, strapped to their chairs, were shown shaking violently amid flashes of light, cries of pain, and the crackling of the electrical current.

Farrell’s most recent exhibition, however, opened with a spectacle that was more distressing than violent: Fish flag mourant (Dying fish flag), 1998–2000. On the ground floor of the gallery, in a polluted pond filled with scummy water and trash, several mechanized fish appeared to die a slow, agonizing death. Others hung above the stagnation as though just caught, making their last frantic movements. These toylike robotic sculptures each bore the colors of a nation and symbolized, according to the artist—though to be honest the meaning of this installation couldn’t have been more patent—“the abolition of frontiers in terms of pollution.” Farrell doesn’t beat around the bush or take refuge in metaphors but rather plots out the realities of the contemporary world’s brutal bluntness.

Upstairs, the viewer was subjected to something more ferocious and aggressive. Cameras went off as soon as you entered, flashbulbs popped, articulated arms held microphones out toward you and blocked your way, a voice bombarded you with questions. Farrell’s installation Interview (Paparazzi), 2000, turned the spectator into a Hollywood actor or a political figure, plunging him or her into the grotesque and hellish circus of the star system, the violence of the media. Beyond this, along the metal barriers arranged in the long-limbed space of the there was quite simply a riot, a street demonstration staged in a calculated disorder composed of robot policemen, helmeted machines, flashing lights, cobblestones, and smoke. Banners marked SAY NO or LIBÉRER (liberate) in red letters rose in the air, fell slowly, rose up again. The Riot, 2000, we were told, was a work in progress.

There is a bit of Public Enemy in Farrell, then. And, in fact, it is not beside the point to note that he has particular affinities with French and American rap. The brother of the musician Liam Farrell, aka Doctor L., who made his debut with the band Assassin before making his way into electronic music, Malachi Farrell also designed the album cover for Hip-Hop Against Racism in 1988. But while he has distanced himself from the hip-hop aesthetic to develop this furious art of the machine, mixing noise and sounds, bricolage and high technology, Farrell has nevertheless maintained all of rap’s violence, its aesthetic of literalness and assault.

Jean-Max Colard

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.