Andrew Kearney

Limerick City Gallery of Art

Andrew Kearney’s first major Irish exhibition in seven years, in his native Limerick, was inevitably billed as a homecoming. While its slightly menacing title, “With Intent,” suggested that this London-based artist had some scores to settle, the five large-scale, technologically complex, and obliquely interrelated installations had less to do with a re-engagement with the once-familiar than with an elaborate and theatrical estrangement of the everyday. This was most evident in the misleadingly titled Silence (all works 2001). A giant white orb, held in place by air pressure, was trapped between the floor and roof of one of the larger gallery rooms, while a microphone collected street sounds from outside. These were subsequently processed through a sound-effects unit while simultaneously being translated into a light display and finally combined with a prerecorded ninety-second loop of waves crashing on the seashore. The raw materials for Thread, on the other hand, were sounds and movement from inside the gallery. This random information was gathered via a variety of break-beam and sound sensors and then translated, with the help of a programmable logic controller, into sequences of constantly changing seven-digit numerals displayed on fifty-six LED display units, which festooned the gallery’s main foyer space.

Both of these works involved codifying and manipulating quotidian data through an improbably complex set of procedures, resulting in impressively ominous displays whose precise import remained resolutely indeterminate. Despite the show’s title, Kearney seemed less obviously concerned with purpose and focus than with dispersal and effect. The themes of identity and sexuality around which his work has circled over the past decade tend to be expressed indirectly through a fascination with the mechanics of display, the manipulation of atmosphere and ambience, and the establishment of scenarios that are at once controlled and permissive. The principal component of Time to Time was a bank of five monitors showing slow-motion footage of black balloons being blown about the gallery basement by a concealed fan. The remnants of this scenario were visible through a four-foot square grille in the floor of an adjacent darkened gallery room in which the two-screen film Watching was also shown. The latter consisted of manipulated footage of the artist’s body as he slowly moved around in the restrictive, blue-lit confines of the gallery’s underground boiler room.

The show’s final work, Nightshade, offered some limited relief from the pervasive sense of constriction; at least its five eight-by-four-foot photographs showed an exterior landscape. Mounted on plywood sheets leaning against a wall and perforated with holes through which light bulbs were strung, these elegiac images were of storm-felled and sawn-off tree trunks in a city park, the underlying mood of sadness accentuated by a gradual and cyclical rise and fall in the luminosity of the bulbs. At the core of Kearney’s work is a tension between private language and public display, between hermeticism and seduction; the echoes of artists as diverse as Christian Boltanski, Tatsuo Miyajima, and Robert Gober merely enhance this sense of a ceaseless, melancholic shuttling between personal reverie and something approaching communal memory.

Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith