Conor Kelly

The popularity of chaos theory may be due to the comforting implication that nature is ultimately explicable, if not exactly predictable. Conor Kelly’s mesmerizing and witty orchestration of the everyday preyed on a deep-seated anthropomorphizing urge to comprehend in human terms, and thereby to control, the animation of our natural as well as our built environment. Despite the allusion in its title to medieval church music, Plainsong, 2004, a sequence of five short videos, is an irreverent, infectious hymn to the mundane and the temporal. Designed to play singly or in combination, all five videos were on this occasion shown on individual monitors of varying sizes, mounted on pedestals and flanked by pairs of small floor-bound speakers, which were arranged around the three walls of Peer’s modest storefront gallery.

Visually, the work as a whole is a concatenation of inconsequential and mostly unpeopled incidents with a very British, or Irish, emphasis on the vagaries of the weather: a lone tree rustling in the wind, rain bouncing off a sidewalk, reflections in a rippling expanse of water, a close-up of a light pulsing on and off, a scattering of distant lights blinking across a bay at night. Its elevating grace is the sly humor of its score, which provides painstakingly customized accompaniment to each particular scene. A windblown tree isolated in a patch of parkland shakes its branches to the clangor of a mildly deranged piano composition, prompting the mind-bending thought that each individual branch might even have been provided with its own unique melody. The slow crescendo of an increasingly heavy downpour on a city street is sonically diverted and distorted into what becomes a vigorous artificial drum solo before being returned to an approximation of the gentler rhythms of nature. Three tiny lights wink on and off in the distance of a dark night, each to its own different beat, each accompanied by its own distinctive and manifestly unnatural percussive sound.

While the combined footage of the five videos, were they to be simply viewed one after the other, would amount to twenty-four minutes, the effect on the viewer standing in their midst was of a looped sequence, as one monitor faded to black and another, or several others, burst into life. At certain times only one screen was illuminated, at other times visual rhymes and aural rhythms bounced around two or three screens. The overall pace of the sequence was more leisurely than the internal rhythms of its livelier constituent parts, and the general movement was clockwise, inviting the viewer standing in the middle of the small gallery to rotate slowly on the spot 360 degrees over the duration of the piece. The contrast between Plainsong’s beguilingly “natural” (i.e., minimally or at least unobtrusively postproduced) visuals and the extravagant artifice of its sound track invited the viewer to savor the unregarded delights of our everyday surroundings and smile at the fantasy that they might ever be entirely amenable to our control.

Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith