Fergus Feehily

Situated on the Trinity College campus, the Douglas Hyde Gallery is distinctive within the Dublin context not only because of its university setting and Brutalist architecture but also because it has provided a particularly prominent platform for the articulation of a strong curatorial voice—that of John Hutchinson, its director since 1993. The addition of a second gallery in 2001 has allowed for parallel exhibitions of artworks and craft objects, further asserting the distinctiveness of this institution. “Pavilion,” Fergus Feehily’s exhibition in the first gallery, fittingly explored the idea of an enclosed space—whether a room, a gallery, or a provisional structure such as a pavilion—as a coveted territory and a privileged vantage point on the world.

All but one of the sixteen works in the exhibition—the exception being Lakeside Structure (Model), 2009, a simple construction standing in one corner—were presented on the walls, at a low height, appearing almost absurdly small from a distance. Several of these unconventional paintings incorporate images suggesting fields, foliage, or low walls, but these views are often either forcefully contained by wooden frames or partly obscured by the addition of small sheets of painted or plain plywood—implicitly inviting viewers to peer above or below the barrier that only renders the partially hidden components more compelling. In some works, the predominance of grays, pale pinks, and yellows, and the incorporation of found fragments such as lacquered frames, patterned cloth, and bird illustrations evoke a sense of delicacy. In others, however, such fragility is dispelled by the visible presence of multiple large screws, piercing the frame and securing the work directly to the walls of the gallery. This almost violent gesture, suggesting a territorial claim, operates alongside a more whimsical exploration of the gallery as the setting or stage for the invocation of memories and fantasies of other places. A selection of small objects and images, absent from the printed list of works, was placed on the walls. Among these were a cocktail-stick construction looking something like a Christmas tree ornament or a model of a snowflake, and a found photograph of a Japanese street in which uniformed men and kimono-wearing women walk below trees laden with cherry blossoms.

A context for the presentation of these disparate elements could be found in a short text written by the artist for the accompanying publication. Composed of two narrative threads, it shifts between recollections that are distinct yet hard to disentangle. One is of a prized bedroom, briefly inhabited by the artist as a child one summer during the temporary absence of a sibling. Its window was divided in two, shared with another room, and its walls were decorated with wallpaper featuring an exotic scene in which a boat appeared to move toward an island, upon which stood a teahouse. The other memory refers to an experience of sitting on a train circling “the green loop of Tokyo,” offering views of a landscape that recalled the repeating pattern of the pavilion pictured on the wallpaper. The deliberately circuitous evocation of Japan—as a place both imagined and experienced—in the exhibition and the accompanying text sat somewhat oddly with the concurrent exhibition of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japanese country textiles in the second gallery. The contrast in tone between these two evocations of a distant place, one rooted in fantasy, the other in daily life, was unexpected, even jarring. Yet this dissonance ultimately served to focus rather than to disrupt the subtle exploration of time, space, territory, and memory in “Pavilion.”

Maeve Connolly