Lee Welch


Composite image consisting of multiple views of “If What They Say Is True,” 2012-13, Centre for Contemporary Art Derry~Londonderry.

Dublin-based artist Lee Welch’s exhibition “If What They Say Is True,” is on view at the Centre for Contemporary Art Derry~Londonderry through January 13, 2013. He is the first recipient of “Production Ireland,” the debut edition of an annual commissions series that inaugurated the organization’s new venue. Here, Welch discusses the various aspects of the exhibition, which is based on motifs that have been recurrent in his practice over the last few years.

96 PERCENT OF ALL TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS consist of just 737 words—and there are around half a million words in the English language. This retreat into stock phrases is a cause for real concern: One is talking more and saying less. Recently, I began considering a form of storytelling that investigates language’s ability to allow different perceptions of reality to coexist. In this sense, I speak through the voice of others, creating a ventriloquist position situated in the present but composed of fragments of narratives from the past. These sources are enacted in stylized acts of speaking which become signs of an idiom traversing or shortcutting multiple histories.

To Be Re(a)d, a performance I presented at the opening of the exhibition, emerged from this set of questions. I read from a book and asked visitors: “What is the combination of words, given the inherent weight of each word, going to add up to?” At that point one might be asking oneself if what they say is true, which is an expression that has something to do with the magic of a set of words or even of a single word—and also, of course, is the title of the exhibition. If one can talk brilliantly about a problem, this can provoke the consoling illusion that it has been mastered.

The performative is a key element of “If What They Say Is True.” On the last day of the exhibition, there will be a “closing act”: a guided tour event which will engage the community of Derry/Londonderry in a celebration of sorts. This dimension is also present in Assembly Room 1, a film made in collaboration with Mike Crane, involving five actors who, seated around a table, exchange arguments about language while interacting with an array of objects. As one of the characters says, “I think your idea suggests that objects might constitute a separate system whose interrelations might follow laws like those of language.”

“If What They Say Is True” also includes objects and images that pertain to ropes, curtains, seats, music, stages, and props—all motifs that I have been exploring for quite some time. Ropes, for example, appear in different parts of the gallery. However, it is on a symbolic level that these motifs best manifest themselves. For example, I’m Not Sentimental If That’s What You is a production still from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 movie Rope superimposed by Johannes Itten’s color wheel. This mix of references is typical of my practice, and the rest of the works on view somehow play on this tone.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, a black linen Japanese print hangs from the ceiling, signifying a doorway; there is an aluminum circle on top of a tripod, which frames a formless clay male head. On top of a pedestal in the middle of the gallery are books, a record player, LPs, a cassette player, and cassettes, among other items. This pedestal stands out for its design, which suggests a seat. My intention is to create a situation that indexes the social world, through which I necessitate not only adjusting one’s sense of one’s surroundings but also one’s awareness of others. Events framed within this context ignite potential for unforeseen participation from audience members. Indeed, if the pedestal becomes a seating apparatus, each viewer becomes not just a spectator but also the object being displayed for the next viewer who comes into the gallery.

— As told to Miguel Amado