Communicating with tights and foam balls

Irish News Column
Irish News May 2000

Did I like the exhibition in the Ormeau Baths Gallery? – Not I.
“NOT I”, is the title of this exhibition and it is borrowed from Samuel Beckett’s play of the same name. This play featured a brief, fragmented, disembodied monologue by an actor of indeterminate sex of whom only the mouth was visible.
In what way is Becket present in this project?
The Dutch art critic, Maartje den Breejen writing in the gallery hand-out tells us;
“…the works in “Not I” seem to have swallowed time, they are holding their breath, waiting for…well, for what?…Beckett is there, in the works…He is present in his own absence”

I wonder why art critics favour oxymoronic language.
Could it be because it precludes the necessity of decisive criticism? The “Not I” project originated in Amsterdam and involves the work of twelve contemporary artists from across Europe. Their work, the hand-out says, does not make any direct reference to the works of Beckett but rather mirrors his themes.
When asked why he wrote in French, Beckett replied ;
“ En francais c’est plus facile d’ecrire sans style”. By writing without style, Beckett was, in a sense, a precursor of the Minimalist Art Movement of the Sixties. Although this could not be called a Minimalist exhibition It did remind me of the comment that, what was minimal in Minimal Art, was the art.
Beckett is a bit like Proust. Everybody has something to say about him, but, few have actually read his work; He is a gift to performance and installation artists for whom a book’s blurb is enough to initiate works of great significance.
Let me take you on a tour round this exhibition in our gallery. I say,
Our gallery, because it is our gallery. We as ratepayers pay for it.
We should visit it more often to see if we are getting our money’s worth. On entering the gallery we are confronted by a heap of sand. Imagine that. Who would have thought of that? But there’s more. Standing upright in the sand is a plate of glass sandblasted with braille-like symbols. This work is by Dermot O’Brien. Upstairs Dermot has two other pieces of work. One of these is a video installation which shows a man’s clenched fist, repeatedly tapping a table-top with his knuckles: the other is a Yamaha piano programmed to play E flat and E continuously throughout the duration of the exhibition. Dermot, we are told, is addressing “The problems of communication”. Communication seems to be a problem for most of these artists.
Carl von Weiler speaks to us through two speakers at either end of a steel “acroprop” which is suspended across the gallery like a gymnast’s bar. He is saying; “ Let me down….Don’t let me down”.
This interesting message is repeated all day.
Liliana Moro’s form of communication might prove to be problematical for a Belfast audience. On the floor of the darkened gallery upstairs she has placed four small stereo speakers. Her recorded voice can be heard rapidly reading, in Italian, Beckett’s stage instructions for his play, “Happy Days”. The actual dialogue is omitted only the instructions remain. Now in English, these instructions are not terribly absorbing, but in Italian, there is a real danger that she might bore her audience.
Shows like this are not without humour. More often than not it is to be found in the explanatory literature. Joris Wille makes soft sculpture from felt tights and foam balls. The gusset and legs of the tights are stuffed and a foam ball is balanced head-like on top of them; the sort of thing a child might make at play-school. This object is propped against the gallery wall. The handout says these sculptures;-
“have a human presence” and “ often seem lost and disorientated, while appearing to be in a state of passivity, merely waiting for what’s to come next”.
Did the author think that there was a possibility that these tights might get up and walk out of the gallery?
Richard Crow has littered the floor of the upstairs gallery with his installation; “ The return of the excrescence”.
It looks like a random selection of ageing items culled from someone’s granny’s attic; old, broken and burnt tape-recorders, ancient packaging materials, grimy milk bottles, burnt toast, a dirty shirt and dozens of other inconsequential objects. Propped against the back wall is a card bearing the word, END. Had me thinking deeply. Ahem’mmm, What can he mean? The handout says;
“ Richard Crow is a master technician of the art of the abject and emotive fragment.”
So if you ever need to install an abject or emotive fragment into
your home, you know who to contact.

Joseph Mc Williams May 2000©