Emma Geliot's picture

Thin Place  - Jonathan Anderson

The exhibition Thin Place curated by Ciara Healy, at Oriel Myrddin Carmarthen presents the work of five artists living on the west coast of Wales & Ireland. Ric Bower stopped by and absorbed what was on offer.

To find yourself being watched at any time is disconcerting, but more so somehow in a gallery. After all, this is where the gallery-goer should be assuming the role of 'active viewer' and the art should be quietly submitting to her appraisal. Oriel Myrddin has been colonised by alien sentinels who, it seems, are unfamiliar with gallery etiquette. Everything falls subject to the relentless gaze of Jonathan Anderson s Pylon Totems; they stand in solemn rows on a terraced altar soberly surveying all and sundry.

In terms of appearance, they look like the products of unholy union between an electricity pylon and the Swamp Thing; their dishevelled silhouettes draw upon Guantanamo Bay mobile phone footage of torture, voodoo dolls, crucifixes, wicker men, and the KKK. They are swathed in a decaying, tired materiality; alien priests clad in robes of rags and bitumen. What does it all mean? What have they travelled across the cosmos to tell us? Who cares? They are wonderful.

Adam Buick s Votive Jar Walks are are a series of performative journeys, an ongoing dialogue with the coastal landscape. that references the finds at Neolithic burial sites. The unfired porcelain pots he takes with him form part of this dialogue; (one of which is cunningly concealed within the gallery space). Buick exchanges his pots for found objects en route affording them the privilege of dissolving back into the earth. Sadly the primary evidence for this project is a series of photographs that would not look out of place in West Walian holiday brochure.

Christine Mackey also submitsevidence from a series of walks; hers were made over a period of two years in the West of Ireland and she collected wild flowers along the way. Rather than displaying the blooms in a vase, to admire on the mantlepiece perhaps, she taps into their inner aesthetic; using chromatography, she separates off their uniquely coloured DNA fingerprint, which she then presents on the gallery wall, in test tubes. The humble test tubes are aestheticised by these gleaming chromatic typologies (replete with conceptually matching index cards). The pigments are subsequently employed to create delightfully precise Colour Studies which look very much like Goethe s early 19th century explorations into colour and light. Mackey wrests back, from the scientific process, some kind of aesthetic and intuitive claim on the natural world.

Reports to an Academy, Ailbhe N  Bhriain (screens) and Cave Ladder, 2014, Flora Parrott

Flora Parrott presents a rough hewn wooden ladder, propped against the gallery wall (Cave Ladder, 2014). The ladder alludes to the processes and rituals involved in accessing the unseen. In the physical, the ladder leads nowhere, butting abruptly, as it does, against the plain white gallery wall. But its practical, earthy construction suggests that it was intended to be anything but ornamental. Parrott s other assemblages feel somewhat contrived alongside the ladder's effortless, rough simplicity.

Ailbhe N Bhriain's Reports to an Academy is a dual screen digital montage. Surreal depictions of landscape and classical statuary melt and intertwine at the kind of considered pace that demands a steadiness from a viewer that is hard to summon in a public space. The open narrative of the presentation is, in one sense, quite specifically referring to the shattered dreams of a post Celtic-Tiger economy on a western Irish landscape. The images of classic statutory, from a museum that had been closed due to cuts, broaden the impact of this sentiment to the disconnect that occurs between, the idealised visions we enthusiastically posit and how experiences actualy pan out.

The conversations that all the artists' work revealrelate to tradition, ritual and difference; a discourse that ties in neatly with Healy s curatorial vision. The Thin Place that has drawn Healy into its thrall is an illusive and mystical zone, where the separation between the natural and the supernatural, is membrane thin. Healy s project, the culmination of her PhD research and produced in close collaboration with Oriel Myrddin, manifests through the exhibition itself, a jewel-like, gilt-edged publication containing additional written material, (like a tiny Victorian New Testament) and also a symposium, (to be held on Saturday, 28 February at the gallery).

The introductory text to the exhibition promises the visitor it will explorehow art, literature, science and theology are interconnected , an extraordinarily ambitious goal. I recommend dropping in, decide for yourself whether it has succeeded.

Images: Pylon Totems, Jonathan Anderson Reports to an Academy, Ailbhe N Bhriain (screens) and Cave Ladder, 2014, Flora Parrot

Thin Place curated by Ciara Healy, is at Oriel Myrddin Carmarthen until 28 February 2015.A limited edition publication containing especially commissioned essays accompanies this exhibition.