Sunday, January 24, 2010

Art in the Age of Anxiety.

An exhibition, currently showing in the Crawford gallery, Cork, showcases the work of about thirty artists, from as far back as the Romantic period to the present, who use art as a way of expressing contemporary fear and anxiety. These are mainly in response to social and political issues, prevalent at the time, but show a psychological dimension also, which personalises their work, giving it greater meaning and power. The works are in a variety of media, with some installations, lithographs, oils and even some sculptures imitative of Duchamp's 'readymades'.

Works that stood out for me in particular were the two installations in rooms side by side on the second floor. The first of these, by Nigel Rolf, depicted powder being cast at a mans face, forming a thick mask. The video was cast in slow motion, and a wind action, caused the powder to blow away, very gradually, but very definately, until we are left with the man's bare face once more. This almost ressembled how society forces us to assume masks, which we wear out of fear and as a defence from the world, but how as we grow and develop as people, we slowly learn to shed our masks and discover the truth of ourselves that lies within. Cecily Brennan's installation began with a woman looking into some yonder space, when suddenly muddied water is lashed at her, forcibly propelling her against the wall. She tries to recover from this, struggling upwards slowly, but no sooner is she almost standing once more than more water rushes at her. And so on. This is accompanied by loud and sudden sounds of water from speakers at the back, bringing the viewer right into the space and into the experience. Again this seemed to me to be a metophor for life: how each of us struggle through the difficulties, and no sooner do we feel in control, than we have some other obstacle to contend with. Such is life.

Portrait photos in very large scale were also part of the exhibition: one of a young girl, another of a middle aged man. These were quite powerful to me also as they show effectively the multiple layers of a person. The clarity of these photos tell us much about these people, but what we are left to wonder about them is so much more. All that lies within a person can never fully be known by another, and it shows the dichotemy between the individual and society: our sense of conectedness to ourselves and others.

There were several works in the exhibition that didn't seem to me to belong to the exhibtion (i.e. the scenes of Killarney), but maybe I was missing something? And several others that just didn't make that much of an impression on me. But overall, it was interesting, thought-provoking, and certainly succeeded in making me feel not-so-alone in the anxieties and fears that are part of the human condition.

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