Outside the Lines

A column of irregular writing. Irregular because its outside the normal publication schedule, but also, possibly, irregular in content. Featuring short commentary, reviews and ideas that are not Blogs, not Tweets, but more Bleets.  However we’re not sheep, we’re creative individuals and we’re not satisfied to simply follow a bleating flock…read on…

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Making Familiar at the Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin

Making Familiar, a project currently running at the Temple Bar Gallery in Dublin, curated by Robert Armstrong and James Merrigan, makes extra efforts in facilitating exchange about painting by inviting 12 painters to gradually build up an exhibition over a period of 6 weeks. Each week paintings of two more painters are added to the display and the two painters are present for a peer-to-peer talk in front of an audience.

Already the title tries to turn the phrase “making strange” (explicitly defined as an attitude of “not talking due to being uncomfortable”) on its head and artists are invited to not only talk about their praxis, but their daily lives in general. It suits in this respect, that the paintings in the final display in that relatively small gallery space in the heart of one of Dublin’s busiest cultural and recreational areas, are not necessarily hung for most advantageous visual effect, but more as a mash-up, somewhat unruly, with a notion that things could spill over and affect each other.

Making Familiar is still on display until 29th September 2012. The exhibition contains video recordings of the individual artist sessions. Texts, images and videos are also available at http://makingfamiliar.blogspot.ie 

Participating painters:
Mark Swords + Paul Doran
Mary Ramsden + Mark Joyce
Diana Copperwhite + Vicky Wright
Daniel Pitin + Eithne Jordan
Andreas Golder + Damien Flood
Peter Burns + Kevin Mooney

http://www.templebargallery.com

Bernhard Gaul

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Digital Media versus Physical Painting

The latest issue of The Painting Imperative is about Digital Painting, very much under the aspect of describing it as a new art form, currently shunned and excluded for not being serious enough. But we are also aware that such notions are conservative, to be replaced by acceptance of the new technologies, like we accepted printmaking and paint in tubes as technological advances which have by no means diminished the possibilities of what visual art can be, or ruined its most earnest endeavours.

You can see the advantages with ‘going digital’: more instant and instantly shareable results, reproducibility built in from the outset, cheap to disseminate and own, and let’s not forget: cheap to be stored. Wall space is no longer an issue, you  – and that means everyone – can rotate what they like, and it finally completely breaks down the aura of the original, but not by way of (the still always second rate) reproduction, as Walter Benjamin suggested, but by being in a reproducible format per se.

I am not technologically conservative, in fact I make a living from being directly involved with digital technologies, but the question still arises of why do I still want to be a physical painter – and go to great lengths to be one? Is physical painting becoming a mere pastime, a luxury or hobby without relevance or real impact on society?

If I’m asked to sum up the difference between working digitally and physically, the main thing I come up with is: the physical is awkward, almost in every sense. But I’d like to refrain from asserting the choice of awkwardness as a virtue, although most definitely that is part of artistic activity: overcoming the obstacles of your media, working out something of value in working yourself against the resistance of your material, because I think that this is something that can be found in digital too.

Tacita Dean, in the book accompanying her recent Turbine Hall installation at London’s Tate Modern[1], essentially campaigns for the preservation of celluloid film by rallying film makers, writers and artists to speak out against the immediate threat of obliteration of her (and their) medium. There is that, too, the threat of extinction, which may affect physical painting much less, because if worse comes to worst, you can still make up paint using eggs and earth pigments. Unlike filmmakers, we are not bound to an industry, the downfall of which will start dragging us down too.

Dean’s arguments are twofold: for one there is the proclaimed sensual difference of analogue, physical media, which is something, difficult to assert towards an audience that really can’t see the difference. Quite literally they can’t because these days the only experience they have of original analogue film and sound is by digital translation.

The other one is about enforced discipline, focus, induced by the media’s limitations:

I found in 16mm film a medium with which I was immediately comfortable and I have grown with it. Film is time made manifest: time as physical length – 24 frames per second, 40 frames in a 16mm foot. […] Implicit in that is what film continues to hold over digital, and which digital needs to find for itself or be lost in an eternity of options, and that is decision. Every element in the making of film is decisive. Every roll of film has its length: length determined by footage and expense, and finite length makes for decision: two and a half minutes is a 100 feet of 16mm film; 1000 feet is eleven minutes of 35mm: the physical length of time.[…] Much invention and artifice has come from these limitations.[2]

Tacita Dean doesn’t speak out against the introduction of digital, as a medium valuable in its own right; she is more pleading to keep her own medium alive, warning us that something might become irreplaceably lost. Her social argument is about the seemingly abundance of choice, which digital offers, as a false option. But still she is in danger of being branded (and has been branded) as a romantic fool, trying to artificially keep a medium alive, the natural lifespan of which was long past exceeded.

The key argument (and possibly only one) for physical painting is its sensual difference. Compared to analogue film this is easy to assert as long as people come and see physical paintings – or is this under threat, too? Is it not the case, that we are trained, day in and day out, in ever more speedy perception, zoomability at the touch of our fingertips, always our head glued face frontal to small, portable screens? Does this not automatically lead to a shut-down of senses? To a quick glance and cataloguing culture of perception? Is it not the case that a general purpose of art, to open us up, slow us down, re-check our position, is irrefutably under threat by the digital revolution?

Maybe, and maybe not. There is also this: an explosion in interest in such sensual things such as cooking, good foods or gardening, all depending on intimate knowledge of physical materials, development of physical sensual skills, or engaging (in the latter) in long running processes, needing planning, patience and prolonged observation. And just look at music: has the explosion in digitally available sound curbed the desire to experience live music? The opposite might be the case.

Maybe I’m spreading my hopes thinly, but I think what I see is sensually active interaction becoming an affordable (and desirable) luxury, aided by the digital explosion. And I still trust in the body demanding such things, and finding its way to obtain them.

So in that sense I see no danger in physical painting becoming extinct; it very well might explode. However, if gallery spaces are concerned about being replaced by pure digital consumption, maybe it’s time to highlight that sensual difference. And make it apparent.

Maybe there is hope in that for analogue film, too.

Bernhard Gaul is an Austrian born painter, living in Co. Louth, Ireland.


[1] Tacita Dean: Film. London 2011. ISBN 978 1 85437 999 3

[2] Dean 2011, p.19.

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Mary Grehan on Mario Sughi

Some of us are interested in dogs. Some in cars. But as people we are primarily interested in our fellow species, even if we don’t know them, sometimes especially if we don’t know them.

When the artist places two people together on a canvas, we project a narrative onto them. Personally, I am feeling sorry for the boy with the expression of quiet desperation in Mario Sughi’s picture entitled ‘Dublin’. As for that chap in ‘The Visit’ – he’s is looking a little too pleased with himself for my liking. When four or six people are placed in the artwork, a virtual soap opera is going on in the heads of the viewer.

But the artist, Mario Sughi, has not written the script. It is we as viewers that write it. In other words, visual art is not a crossword whereby there is one answer that needs to be decoded by the viewer.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that when Mario makes a new image, he begins with the face. But the expressions are subtle and there are no wild gesticulations. Instead, although the characters are beautiful and seem affluent, there is a vague boredom, or ennui, about them. I am reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beautiful people in ‘No Plans for the Weekend’ – lots of opportunity but very little direction.

I love the small awkward gestures of the characters in ‘Cafeteria’ and ‘City’, the kind of detail that makes a scene credible.

But the subjects are more than characters. They are also a vehicle for Mario’s visual concerns. His aesthetic is based on simplicity, elegance and lightness. Like Alex Katz, the American artist, he rises to the artistic challenge of conveying a lot with very little.

And he plays visual games too as in ‘The Red Door’ whereby the focus in terms of content is the face but the visual focus is the door, drawing the eye in different directions.

Mario’s technique is fascinating. He draws his images digitally on a computer and, rather like a writer who can move whole scenes around thanks to ‘cut and paste’, he can play with the layout of characters a bit like a child plays with their toy soldiers, moving them around, changing the dynamic of the scene each time.

The presentation of digital drawings in this way is quite unusual in Ireland but regardless of technique, the viewing experience is a first and foremost a visual one. I have been ranting for years about the rise of the concept in art at the cost of the visual. It is reassuring to find here a visual language at play in the colour, the composition and the pattern. Of course I would expect nothing less from an Italian artist whose legacy is that of the Renaissance greats – Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael – and the generations of notable Italian artists who followed,  of whom Mario is one.

Mary Grehan

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Pawel Althamer: Almech

What struck me immediately when I walked up to the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin was the bright green neon sign, Almech, above the door and a matching green bicycle chained to the railings outside. When I entered the gallery space I encountered a working, moving factory environment complete with machinery and bustling dungaree clad employees. It reminded me a little bit of a surreal type Willie Wonka film set! Normally, when visiting an exhibition’s opening, the scene is set and the art work is ready to be viewed, Paweł Althamer’s work however, was quite the opposite and was indeed a confusion of principles, a work in progress. So much so that initially, I felt as if I was intruding. On the left hand side of the long walled main gallery were Althamer’s life size finished sculptures and on the right, were the maquettes, standing there like forlorn, undressed stage models waiting for their costumes. At the bottom of the gallery Paweł and his co- workers were in an open glassed room, covering these wire sculptures in a white, molten plastic liquid coming from big, drum like machines. A painter can sometimes lead a very insular and singular existence and always tends to work within the privacy of his/ her own studio so it was therefore amazing to see the artist at work and indeed, be allowed that pleasure of seeing an immediate piece of art being produced.

For many years Polish artist Paweł Althamer had used Almech, his father’s plastics factory in a Warsawsuburb, as a workshop for his sculptures. It was there that he came up with the idea of combining these two avenues of production. ‘What happens when the day –to-day reality of a museum and a factory unite? What happens when art is made, like tires, bottles, or wire, by workers on machines? What happens when art becomes completely routine, when an artist’s working day is exactly like that of an employee?’[1] For his most recent project, commissioned by Deutsche Guggenheim, Althamer has turned his father’s company into an art museum and the Guggenheim has been transformed into a temporary branch of the family firm, Almech. Althamer, together with the Almech factory workers use machines to produce sculptures of Deutsche Bank., Deutsche Guggenheim and Guggenheim Foundation staff, as well as lottery drawn visitors. At the same time Paweł’s father’s factory inPoland has been renamed Deutsche Guggenheim and delivers parts toBerlin for the duration of the exhibition.

As I familiarized myself with the space and the ‘works in progress’, I found myself becoming completely immersed in the concept of what was happening. As a painter I find myself ‘conditioned’ to the white cube scenario of exhibiting while Althamer changes these principles. He is not working within four walls but trying to take part in a process. This process then becomes the concept, which in turn becomes the artwork. The white cube makes no impact whatsoever and it merely accommodates the installation of his sculptures. I come away questioning the vehicle we have for ‘showing’ our work and it makes me think that surely we should challenge this space to be as much a part of the concept, as the work. As an artist who works in 2D, the concept of space is initially how it accommodates the canvas and ultimately how the viewer interacts with it. I always think that my work needs to be isolated and only be ‘allowed’ to interact with another of its kind. Is this some kind of snobbery, I ask myself? Paweł Althamer has opened up a whole new conceptual, spatial issue, ‘common space, private space, which casts art as a form of nonverbal conversation.[2]’ It is therefore difficult, if not impossible to separate the artist (Althamer) who uses this space, from the space itself; it is the Deutsche Guggenheim after all but as such, the story is one not only of the Guggenheim but also of the people and the subjects who congregate there. Althamer uses the Guggenheim as a factory substitute, uses a lottery system for visitors to be cast as sculptures and provides this all as a backdrop for his latest project. Four white walls pale into insignificance. Ingenious.

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Anna Marie Savage is a visual artist based in Northern Ireland. Her practice is concerned with the exploration of romanticism and the narrative of cultural and national identity.


[1] ALTHAMER, P. Paweł Althamer: Almech, exh. Cat.:Berlin, Deutsche + Guggenheim, Issue 17, Fall 2011.

[2] ALTHAMER, P. Paweł Althamer: Almech, Inspiration, Incarnation, and the Dream of an Inspired Corporation,  exh. Cat.:Berlin, Deutsche + Guggenheim, Issue 17, Fall 2011.

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Dublin Contemporary – Or Artists in Cells

When you walk up the stairs to the second floor in that bright orange staircase in Earlsfort Terrace, the main exhibition centre of this year’s Dublin Contemporary, you get greeted by a simple white flag hanging from a string right on top of the stairwell, which reads like a bid for freedom which Ella Burke managed to smuggle out of her prison cell where she is locked up, like all the other artists, along this old institutional corridors, which invite you to examine art like a prison guard, taking a sneak peek into tiny rooms, where artists, quite willingly it appears, have agreed to make their nests, with the exception of Corban Walker, perhaps, who installed little door knobs and keys in the corridors, to lock them all up again, when visiting time is over.

Bernhard Gaul

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