Félix González-Torres : This Place @ The MAC

Finally getting round to putting some words down about the latest show to occupy The MAC, Belfast having attended the opening preview night just over a month ago. The work is that of artist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the show curated by Eoin Dara, filling all three galleries of the venue. Rather ignorantly, I knew few things about the artist before attending the show. Maybe that doesn’t matter but I feel with the context of what I know now, having done some more research would most definitely impact your experience. So definitely read the accompanying booklet produced by Eoin. What I knew? His nationality, sexuality and cause of death. Ill prepared to say the least.

Upon arrival at the MAC, I picked up a glass of wine and took the obvious top to bottom route, starting with the Upper Gallery, with plans of moving onto the Tall and finally Sunken galleries. As I got to the top of the stairs, I was immediately greeted by a shimmering curtain of stringed beads. The first act of engagement, to sheepishly walk through them into the expanse of the gallery space, leaving them to jangle behind me, glinting in the light. I didn’t question it terribly at the time, just thinking it was a bit of fun, but this was essentially a necessary barrier to cross in order to view the other work. From there I noticed the considered, intended sparseness of the space. As some charged through glancing side to side only to return from the back of the space bemused, I decided to take my time. (And I’d also agreed to meet people there not five minutes previous)

So I watched as some people engaged, and some definitely did not. It was intriguing. I saw one of the guys from the MAC with rubber bands helping people to roll up posters from these two, neat, waist high piles of paper in the centre of the room. More and more people were taking a piece and as with some other work on display, the act of taking something created conversation and inspired thought about the process. The huge stacks of paper might disappear if not replenished during the lifespan of the show which is an interesting concept. This applies to large shiny piles of sweets situated in the Tall and Sunken galleries as well. The process of unwrapping and consuming them during or after the show was thought provoking as well. On a surface level, in the moment, these acts are playful and engaging but upon reading more about the artist, they might speak about something more melancholy. You can come to your own conclusion on that.

The floor to ceiling monochrome photograph of an outstretched hand draws your eye once you make that journey through the iridescent plastic beads skewing your view to the Upper Gallery. There’s a map available revealing that this image occupies dozens of billboards across the city, extending the reach of the artwork beyond the walls of the gallery. On my stroll home that evening I saw the piece on the Ormeau Road next to a political satire mural. It’s a juxtaposition that posed an interesting question for the viewer. Equally interesting, the stark contrast to what would adorn our city’s walls in the form of mural art and the remnants of which exist to this day, at the time Gonzalez-Torres’ billboard pieces were originally conceived. In the early 90s, at a time of political impasse here in Belfast, Gonzalez-Torres was using private billboard space, usually designated to targeting your wallet with advertising and marketing to carry his fine art imbued message the greater public. Each location might create new context and perhaps infused socio-political history can give new context to the work, 25 years on from it’s first outing.

In summation, the level of interaction you bring into the spaces will ultimately determine your affection or indifference towards the work, for the show undoubtedly succeeds in provoking thought and emotion. The weight of subjective meaning each viewer places on the work that will determine whether it’s deemed a success or not. Although every piece didn’t land for me, I feel the show was curated triumphantly by Eoin Dara, leaving the viewer enough absent space to really soak in the process driven, sensory legacy left by Gonzalez-Torres. This Place runs until the 24th January 2016.