A month after my first quick browse around The MAC Belfast’s new series of shows, I decided to properly check out the spaces and throw some words down about the newly commissioned work. By complete fluke, and in somewhat trivial circumstance for me, this day happened to be International Women’s Day so I suppose this is my celebration of that. If you didn’t already know the three MAC gallery spaces are currently occupied until April 24th by Helen O’Leary, Mariah Garnett and Niamh McCann. I’ll just take each space and artist from the top down to make some conclusions about the work for myself, but I strongly recommend you make your way down to do so yourself.
It’s worth noting that I gave all of the artist videos a watch before revisiting the show. This is pretty imperative if you don’t want to make some grand assumptions about the work as I may have done last time. In the Upper Gallery, we have Helen O’Leary’s site specific commission, “The Shelf Life of Facts”. One of those first assumptions, perhaps, more a descriptor I used for Helen’s work a few weeks ago was that it was installation. But as Helen rather brazenly explains in the little vignette for the MAC, that’s like nails on a chalkboard to her. She is a painter. I think that entails a lot more for the artist in this case. Helen speaks of her childhood through this work. Growing up in Ireland, experiencing a hotchpotch of culture through a series of happenings that brought her to this point. There’s a definitive delineation between what her father did and the work she creates now. Not completely of course but that constructive element seems apparent.
There’s an aspect of serendipity going on in the “history” pieces laid out on the tables to the left of the space. It was pretty funny to me that when I saw those pieces laid out, I felt the desire to “tidy’” the work in my own way. I didn’t of course. But who would know? That’s a nice moment the artist created for me. A response. It was so contrived and hilarious all at once. The weighting of the space created a sort of juxtaposition. There could be the shattered, awkwardly constructed sense of order that we place on the tiny things that make up our lives or those larger constructs that might have more or less meaning, a different colour, a different texture. The new work supposedly references “the uncertainty present in any economic downturn or change, between youth and middle age, and in the rupture between external and internal life.” I’m not sure the audience needs those indicators as we can create our own context through Helen. There’s definitely an explorative element to the work. I actually could have spent a lot longer going through all of the little memoirs and “portraits” in the space but I was eager to check out the other artist’s work.
“La Perruque” is Dublin based, Niamh McCann’s first solo show in these parts. The show title encompasses a lot of ideas that feed into the work. The thought that we are able to intervene and interject across the stratum. Niamh talks about “slipping tricky tactics into cultural moments…” whilst having “cultural agency”. The narrative McCann wants to explore is partly inspired by the life of Hans Poelzig, a Bauhaus architect who, by Niamh’s estimation, had a somewhat liminal existence that personifies the concept of “La Perruque”. There’s a variety of methods implored here to create the body of work. The video piece, "The Protest Song” ties a lot of that imposed meaning from the fictional characters at play to the city of Belfast. It’d be interesting to see what the piece means and feels like to an audience with such a divisive cultural upbringing. It’s funny that when one of my friends saw it, they questioned whether or not it was Stormont. Pulling these buildings that have their own meaning, whether it’s a personable or geographic connection into a gallery context at home can have this effect. The same it would have if you showed someone the piece 6,000 miles away and didn’t tell them where it was. There’s a sort of epicness to the way the film is scored, shot and sequenced in monochrome. It gives it a timeless quality.
I didn’t like the wall drawing, especially with the Poelzig drawings laid a top. It just wasn’t right for me on a visual level, devoid of context. It seemed weak when held up against the other pieces on show. The parachute piece however, was superb. It has to be the greatest distillation of the ideas and themes that McCann wants to explore. It feels more like something that’s living and breathing while you’re there, taking on all of these strands of meaning.
Admittedly, I didn’t give a lot of time to Mariah Garnett’s show, “Other & Father” in The Sunken Gallery the last time I visited as I happened to be on the phone to my mother. There’s something quite amusing about that having read more into what the show is about since. Mariah’s work is self described as somewhat of a flawed exploration into experimental documentary. The work is explicitly about her relationship with her father, originally from Belfast, who she only met around ten years ago. The spaces in between are what pulls the work in so many directions. As you can tell by the twang in her interview, Mariah isn’t from here. Hilarious phrasing but that is the case. She is using her father as a conduit, an old piece of seemingly skewed “documentary” footage from the BBC which he features in and had not seen, merging her own interpretations and thoughts upon them, even re-enacting that work. The MAC put it best with these words,
" Using a variety of strategies, the artist explores ideas of representation, the construction of memory and family lore, and the parallels in the ways cities—particularly those affected by conflict—shape their own histories, mythologies and identities. In this work Garnett explores, unravels and reinterprets personal and political histories carved out in a city over forty years ago, highlighting the infallibility of both private and public memory, whilst also superimposing her own queer experience onto a place which to her is both familiar and strange. "
I really enjoyed the experience more so as a means of exercising the truth. It's compelling. The idea that as someone who writes about these things, my own imposed meaning might affect what others perceive when they view something. We are all exposed to that. I feel like Mariah investigates it really well here and it’s an intriguing story to tell. The diary entries on the wall before entering the space accompanied by the video of her father watching the old BBC footage is so raw. There’s something truly unfettered about the words that you can imagine scribbled in a journal, perfectly placed on the dark grey wall. It elevates the level of personability. Check out the “Meet The Artist” videos and make your way down to the MAC at your next convenience. Cheers for reading.
Photo Credits : Simon Mills