Visual Art round-up: Uncertain prospects and a park that keeps secrets

Karla Black’s Imma show falls short of allowing access to an imaginative space

 

Karla Black

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin

***

Scottish artist Karla Black is known for her large-scale, playful, lighter-than-air installations. She nods to some conventional sculptural materials such as plaster and powder paint, but generally moves quickly beyond them. In her exhibition at Imma she employs a typically unorthodox mix, including soil, masses of bunched cellophane, polythene, Sellotape, thread, and a number of cosmetic products such as eyeliner pencil, concealer and lip liner.

She is adept at filling a big space quickly with bulk and colour, although the bulk is approachable rather than imposing, and the colours are bright, inviting pastels rather than dark, forbidding hues.

She has relished the chance to energise big spaces from the beginning: “It’s not about ego,” she says. “It’s about the material experience.” To her mild dismay, children have been quick to respond to her work in terms of material experience. They gravitate towards its playfulness. The snag is that even though, as she says, it sort of invites a physical response, it’s usually quite fragile and vulnerable to even a light touch, never mind the determined attention of an energetic child.

At Imma, her work occupies a long corridor and adjoining rooms. It struck her as a difficult space when she first saw it. She has opted to make one big, voluminous piece that runs the length of the corridor and much smaller, suspended forms, one in each of three rooms, with three variants on the theme in the final room. The corridor piece, Prospects, is a kind of hedge. Plaster trunks rise from a clay base, supporting masses of cellophane foliage.

It’s not, she emphasises, a representation of a hedge. She didn’t have in mind recreating a section of the handsome formal gardens inside the gallery, although she’s happy enough that the connection is there. Rather she aimed to create her own landscape. The series of small, ethereal polythene and padded forms in the rooms, suspended by thread, suggest clouds, especially when bathed in sunlight. Dustings of powder pigment give them a heightened, dreamy quality.

There’s logic to juxtaposing the slight, floating clouds with the firmly grounded sculpture in the corridor. It fills up the space, whereas the clouds accentuate the empty space around them. They are the more effective part of this installation. Prospects doesn’t transcend its component sections and materials. Black speaks about providing an experience that can transport the viewer, of providing a means of escape, but Prospects doesn’t allow access to that imaginative space beyond.

She has said the playfully engaging aspects of her work are a way of sugaring the pill. The core aesthetic quality matters to her, but, she asks, do people want to deal with difficult things? Not really, is her answer, and her solution is to make it as attractive as possible. By that measure, Prospects is a relatively tough piece, not as attractive as it might be, but a useful contrast to the sweetness and light we find in the adjacent rooms. Until July 26th, imma.ie

 

Not Just Yet – Hannah Brown

Cross Gallery, Dublin

*****

Almost every day for eight years, Hannah Brown walked through Victoria Park in east London. The seven paintings in Not Just Yet are a faithful if partial record of the park as seen from May to October. They are true to the park as it appears, but don’t tell the whole story.

Brown applies a number of self-imposed rules that are, she says, not consciously devised. You immediately notice she leaves people out of her paintings. She also edits out animals, flowers and things beyond the confines of the park, such as roads and buildings. The skies are always muted and evenly grey, the water still and murky; the light is usually starting to ebb away as twilight approaches.

She is avoiding the conventionally picturesque and, perhaps, deferring to the ominous note that is part and parcel of urban parks, the idea that the shadows and undergrowth may harbour hidden menace or other secrets. The notion is explored in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow-Up, when a photographer accidentally captures several layers of illicit activity beneath the innocuous surface of a park (in Greenwich). With her patient exactitude, Brown is not dramatising the place she depicts. Yet she allows us to see the landscape in a different way, giving it a certain charged, heightened quality. In a particular way, she is fictionalising the spaces, and her paintings are curiously compelling. Until May 30th, crossgallery.ie

 

Reclamation – Tom O’Dea

Nag Gallery, Dublin

*****

Tom O’Dea’s MFA exhibition at NCAD, in 2010, was widely regarded as exceptional. A perfectionist, he made exacting abstract pieces occupying a middle ground between painting and sculpture in several different materials, all beautifully fabricated. Since then he’s moved to Hong Kong, and he suggests the work in Reclamation “deals obliquely with ideas of displacement and belonging”.

What comes across is his sheer, considered attentiveness to things and techniques. He likes intercepting workaday, functional forms and materials – polypropylene, packing foam, plywood, resin and cement – and redirecting them into finetuned art pieces. What might be ephemeral and throwaway gains an unexpected gravitas. His aesthetic sense recalls that of Fergus Feehily in some ways, but their work is not alike in form. For O’Dea, the experience of being removed from his habitual cultural environment is clearly liberating, throwing everything open to question and allowing him to start with a clean slate every time. Until May 26th, nagallery.ie

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