Poignant images from a region apart
VISUAL ARTS:THE TITLE OF MID-LAND: photographs from the interiorat the Gallery of Photography may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, the Irish Midlands not being on quite the same scale as those of Australia or North Africa, but it's apposite enough.
The Midlands do form a world of their own, a region apart in a country so liberally equipped with coastline. Here, three artists take distinctly different thematic approaches to the subject of the Irish Midlands in a show curated by Tanya Kiang.
Martin Cregg's impeccably made topographic views document an evolving environment reflecting the urbanization of the Irish rural landscape. But the change is more the result of calculated planning than a natural progression: that, at any rate, is one plausible interpretation of his studies of housing and industrial estates built on a speculative basis, based on the hope or presumption that, once they are there, businesses and people will follow. The idea of taming the landscape recurs. Unruly organic growth is systematically suppressed and replaced by a range of hard, unsympathetic materials, including impermeable membranes, concrete, blocks and bricks. Cregg doesn't comment, he documents, but it is hard to look at the evidence without feeling that the quality of the environment we are creating is fundamentally bad.
Ciarán Óg Arnold concentrates on the people absent from Cregg's photographs in black-and-white images of dark lyricism, exploring his hometown, Ballinasloe. Or rather, he explores the personal worlds of individuals in Ballinasloe as they drink, talk and dream in the limitless space of the night, capturing the bonhomie, swagger, exuberance, hope, doubt and sadness with a sensitive eye and an imaginative boldness.
Much more abstractly, though very effectively, Michael Snoek crops and reverses the markings painted onto silage bales by farmers so that they become bold, beautifully textured graphic emblems. It is in all a terrific, thoroughly accessible show in which all three artists compelement each other perfectly.
UNDER ERASUREat the Temple Bar Gallery is based on a simple but fascinating idea, drawing together work by several artists in which what isn't there, whether it has been deliberately erased or is not visible for some other reason, is more important than what is.
Immediately inside the entrance, a vast photographic print by Ken Gonzalez-Day offers us a sumptuous view of a laburnum tree. Our reading of this apparently idyllic image is disturbed by the knowledge that Gonzales-Day documents the sites where lynchings occurred over an 85-year period from 1850 in the state of California. The laburnum is poisonous, and the idyll is poisoned by our awareness of this fact.
There is something particularly heinous about mob crime and the mob mentality. Gonzalez-Day goes on to point out that most of the victims of the lynch mobs were Latin Americans, something that goes largely unacknowledged. A series of amended postcards of lynchings, from which the images of the victims have been erased, makes for a chilling litany. John Duncan has made several valuable photographic series related to contemporary Belfast, including his records of bonfire preparations among the Protestant communities in the city, exhibited recently at Belfast Exposed(and published in a fine, accompanying book). His image of an over-painted regimental banner in Under Erasureforms part of his continuing work on the post-ceasefire environment.
In a similar vein, Lidwien van de Ven's impassive view of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, with its painted-over graffiti, indicated a revised, contested space. Candice Breitz generates a new text by tippexing most of the words in several pages of a romantic novel.
Idris Khan's multiple exposure images present us with iconic texts, in this case The Quran, as though compressed by some geological process into illegible, layered blocks. Finally, Richard Galpin takes a scalpel to photographs of urban views and by removing most of the surfaces makes patterns emblematic of networks and systems that seem to refer to the very notion of communities and cities. It's a good, thought-provoking show.
TECHNOTHREADS: What Fashion Did Nextat the Science Gallery, is a fantastically user-friendly show that invites us to consider the interaction of fashion, technology and science via a succession of lively displays of, mostly and understandably, garments. Though not entirely so. The exhibits are accompanied by explanatory labels and notes that are indispensable, because how else would we know that a particularly strange garment that looks as if it were designed for one of the many Alienmovies is actually made from fermented red wine? Hard to believe but apparently true, or so Donna Franklin and Gary Cass, who are responsible for it, claim. To prove it they've rustled up a chemise from fermented Guinness. It's terrifying and looks as if it's mutating before your eyes. You would not dream of putting it on.
Safely behind glass there's a really elegant dress, the upper part of which is alive. It's a fungus, which may be a bit off-putting from the point of view of potential purchasers. Actually, it doesn't look that dissimilar from Clandy Jongstra's experimental textiles compounded from several non-living, relatively conventional substances.
Fashion tends to get a bad press but surely is, on the whole, harmless and, more, often interesting and inventive. To see at first hand a piece by a designer such as Hussein Chalayan is to recognise someone with real sculptural flair and sensibility. One-off couture is amazing because of its direct link to the designer in that way: you can see them think, and that exposes frailties as well as strengths.
Grado Zero Espace show garments fashioned from Aerogel, which is a light synthetic fabric only now being released into the commercial world. It is more than light - it's so light that it seems to be lighter than air, which is hard to imagine. Eventually you cease to be surprised at Technothreads: fabrics that are responsive in myriad ways, including one capable of transmitting remote control hugs, that store your music, that respond to various needs in various ways.
The possibilities are endless, but it's probably worth remembering that prophecy is a dangerous game and the future rarely corresponds to predictions. It's an engrossing exhibition, though in terms of presentation, it is branded and designed to within an inch of its life.
• MID-LAND: photographs from the interior, Martin Cregg, Ciaran Óg Arnold and Michael Snoek, Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Sq, Temple Bar, until Aug 3. Under Erasure, Candice Breitz, John Duncan, Richard Galpin, Ken Gonzalez-Day, Idris Khan, Lidwien van de Ven, Temple Bar Gallery, 5-9 Temple Bar, until July 26. Technothreads: What Fashion Did Next, Science Gallery, Trinity College, Pearse St, until July 25.