A challenging, fresh take on a battered world


Work that challenges, subverts and declines the easy, received view of the world is evident at the fine-art colleges’ end-of-year shows

STUDENTS OF FINE art don’t need to come up with the right answers, they need to find answers that are wrong in an interesting way. The challenge applies equally to assessors, who have to be willing to venture outside their comfort zones.

A trawl through this year’s graduate shows at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin Institute of Technology and Dun Laoghaire’s Institute of Art, Design and Technology comes up with many examples of right and wrong answers.

For example, at IADT, Sarah Byrne Flynn shows several pieces of facsimile furniture. At first glance they look fine, but they are unusable because she has subtly transformed them. It’s as if they evolved anthropomorphically. Her work effectively illuminates the way convention can ossify into obsession, and how the pressure to conform can destroy.

At DIT, Sarah Jane Comerford set about making a group of sculptures of seated figures. Then she tore up the rule book and gathered a huge collection of objects, including clothing, toys, nails, string and pink paint, and made a sequence of unruly, composite living presences. With their strange, fleshy physicality, they are impossibly but disturbingly alive.

Also brilliant in a not dissimilar way is Nicole Tilley (NCAD MA) whose rag dolls are both abject and chilling.

Unless it was part of the installation, someone felt Kim Crilly (DIT) had given a wrong answer. Two of Crilly’s drawings were defaced because the subject matter was felt to be offensive, a small notice taped to the wall said. The installation of large drawings merges biblical imagery and evolutionary ideas, envisioning Adam and Eve as early, ape-like hominids, for example.

Evolutionary error provided Andre Mantout (DIT) with his subject matter. He envisaged a conflict in which a present-day army kills dinosaurs, as an allegory for human exploitation of the natural world.

With cleverly juxtaposed archive footage, Louise Croke (NCAD MA) considers our treatment of animals and leaves us to draw our own dismal conclusions.

Laura Murphy’s architectonic abstracts (IADT) take the compositional rectangle and distort it in ways that coincide with the pictorial structure. Her inspiration came from an unfinished block in Sandyford, one of “a new type of urban monument” found in Dublin. She was struck by its affinity with elements of modernist abstraction.

Daniel Wolfe (IADT) also reworks an aspect of modernist painting, taking the idea of flatness and literally wrapping the painted canvas around curved sheets of MDF in a sequential, beautifully made sculptural work.

Painting slips its bonds in other ways in the work of John Ryan (NCAD) and Eleanor McCaughey (DIT), spreading out into the gallery space in magnified brush-strokes and pools of pigment with their own physical presence. Ryan’s plastic bowls, used to mix colour, become a lush painted sculpture in themselves when stacked in a column.

Fionnuala Doherty’s project (NCAD) explores ideas of the authentic and authentication, applying forensic methods to question the Dublin visit of a Rembrandt expert, whose mission was to establish the truth about a work in the National Gallery of Ireland attributed to the painter. Is there a right answer? She suggests perhaps not.

In Sean Molloy’s work (NCAD), portraiture and formal abstraction meet to suggest the impossibility of capturing likeness or presence in an image, a theme echoed by Emma Hogan (DIT) and several other graduates.

The post-boom landscape recurs as a subject. Patricia McCormack’s photographs (IADT) of a heavily worked quarry have a bleak beauty to them. Catherine Coleman’s photographs (DIT) vividly illuminate the disconnect between ghost estates and the landscapes in which they sit. More optimistically Ciara O’Halloran (DIT), documents the progress of gardening allotments in Clonsilla.

In a series of photographs, Aubrey Robinson (NCAD) presents us with episodic glimpses of a city, but from the point of view of, as he puts it, “an unreliable narrator tinged with remorse”. The narrator sees the gaps between things, the vacated buildings and run-down corners. There is an almost paradoxical perfection to the images, which are painterly in their surface qualities and compositional precision. They work individually and as an installation.

Tony Kinlan (DIT) shows a series of photographs of empty television studios, prompting us to look at settings usually taken for granted as backgrounds to entertainment or debate. There are several examples of the artist’s studio as a subject. Fergal O’Mahony (DIT) explores the notion of coherence emerging out of an apparent chaos of material, seeing something nutritive in a disordered flux of material and ideas. The work mentioned here, and much more from all the shows, demonstrates that good things do emerge: work that challenges, subverts and declines the easy, received view.

NCAD Annual Degree ExhibitionA huge range of work on display. NCAD, 100 Thomas St (and John Street West) Until Sunday

DIT Fine Art Grad ShowEvery means and medium. DIT Portland Row Until today

DIT Photography Graduate ExhibitionFine art photography. National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Sq, Temple Bar Until June 26

IADT Student ShowcaseIADT, Kill Avenue, Dún Laoghaire Finished