Valuable images rescued from the scrap heap

Ronan McCrea found a a set of BBC instructional films for mechanical engineering students and from them made something entirely new and full of ideas

Material(s): Ronan McCrea

Green on Red Gallery, Park Lane, Spencer Dock, Dublin (100m from Spencer Dock Luas stop) Until February 25


The raw material, so to speak, for the three films in Ronan McCrea’s exhibition Material(s), is a batch of found 16mm films. Just as the digital revolution did away with the once ubiquitous slide projector as an educational aid, video replaced the 16mm film projector in the lecture room.


McCrea came across a set of instructional films produced by the BBC for mechanical engineering students in 1972. They had been discarded by DIT’s engineering department. As with the wholesale dumping of extensive slide collections, it seems unduly brutal in retrospect but was the rule rather than the exception.

There is a tangible quality to 16mm film that digital video lacks. Not surprisingly, given that it is a physical medium, its content rendered visible by means of a mechanical projector. Even the way light flares through the celluloid has a flickering materiality that is smoothed over when the content is transferred to video.

There is, at the moment, a reconsideration of analogue and physical media and technologies that is not purely or even primarily nostalgic. From vinyl LPs to photographic film, books not eBooks, and actual notebooks as opposed to tablets. That is not McCrea’s subject, but he ventures happily into the territory (he’s used 35mm slide projection in the past). Perhaps more to the point, he has long been interested in pedagogy and, as a fine art lecturer, you could say that is the sea in which he swims.

He took his source material, the instructional films, and set about extracting and re-editing them, or selected fragments of them, to make something else. That something else takes the functional, technical intent that shaped the source material and content, and introduces another element entirely, the aesthetic.

He looks to the structuralist, experimental films that were being produced around the same time as the instructional films, by such artists as Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton, and reshapes the source footage so that it embraces this other dimension. Often, structural filmmakers were not quite happy with the term, but essentially they looked to explore or interrogate the medium itself rather than simply employ it conventionally.

In the longest film of the three (a concise enough 11-and-a-half minutes), Film Material, working with a pattern of one-second clips, a temporal grid that becomes hypnotic, McCrea abstracts from the instructional films many instants one could take as depicting fundamental modernist and minimalist abstract sculptural forms. Very effectively, too: they flash briefly, startlingly into sight and alternating with glimpses of the more functional manufacturing processes as hands direct and manipulate metals and machinery.

In Training Film Apparatus he creates patterned bursts of light by physically removing unexposed emulsion from film. The soundtrack, by Eva Richardson McCrea, is derived from a singer's breathing exercises. It serves to emphasise the physical nature of film and, more, our physical, lived experience of it. Visually, it also links to the close-up views of the Henry Moore bronzes in the third film, Metallography, for which McCrea draws on a BBC documentary on Henry Moore, I Think in Forms, which was among the films he recovered. He does so in a way that fits comfortably with the technical processes referred to in the instructional films.

The soundtrack here is based on a recording of a hand striking one of the sculptor’s bronzes. Film’s physicality is further underlined by the way the long loops of film, rather than being wound on reels, are extended full-length into the heights of the gallery space: time extending into space. There is a sculptural feeling to the show overall. The films are not just the images but objects: the whole paraphernalia that makes the images possible and our relationship to the space are as relevant as the images we see.

The BBC films and structuralist classics, such as Frampton's Zorns Lemma, which was based on a kind of alternative reading of the alphabet, share, McCrea suggests, a pedagogic, improving intent. His films, on the other hand, disrupt pedagogic narratives, whether technical or aesthetic. What he makes is rich in associations, but against neat, logical schemes of meaning and imparts no lessons. He is more deconstructionist than structuralist. As an installation, Materials(s) provides a rich, concentrated experience and a mass of stimulating ideas.

Lacuna [04]

Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare St, Dublin Until February 25 //


Lacuna is a curatorial project co-curated by two artists, David Quinn and Sabina Mac Mahon. It comprises a series of group exhibitions at Taylor Galleries, taking advantage of the generous, varied spaces offered by four main galleries plus landings. With the current show, which is a cracker, Lacuna has reached its fourth installment. Like its predecessors, it is substantial and unpredictable, ranging from Andrew Ward's photographs of sofas in LA – an unlikely sounding but in the event brilliant project – to Gerda Teljeur's impossibly intricate ink drawings.

There is no linking theme. Artists were invited to show something that reflects their current concerns. It is encouraging that Quinn and Mac Mahon have such an open, responsive approach that their plans can encompass an artist such as Teljeur, who has been showing for decades, and Eimear Murphy, who graduated from NCAD in 2015. Her work, incidentally, which is sculptural and inventively employs concrete, wood, glass and chalk, is exceptionally well judged.

Other pleasant surprises include Sharon Etgar’s thread drawings, and Vincent Hawkins’s improvisational, perfectly pitched paintings. From Hertfordshire, he is London-based; Etgar is Israeli and based in Tel Aviv.

Rachel Parry has probably shown more in Cork than elsewhere. Based in Allihies, she makes extraordinarily intense, superbly crafted sculptures drawing on myth and folklore. Eddie Rafferty's studies of people in institutional settings are emotionally compelling (he has a show at the FE McWilliam Gallery this year). Add American painter Tad Wiley's elegant colour compositions and Pauline O'Connell's oral installation and you have an impressive show on an institutional scale.