Art bubbles with originality
Rivane Neuenschwander, Douglas Hyde Gallery until January 27th (01- 6081116); Eithne Jordan, Rubicon Gallery until December 23rd (01-6708055);
After Babel, paintings by Patrick McAllister, Temple Bar Gallery until January 12th (01-6710073)
The Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander, at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, likes understatement. Her works are subtle interventions in the world rather than objects assertively imposed on it. She has been labelled, with justification, an "organic minimalist", and a lot of what she does could be described as a domestication of minimalism. A poet of the commonplace, when it comes to materials she is usually content to confine herself to kitchen litter and other mundane objects, such as paper and adhesive tape.
She sets about teasing out the nuances, the layered symbolism of these materials. Through her employment of them, a few related, consistent concerns gain a kind of cumulative momentum in the work, despite the apparently arbitrary diversity of her approach. But her themes as such are hard to paraphrase and always obliquely approached. It's more a question of hinting at ideas relating to eating and speaking, home and travel, communication and silence.
Her short, very effective Super 8 film (made in collaboration with her husband Cao Guimaraes), Inventory of Small Deaths (Blow) visualises the progress of an expelled breath in the imaginative form of a bubble floating across the landscape. The bubble never bursts, so the title is perhaps a pun about a climax indefinitely deferred. Visually it is a rough-grained, sluggishly dreamlike piece.
The term "sluggish" is all the more appropriate given Neuenschwander's recurrent use of slugs and snails (she distinguishes between them as nomads and home-makers) as collaborative presences in her work. For Starving Letters she set a group of slugs to eating rice paper while she was away from home - in Ireland, in fact, participating in this year's EVA in Limerick. When she returned she picked up on the resemblance of the half-chewed sheets of paper to maps in an atlas and set about directing her team of slugs to nibble out some more specifically map-like outlines. Elsewhere she led them on a series of symbolic return journeys to the four corners of the compass. The intricate network of ideas here might go something like this: the symbolically restless slugs create "maps" that entice us on journeys, we write letters on paper when we are away from home, these sheets are "starved" of letters, as the parallel bands of tape (defined by powdered paper) in Attachment recall the blank lines of a notebook, which refer us on to a number of Japanese notebooks marked with burnt lines of dots trailing endlessly on. . . The pattern of interconnections keeps spreading, but it is also as tenuous and evanescent as the bubble drifting across the screen in Inventory.
At times, indeed, it all comes across as being one short step away from preciousness, even sentimentality and, not untypically, it also verges on becoming bogged down in a quasi-theological process of conceptual hair-splitting. But a certain quirky toughness comes through. Enough to make you think it's consistently interesting, if not quite compelling.
Eithne Jordan's new work, at the Rubicon, makes up a relatively sparse installation, thematically grouped into interiors and still lifes of vegetables and Morandi-like arrangements of bottles. In painting the figure, landscape and now still life, Jordan is perhaps working her way through a core group of themes in Western painting. Still life is the new departure here and, as with her exploration of landscape, which began tentatively, almost awkwardly, and matured to Poussinesque breadth and confidence, she is cautious in her approach. In fact she looks most comfortable here with the interiors, of which there are several beautiful examples. The strongest still lifes are the smaller, more tightly controlled ones.
The paintings in Patrick McAllister's After Babel are related to a long-term project on the Babel theme, involving himself and poet Mark Granier. McAllister is a good painter with a real feeling for all-over pattern and texture. The funny thing is that his new work seems only vaguely related to the nominal theme, whereas what he was doing previously - teemingly vibrant, highly coloured compositions, full of contrast, packed with the busy crush of figures - was thematically spot on.
His new work takes a more cerebral, cooler view of things. Certainly in the way he treats the question of variations on all-over composition, playing on notions like traffic and polyphony, there is a sense of engagement with ideas relating to density of information, for example, or congestion and overpopulation. He has a really good sense of touch. The overall impression is that the paintings are slightly over-controlled, but when he gets it right, as in Traffic, you get a hint of what he can really do.