Irish Museum of Modern Art – ‘Fragments’

Irish Museum of Modern Art – ‘Fragments’

The title of this exhibition was borrowed from a theory by Walter Benjamin, renowned German philosopher and cultural critic, who likens the work of translation to the resembling of a broken vase – the individual fragments must come together, but need not to be like each other to do so. That is the epitome of this exhibition with artists stemming from London, Strasbourg and even India. The range of artists featured in this exhibition is really quite huge, so I think I’ll jump right in and talk about what stood out for me!

Firstly, the Marina Abramovic collection really absorbed me. Black framed, black and white photographs accompanied by text recalled the historic works of the Serbian performance artist. Abramovic sought to illustrate the relationship between audience and performer, the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind through her performances. In particular, Fragments focuses on one of Marina’s best known and most challenging performances Rhythm 0 from 1974. In this performance, Abramovic played a passive role and the audience were the force acting upon her. 72 items were placed on a table, including objects that would cause her pain, like a pin, a scalpel, a gun with a single bullet, and also objects that would cause her pleasure. For six hours she let the public manipulate her however they wanted, observing how vulnerable and aggressive the human subject could be when placed in a situation lacking social consequence. Initially the audience remained modest but as time moved onward they became increasingly aggressive. Abramovic described it later, saying “What I learned was that… if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you.” After the 6 hours ended, she stood up and started walking towards the audience members who fled, avoiding confrontation.

The message here is sinister but clear. When given the option, the audience chose to act maliciously rather than benevolently. Although Abramovic shows very self mutilating behaviour in this performance, her experience morphs into an extremely strong message about both destructive human behaviour and the objectification of the female body. The performance in question is represented by a still from the show, the accompanying text catalogues each of the 72 items Abramovic placed on the table for the audience to use as they please.

Another piece that stood out for me, for many reasons, was Orange Crush, a rope drawing, by Brian O’ Doherty/Patrick Ireland, a New York based and Irish born artist. In this room sized piece, the viewer is given a spot on which to stand and view the work. On first look, I found it extremely nauseating as it felt like the entire room was lurching towards me but on second thoughts, I was amazed that this feeling was created by nothing more than strategically placed paint and rope. I paced up and down the room looking at this piece, closing one eye, squinting one eye and was totally in awe at the way the paint and rope worked together to create some sort of three dimensional image, the bright palette of colours creating a kind of hallucinogenic affect.

Brian O’ Doherty/Patrick Ireland exhibited these unique series of installations throughout the United States and Europe for 36 years. O’ Doherty decided to adopted the pseudonym Patrick Ireland in protest at the killing of civil rights marchers in Derry in 1972. The identity “Patrick Ireland” was buried at a peaceful ceremony at IMMA in May 2008. O’ Doherty undertook to sign his works “Patrick Ireland” until such time as the British military presence was removed from Northern Ireland and all citizens were accorded their civil rights. Brian O’ Doherty/Patrick Ireland has an enduring obsession with themes of language, perception and identity. This will be represented by a selection of his works from the IMMA Collection dating from 1954 onward, including his most recent rope drawing

Fragments contains a number of Subjectivist works by WWII immigrants, the White Stag artists, bequested by the late Patrick Scott to IMMA in 2014. The donation is rich with works by Kenneth Hall who was a close friend of Scott. With this, I discovered a connection between the reference to Walter Benjamin, a Jewish-German philosopher and cultural critic, and the WWII immigrants. Benjamin too, was an immigrant from war. He fled his home country of Germany upon Hitler’s anointing as Chancellor of Germany and the release of his manifesto which spoke about the persecution of Jews. In a nutshell, Benjamin’s theory of the vase fragments created the atmosphere for this exhibition but the notion of war escapism further reiterates it. Fragments includes a number of diverse themes within one overarching assembly.

Other works include Gilbert and George’s large-scale photo work Smoke Rising (1989) and Nigel Rolfe’s Dance Slap for Africa (1983.)

There is a talk this coming Saturday, the 9th of May, at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, with exhibition co-curator Marguerite O’ Reilly. She will be discussing the broad range of sculpture on display in Fragments.