Avanti Popolo! Dublin Contemporary reviewed by Joe O’Byrne

You want to say something, you hold up your placard, you hoist your banner, and you march. Dublin Contemporary has hoisted a banner with art, for art, and about art. It is an exhibition of …

You want to say something, you hold up your placard, you hoist your banner, and you march. Dublin Contemporary has hoisted a banner with art, for art, and about art. It is an exhibition of Irish and international artists with the slogan: Terrible Beauty-Art, Crisis, Change & The Office of Non-Compliance, curated by Jota Castro and Christian Viveros-Faune.

The idea of the two curators, and I expect of those who appointed them, is to present work that reflects the political, social and cultural crossroads we and the world find ourselves at. This is an ambitious and bold statement, slogan, rallying call. There are those who will argue that art functions best in the political domain when it reflects and gives voice to events, and reflects anger and disillusionment.

Goya’s “Dos de Mayo” and Picasso’s “Guernica” still remain iconic works, and were responses to acts of savagery. In our own present situation nothing major has happened, except that we find ourselves much poorer than we thought we were. This is not the beginning of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, or anything as dramatic or as cataclysmic. Possibly the most dramatic thing to happen in our present economic crisis was the removal of the sign ANGLO IRISH BANK from the building on St. Stephen’s Green.

This is not to overlook the anguish and suffering of those who have or might lose their houses, or have lost their jobs, and may have to emigrate. But we have not seen major demonstrations on the streets about these matters. At best we have had token acts of resistance, or non-compliance.

The second part of the exhibition is The Office of Non-Compliance. There is a political movement which has happened on the ground in Spain, the 15M (the M refers to the month of May), which has resulted in the occupation of principal squares, the organisation of marches, to acts of political resistance. It is a movement that is spreading, and there was even this weekend a sit-down in Wall Street, New York. I don’t know quite what will happen in The Office of Non-Compliance, or through it, but I guess it’s aim is to bring art closer to the people, to foster debate, discussion, to see how art can be of relevance, possibly in the spirit of this 15M movement.

And this brings me to the exhibition, the main bulk of which takes place in the old UCD buildings in Earlsfort Terrace, once the centre of student protest in the late 60’s, when students occupied the premises. Most people will be surprised that these buildings exist, unless, like myself, they studied there. I spent a dull year doing engineering in the place, and got a definite unpleasant waft from the past as I entered the building. The curators have made a great choice in adopting these buildings, and essentially leaving them as they were, un-renovated, and with the remnants of the past on display, the blackboards, the marks and traces of removed shelving, the peeling paint, the rough floorboards. It is a journey into the past – for many people it will have the feel of returning to their old school – into the way things used to be, before we spent all the money we never really had creating palaces of glass and chrome all over the city. And at times it feels like entering a burrow.

It is a warm, a gentle experience, helped by the friendly and welcoming staff. It is a voyage of discovery. Under the seating of a lecture theatre you will find the beautiful installation of Wendy Judge. In another small back room you will find the paintings of Brian Maguire, a series on violent gun murders in Dublin, and it is as if you had just strayed into his studio. The room by American artist Kysa Johnson, every surface covered in black with white drawings suggesting ‘subatomic decay patterns after possible histories’, was moody and haunting, and almost demanded more space.

There are the bigger spaces in the venue, and there you will find “The Cradle” by the Chinese artist Wang Du. It is a giant playful structure that people can climb into, overhung with video screens, and there you can grant yourself a rest. Outside the main building in the annex there is “The Green Coffin” by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, a large scale work of clear political intent, a multi-object battering ram. Alongside it is the quietly impressive “Twentieth of April Sixteen Eighty Nine” by Eamon O’Kane.

There are also exhibitions taking place in the National Gallery, where there is a new installation by Brian O’Doherty, in the Hugh Lane with a retrospective of the multi-media artist Willie Doherty, both of whom over the years have reflected the Northern Troubles in their work; in the RHA in Ely Place, the tantalising paintings of American Lisa Yuskavage and a video work by James Coleman, and in the Douglas Hyde, the hauntingly beautiful paintings of Alice Neel.

But there is so much to like, to discover, it is only possible to give an over-re-view here. Dublin Contemporary has hoisted a banner, and it demands a crowd to follow. Marches rarely succeed in achieving their aims, but that’s not always the point, the point is the journey.

Avanti Popolo! Make that journey! The time is now, daily until 31st October, meeting point Earlsfort Terrace.

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