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Bloomers Emerging Female Artist

Sarah Long: Aoife Claffey 
Issue 04 | Out of Body | November 2019

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Circa Art Magazine

Laurence Counihan: Aoife Claffey

Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik have proposed that we now inhabit an era of the post-contemporary. The acceleration of planetary-wide network computing and information technologies eviscerate any traditional shared conceptualisation of time, which has resulted in a crisis of speculative temporality where “time arrives from the future.” Rather than the longstanding organisation of time discretely periodised into durations of years and months, our contemporary moment is now perceived as increasingly short fragments that causes the future to collapse into the present.[1] This tendency is compounded by the fact that now whenever visions of the future do give themselves up to us, they appear overrun by spectres of collapse that are political, economic, or perhaps most clearly, ecological. Such epistemological instability about the future – which appears as either impossibly immaterial or materially catastrophic – naturally manifests as a desire to retreat into the past, but more importantly, one that is solid and concrete, graspable and knowable. In such a climate the allure and aesthetic value of ruins appears strong, as not only do decayed monuments exist as signifiers that herald the natural passage of time, they also allow the human subject to reorient themselves in relation to more stable and traditional temporal categories.

This exhibition value of blasted ruination forms the basis of Aoife Claffey’s work at this year’s Dismantle exhibition, the 2019 iteration of the Crawford College of Art and Design graduate show. Combining photography, video, sound and found sculpture, the source material is the old terminal at Cork Airport (which ceased operations in 2006). The subject matter is hauntingly reanimated in order to partially summon the beguiling allure of ruinous architecture from our recent past. In the darkened installation space – engulfed in ominous drones that bring to mind the sound of jet engines – five lightboxes, arranged at the periphery, serve as the focal points of the work. The two most dominants display looping video material, as we are led around the dilapidated terminal by the disembodied mechanical eye of the camera. Every shot pans slowly across the decaying enclosure as we are greeted to scene after scene of the building in a state of collapse: peeling paint and missing roof-tiles, stacks of cardboard boxes, partially flooded flooring, an arrangement of old and ravaged computer equipment, and a reoccurring visual motif of abandoned seating.

Chairs – some arranged row after row in empty waiting areas, others loaded on top of one another, and others still presented arrestingly in the singular – appear as the clearest evaporated trace of the human bodies that have been expunged from the setting. Herein, Claffey’s work makes allusions towards the concept of non-place: spaces within supermodernity that anthropologist Marc Augé describes as transitory and not “defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity.” Supermarkets, airports, hospitals, video game arcades, train stations, Internet cafés, and nightclubs, are all examples of non-places. Although they are consistently populated, the inhabitants are always in flux. They can operate under either “luxurious or inhuman conditions”, but what is important is how they always exist for the subject as fleeting or temporary.[2] Within the artist’s installation, the transient character of the airport terminal as non-place is intensified, as emptied out of all activity it morphs into a kind of dead non-place. This doubling of negation (non + dead) is amplified further still by the seemingly inherent non–graspability of the source material.

Rather than the ultra fidelity of HD screens, the chosen method of display – wherein the video is projected inside the lightboxes – causes the footage to exhibit a muddied, oneiric quality. Everything in the environment feels de-sharpened, as if steadily lurching towards the edges of representation. Another lightbox depicts more abstract moving images; an overhead view of waves steadily crashing over a landscape, occasionally revealing rusted objects partially submerged in water. This tactic of obfuscation and partial revealment also emerges when attempting to view the photographic works within the space, as the low lighting stifles any attempts to clearly discern what adorns the image surfaces. On closer inspection a pair of digital prints resting against the wall confront the viewer with an array of steel girders that seem to menacingly conceal what lies within. Another photograph of circular tabulator keys initially causes confusion, as what is being looked at appears as abstract and strange, temporarily unidentifiable. The images feel as if they can never be clearly seen, their content remaining frustratingly out of grasp, as darkness veils them in a cloak of illegibility.

Returning to one of the videos exploring the abandoned terminal, it is now showcasing a close-up of a disused escalator, with the artist’s steady movement up the stalled mechanical steps mimicking the previously automated activity of the machinery. Then as the camera reaches the summit, a sudden blast of light rains down, momentarily illuminating the installation environment, and it seems as if for a brief second the photographs can perhaps be properly seen. However, just as quickly we are returned to darkness, and the images are once again obscured. This omnipresence of ungraspability that defines the installation appears, in the contemporary moment, as a gesture towards our rapidly changing relationship to the concept of linear time and traditional temporal categories. Airports appear self-evident as one of the prototypical exemplars of 20th century architecture, embodying not only the action of physical movement and travel, but also signifying a more generalised idea of progress into the future.

Returning to the airport as a site of shared historical memory conjures the spectacle of a forgotten future, one wherein the idea of futurity itself appeared as somehow more concrete, stable and knowable. Yet in Claffey’s exploratory retreat into this architecture of the recent past, all representations appear as either ruinous or indefinable; the airport as a physical location that previously signalled towards a progressive future, now only returns images of murky decay.

Written by Laurence Counihan

Laurence Counihan is an Irish-Filipino writer based in Kerry, who has recently completed an MA in Art History, Theory and Criticism at University College Cork.

[1] Armen Avanessia, and Suhail Malik, ‘The Speculative Time Complex’, in Armen Avanessian and Suhail Malik (eds.), The Time Complex: Post Contemporary, Name Publications, 2016, 7.

[2] Marc Augé, Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, Verso, 1995, 63.

Published on: Tuesday 3 September 2019

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COM,MA Eve Olney

M.A Art and Process Exhibition

I imagine it will take many years to objectively distance ourselves from the time of Covid-19 in terms of understanding the psychological impacts of the imposed changes within modes of capitalist production and, in turn, how that has affected our own individual embodied sensibilities. However, there does seem to be a shared consensus regarding a shifting perception towards our relationship with the temporal and spatial. Time feels different. Time is not so much collectively measured and experienced within taxonomies of seasons, months, weeks, but instead between imposed governmental levels of social isolation. Time has also almost usurped weather as our favoured brief conversational exchange. How are we spending our time? How are we coping during this time?

The MA:AP exhibition, COM,MA, is symptomatic of this current anomaly in time. It serves as a collectively conceived break, or ‘time out’, from a normative sense of linear time carried along the spectrum of social reproduction. As a collective body of work COM,MA presents us with an elucidation of experience of present social conditions; a deliberate pause that opens up
a new aesthetic field of deep reflection on the here and now. For me, the work collectively addresses two questions that are in perpetual renegotiation within art/cultural theory and practice. Firstly, the artwork’s contemporaneous relationship with the current social imaginary. Secondly, it concerns itself with how the artist situates their own subject position within ideological modes of social reproduction.

At the intersection between these two is of course arts ability, in the first place, to probe and evoke
a ‘deep introspection’ of the social. Art practice is, in this respect, uniquely positioned in its ability of composing aesthetics that can communicate way beyond the confines of language and, therefore, can conceive an imaginary beyond ideologically-held understandings of power. Art practice can offer unique vantage points, outside of what we already know about ourselves and society. Catarina Araújo’s film and sculptural work carries the thematic of the body’s relationship with trauma, where the artist casts the body’s performative registers of trauma across other mediums as a means of externalising that which is immanently hidden within the everyday. 

Padraic Barrett’s photographic work also employs the body as a performative medium; this time as a ‘messenger’ communicating the embodied fallout of a competitive market-driven advancement of technology and the shaping of the body by capitalist social conditions. Seán Daly’s installation refers specifically to perceptions of alterity due to social restrictions and lack of movement caused by the pandemic. Ubiquitous materials, such as soil, sand and stone, are critically reshaped to evoke a shifting ‘sense of place’ within a personalised reconceptualisation of ‘home’.

Other artworks featured in COM,MA, could be understood as direct responses to current social conditions within a global crisis of governance. Work from Aoife Claffey, Kate McElroy, Inguna Mainule and Joseph Fogarty lean upon a local understanding between the observer and the objects, where this dialogical interplay evokes a subjective sensorial experience that extends into broader complicities regarding our own role and agency within the social. At times it is deceptively playful, as with Claffey’s ‘immersive environments for sensory stimulation’, that expose fractures of ‘chaos’ and ‘fragility’. This work infers a casual dispensing of products and people within a blindly assumed regulation of global capitalism. McElroy conjures a commitment to a type of non-space that can be read as those peripheral overlooked spaces where the ‘discarded’ detritus of capitalism quietly accumulates. This is indicated amongst installations of photographs, broken panes of glass and discarded materials as the work wavers between notions of significance and insignificance. Fogarty focuses on the phenomenon of a ‘self-perpetuating consumerism’ within ‘neo-liberalist economies’ where waste — here registered within the material properties of the work being Styrofoam, plaster and steel — is the residue of unfulfilled expectations and empty value systems. Mainule’s social critique of ‘soft power’ through her obscure, yet recognisable, soft sculptural works plays upon the reasoned logics we apply to our perceived ‘structure of reality’. Her sculptures assume logical formations that on closer inspection betray a system carefully constructed in order to deceive and to conceal ulterior agencies at play.

This exhibition also provides a strong indication of where artists might position themselves as social actors and creators within the current imaginary.

The works presented in this show all tend to assume positions of a shared culpability in terms of how they relate to broader material environments. Ida Mitrani’s work, exemplifies ‘an ethics of accountability’1 within
a broad, holistic social ecological interrelationship between people and plants. Her work draws attention to our conditioned perception or ‘blindness’ towards what is of value to humans and what can be overlooked. Deirdre Breen’s work also raises questions of value

in terms of objects’ commodity status. This work
is strongly indicative of where art intervenes in the object’s life, through a reversal of market-driven values, as it is reconfigured within a new narrative of aesthetic significance within the artwork.

Each artist presents work with starkly contrasting material choices and exhibit unique methodological approaches to their subjects. Yet, another common thread between each work might be identified as the reframing of ‘waste’, or overlooked materials, recast as productive forces within the different artforms. What curator Nicolas Bourriaud refers to as, ‘the point where the exform emerges’. Within each of these works the discarded materials are aesthetically transformed into active agents that the observer must engage with. These serve as sites of complicity within ‘the process of exclusion and inclusion’ and ‘constitute an authentically organic link between the aesthetic and the political’2.

COM,MA presents a visually striking collection of perspectives, styles, approaches that situates art practice as a central component of ‘knowledge making’. Within this multifarious exhibition, complex schemes
of social relations find multiple aesthetic realisations
in a way that communicates the complexity of our inter-relationship with those social structures that govern us. The aesthetics produced and performed within these contexts are understood as ‘a sensation experienced’ by the observer through a strong implication of an alterity; an alternative waiting on the periphery, an entire reconfiguration of the social in the making.

  1. Stalpaert, C. ‘On Ecology, Protest, and Artistic Activism in Benjamin Verdonck’s Bara/Ke (2000)’, in Emerging Affinities: Possible Futures of Performative Arts (Ed.s) Mateusz Borowski, Mateusz Chaberski, Malgorzata Sugiera, [transcript] Theatre Studies, Vol 127, 2019, p. p232

  2. Bourriaud, N., The Exform, London: New York, Verso, 2016, p.x.

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