I Had No Idea and Examination
Platform Arts Belfast
7th - 21st February 2013
By Angela Darby
(Published online in Aesthetica)
Running concurrently at Platform Arts in Belfast are the exhibitions I Had No Idea by the London-based artist Keef Winter and Examination by the regional artist Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell. Although autonomous in their conception both exhibitions create an environment within which the viewer is immersed, encouraging connections and relationships with the objects installed within their respective spaces.
Presented in the upper gallery, Winter’s impressive architectural structures instantly command one’s attention and evoke a direct response on an experiential level. The physical act of navigating through the sculptural works skilfully elevates the viewer from casual observer to participant. The artist forces us to engage spatially with interior and exterior planes, demanding cognition of solid form and vacant space. The careful attention to detail and the skilful composition renders rough timber frameworks and basic building materials into composite aesthetic forms. Comparisons can be made to works by international artists such as Mike Nelson, Oscar Tuazon, Davis Rhodes and Angela De La Cruz. Underpinning the artist’s practice is an architectural background and this knowledge of the built environment clearly informs each of the works. The act of constructing, installing and then dismantling is just as important to the artist as the duration of the works in the gallery space. The inclusion of a live performance tied to the dismantling of the show within the overall context of the exhibition invokes a portrait of the artist as planner, manual labourer, technician, builder and demolisher. One piece in particular, entitled Each of us were several, provides tangible evidence of the artist’s physical presence, a testament to masculine force etched out in the scored marks, gouged holes on screens of plasterboard and resultant debris left behind on the gallery floor. Here the artist underscores the intense physicality that underpins each aspect of the interrelated works.
In the lower gallery, the artist Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell’s has installed a doctor’s consultation room with a waiting area outside. A young receptionist performed by Lorraine Hamilton politely asks the spectator “Are you here to see the Doctor?” These spoken words instantly generate a nervous, visceral reaction as the prospect of medical attention can only be met with trepidation. Here Bhreathnach-Cashell ingeniously ensnares the audience by placing them within the context of the exhibitions interactive setting. Both parties become co dependent: artist as provider relies on the audience as contributor and vice versa. The participant now becomes patient as they are asked to complete a sheet of generic yet intimate questions whilst waiting. By surrendering this personal information into a public domain they have unwittingly placed themselves inside the artist’s ‘environment of control’. On entering the doctor’s room they are met by a stern figure performed by Euan Ogilvie. To unsettle expectations further he is dressed in female clothing and confronts the ‘patient’ with true or false questions taken from psychopathological tests. According to the artist ‘The MMPI-2 is still used by courts and employers to ascertain the mental state of an individual’. Throughout the process the examining doctor remains detached and deliberately un-empathetic. By contriving this controlled group situation the artist construes to question social hierarchies and the roles within which we are cast or choose to play.