Visual Arts Programme
The Concourse Installation 2000
Krijnie Beyen, Pauline Cummins, Breeda Mooney
Going Dutch, the first installation of the year's programme, sought to 'investigate the human condition, and to examine battles for power, love and hate, friendship and loss.' These themes are evident not only in the results of this investigation the work itself but also in the very creative process employed by Krijnie Beyen, Pauline Cummins and Breeda Mooney. That is to say, that Going Dutch was a collaborative effort, an enterprise simultaneously requiring the creative virtues of independence and of successful interaction. The considerable skill needed to satisfy both of these demands had been honed over ten years of collaborative projects executed throughout Europe. Indeed, Going Dutch was itself, the culmination of three years work. The project began in France in 1997, continued in Ireland at Inis Oirr in 1998, and was exhibited at Enkhuizen in the Netherlands in 1999.
As exhibited in the County Hall, Dun Laoghaire, their installation included digital imagery, video installation and photographical objects. With the exception of The Child by Cummins, each piece, or element of the installation involved the use of images of the artists themselves. It was then those non-biographical images which served as vehicles for an exploration of the power struggle at the heart of our human existence. It would appear that that struggle emerges from the following problem. If to be absolutely free, independent and self-sufficient we must also be absolutely alone, then the embrace of friendship and love must, it seems, inevitably involve the limitation of our freedom and self-sufficiency. Where that limitation is overbearing, threatening to make one party subservient to another, resentment and hatred are understandably born. Conversely, where the limitation has its basis in mutual acknowledgement and reciprocal respect, friendship and love are possible.
This battle for recognition, for power and empowerment, takes place at every level of human existence, in life and death struggles such as resistance to genocide, or in the struggle for political recognition and equality. For most of us however, the battle for recognition takes place in the subtle and complex arena of personal image and self-worth. It is where self-image and the image that others hold of us, or project on to us, collide. At some point, we have all keenly felt a discrepancy between our self-image and that entertained by others in their assessment of us. Such a discrepancy can charge even the most intimate and familiar relationships with a tension resolvable only through conflict and negotiation. Such a discrepancy and the tension it produces serves as the ground of sibling rivalry, of difficult mother-daughter or father-son relations. It is evident in all our schoolyard and workplace battles. It is the source of both our irritation when taken for granted, and our indignation when stereotyped, fetishised, measured, weighed and generally classified.
I feel that Going Dutch invites us to meditate upon our own personal struggles for power and empowerment, where that struggle emerges from our desire for interaction or companionship, and our simultaneous need to preserve sufficient independence to command respectful recognition of our personal identity, and sense of self-worth.
The nature of human interaction is positively explored in Cummins' The Companions. This six-minute video piece in which Beyen and Mooney perform runs simultaneously on two adjacent monitors. A single figure walks repeatedly toward and away from the camera along a narrow sea-dyke path. Her solitary journey echoes the monotony of tide and time. Eventually this solitude is shattered by the joy of companionship. When that companionship is later lost, she cuts a lonely, rather than a solitary figure. Within eye and ear shot of The Companions is Cummins' second video piece featuring performances by Beyen and Mooney. Entrenched explores conflict and physical and verbal aggression in a disintegrating relationship. Here the ability to accommodate change in oneself or even to recognise change in others has been lost to the same old stultifying and ultimately disfiguring routine. By contrast, the video element of Cummins' third piece, The Child, captures the spirit of the unselfconscious child at play. Here there is no identity by sex, no inhibiting classifications, no anxious self-reflection in response to the reflection of others.
The idea of reflection, in the sense of seeing, being seen, and the interplay between the two in the construction of identity and meaning is further explored in the work of Beyen and Mooney. Beyen presents Omfalos I-VI, a series of six suspended squares (90 x 90cm) of reflective material, which incorporate photographic materials and mixed media constructions at their centres. These cylindrical and cuboid constructions literally penetrate the flat squares in whose surface every viewer, and the whole surrounding milieu is reflected and ephemerally contained. To the extent that this flux of reflections is integral to each piece, Omfalos points to the diamantine nature of (self) identity. The photographic images of Beyen in a series of different landscapes or contexts are similarly evocative. Identity, it seems, is something that is altered and enriched by interaction and dialogue, that is, by friendship. Appropriately, the spatial orchestration of these six pieces defines a space at the centre of the concourse that is, at once, both intimate and open-ended.
The final collaborative piece in Going Dutch, is Breeda Mooney's Heaven Hell and In Between. This large, free standing, piece employs three striking portrait style images (two taken by Mooney, a third by Cummins) of the artists. These collectively confront the role of outward appearance and demeanour in our perception of others and the relations of power between them. On the far left is a figure whose Buddha-like composure suggests serenity, natural confidence and inner peace. Conversely, the figure on the far right appears vulnerable, threatened and anxiety ridden. These extremes, present in all of us, are mediated by the central cruciform image of a figure standing judiciously with arms outstretched. As the negotiator of such extremes, this figure is at once in the weakest and the strongest position. Her role as communicative channel demands that she see past outer image and demeanour. Any deficiency however, in her estimation of the inner needs, wants and identity of either party will serve only to refocus their mutual suspicion, irritation and indignation upon herself. Whereas The Companions gave testament to the rewards of interaction, Heaven, Hell and In Between points to the perennial risk involved in extending, or accepting the hand of friendship.