Since 2014, Homeland takes place in Damer House Gallery, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary in collaboration with the Loop Festival Barcelona and Safia Art Contemporani-Barcelona, Catalunja, Spain and is dedicated exclusively to video art and film. The current exhibition Homeland: ‘Of Memory’ brings together the work of Irish & International artists working in this medium, exploring the theme of memory.
In Gallery 1, the Barcelona Artist, Miquel Garcia’s video, 'List of burned books in Germany in 1933', (2018) shows the artist using a blow torch to make visible the list of books burned in various universities in Germany on May 10, 1933 under orders of the Nazi regime. This was done as part a nationwide ‘Action Against the Un-German Spirit’. Books burned included works by Einstein and Freud, H.G. Wells, Hemingway, and all books by Jewish authors. Garcia is in effect using fire to bring the list back from the flames in which they were burned. As he moves up the list, the names of the books below returns to black and becomes invisible again. It is a very powerful piece, reminding the viewer that the burning of these books was a portent of what was to come. As the German poet and essayist Heinrich Heine said some years before this event "where books are burned, people are also burned"
In Gallery 2 David Quin’s piece ‘on memory’, (2018) was filmed in the Sergei Parajanov Museum in Yerevan, Armenia. The piece examines the memory of a museum space which itself memorialises a great artist, Sergei Parajanov, who as Quin says “is long gone, ever present and almost completely forgotten”. Beautifully shot, it evokes a sense of time and timelessness, of memory and forgetting and of something lost or but not fully forgotten.
Pascal Ungerer’s ‘Vanishing Point’, (2018), is an exploration of places of obsolescence and dysfunction that lie at the edges of the built environment. In this piece, the artist montages mirrored landscapes together to create a fictional and constructed world. They portrays liminal and surreal topography of post-industrial sites such as unfinished building developments, abandoned nuclear testing facilities, and what the artists describes as ‘edgeland’ outcrops on the edge of urban development. Ungerer says that the work acts as “a contemplative meditation on dystopic and uncertain future”. By using mirrored images, seamlessly pieced together, the viewer is left wondering which image is real and which is the reflection. There is a feeling of uncertainty and of disquiet, but the there is also a surreal beauty to these abandoned places.
‘Voices in Time’, (2018) is a collaborative, inter-generational project, with young and elderly people from Hackney. The WhittyGordon Project are visual artists and filmmakers, Fiona Whitty and Jenny Gordon who look at people and culture. They communicate hopes and struggles of lives and communities trying to grapple with modern day living. They organised workshops to share and exchange stories and experiences of the young and the elderly. The project’s aim was to challenge perceptions of each other and to foster understanding between generations. The young people and WhittyGordon created a short film produced from the material from the workshops. The piece consists of young people and older people talking about their lives. What comes across is the uncertainty that people experience in their lives. As one young person said “It’s scary for us young people, we don’t know what is going to happen”, while one of the older people remarked that “as you get older, you become invisible”. By the end of the film, it is clear that through this collaboration, these young people have a new understanding of what it is to be old and a respect for the wisdom that comes with ageing.
The Chinese artist Di Hu’s film ‘Ecstasy’, (2015) is an analytical montage of shots extracted from more than 60 films from the Chinese Cultural Revolution period. The montage, expertly cut and retaining every shot at its original length, becomes a fascinating film made up of clips from other films. This video is one of a series of videos and as the artist says “they are not only re-examinations of the cinema of that period but also reflections of history as told through cinema”. It is very interesting to see the similarities in all the films. The same kind of music used, the dramatic gazes, the repetition of the words (like ‘Mao Zhuxi’, Chairman Mao), the robotic gestures, raising the head, (as if seeing something for the first time), turning around, the faces with tears, presumably meant to denote joy of the person, overwhelmed with emotion, the symbolic objects such as needle, spanner and apple and the exaggerated film techniques such as close-ups and zooming in.
Upstairs in Gallery 3, Laura Skehan, Dublin, 'Political land, Poetic Territory’, (2016) is an installation piece, created after the EU Referendum vote in the United Kingdom. Although Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, the overall result in the UK was to leave Europe. For Northern Ireland, this could mean the re-introduction of a hard border. The piece is an exploration of the role of borders within society, relating to the re-introduction of a hard border in Northern Ireland. Filmed partly in the Giants Causeway, Collins Barracks in Dublin and in the artist’s studio, it investigates the mythological, physical and psychological space in which borders exist. The images jump between the different spaces to create an abstract narrative. The soldiers’ movement mimic the form of the geological phenomena of the Giant’s Causeway and a text by Seamas O’Reilly leads the soundtrack that explores the reality which looms for Northern Ireland when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. We see clay sculptures formed by hand, which represent the geological and mythological history of the Giant’s Causeway and as Skehan says “metaphorically become players in the search for the relationship this history has to Ireland’s difficult past” The artist is questioning the relationship we have to the land and whether the formation of the land has an influence on our psychological being.
Working in partnership with the Irish Prison Service and the CDETB Bernie Masterson’s video ‘Incarceration Altars’, (2017) provides a glimpse into a world hidden away from society, that of a prison. In this collaborative exploration with the men in Mountjoy Prison, she investigates the relationship between person, place and object. Using a series of images and the words of the prisoners themselves, she contextualises the different world of prison identity and personal identity. The objects the prisoners select or make become a means of emotional connectedness and serve as a structure for recollection and memory. As Masterson says “Art is the universal language that connects people. It can build a bridge and bring people from ‘inside’ and ‘outside ‘in contact with one another”
Sandy Kennedy’s ‘Allegory’, (2017) is as the artist says a non-narrative tale of modern survival. Echoing Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’, it is a journey of regression, reflecting modern Ireland, where ‘Safe Home’ is an illusion
‘The Kiss’ (2009), is a sound/video installation by Breda Lynch which appropriates clips from the 1931 German black & white film ‘Madchen in Uniform’, (Girls in Uniform). The film was deemed controversial at the time and was censored. Based on a true story the film describes love that was considered dark or ill-advised – gay love’. A cat representing the sacred and profane is flawlessly interwoven with a clip of Siouxie Sioux, the English singer, songwriter, musician and producer. It is a mesmerising piece, where cat and woman continuously move, creating an uncertainty as to what exactly we are looking at. Lynch is intentionally forcing considerations and reconsiderations of authenticity within art and the relationship between the image and the copy. As she says “the online civilisation is, historically speaking, a relatively new space wherein pictures - moving and still - circulate devoid of origins”
The exhibition was opened by Catherine Marshall, Art Historian and Curator, who noted in her opening remarks, the great work Damer House Gallery was doing in providing exhibition space for film and video art, something which has at times been neglected in Ireland. The exhibition is curated by Therry Rudin and Patricia Hurl and is open until August 26th.