Many people complain about IMMA and its unimaginative use of space. I have fond memories of doodling in the response room with my toddler on rainy Sunday afternoons and playing chase in the formal gardens in the sun, our weekly escape from our tiny cottage a bicycle ride away. He called it the clapping hands house because of a video installation he’d seen there once.
Rebuilding the Future by Wolfgang Tillmans
The exhibition spans the entire East Wing of the Royal Hospital – one long corridor with maybe five or six rooms off to the right, some interconnected. We’re given data in a blurb on the wall but no information and even less with the pieces. I want a story, a narrative, maybe a guidebook to navigate his life’s work but it’s not forthcoming. A brief interrogation of one of the invigilators, plus some eavesdropping, fills in some gaps but not enough. I’m forced to simply look at the work.
Eclectic! The private and personal, historical, social and the abstract, everything gets a look in. It feels almost like Douglas Adams’ posthumous book ‘The Salmon of Doubt’ in which his estate cleared his hard drive into a paperback.
Room 1 is playful. We’re presented with 2 identical parallel vitrines, one with sea stones and the other containing a photograph of the exact same composition. Like most modern art, I don’t know what this means but I enjoy the irony.
My lifelong obsession with the depiction of pharmaceutical drugs in art is satisfied in Room 2 and I snap snap. I feel bad learning, from that snatched conversation with the invigilator, that they are his late partner’s monthly supply which were not enough to live with AIDS. She draws our attention to a photo of his hand being held not long before he died.
History makes the walls on the main corridor with his A4 printouts of timelines both simplistic and poignant. I’m told that he’s known for being very particular about the way his work is shown which I find at odds with these word documents. My shallowness finds the poor quality paper and lack of mounting offensive as if it’s good enough for us. I shouldn’t be so shallow because the offense taken is more likely a projection of my disgust with my lack of knowledge when really it is to the message that I should be paying attention. We must be cognisant that a German artist is mounting 3rd Reich stamps. My sister has lived on and off in Germany for 15 years and says it’s only quite recently that the Nazi conversation is open for discussion.
Then, before embarking on the next paragraph, I catch a glimpse above of the appalling photos I’ve taken that do nothing for his work and wonder what cheek have I to continue in this review but I soldier on.
I overhear the invigilator tell another visitor that ‘Between Bridges’ is the name of his studio in Berlin that used to be in London. Further reading informs me that it’s a little more than that but a foundation (he established in 2018) for the advancement of democracy, international understanding, the arts, and LGBT rights. So the rather plain motorway picture now makes sense. A hint of self-loathing creeps in as I catch myself dismissing work outside of context.
A handful of these ephemeral beauties are getting all the attention. This one above is immense, maybe 15’ wide. Our in-group photographers explain how these photos have been taken without a camera by just exposing and developing the film. I can’t help thinking that most visitors won’t have this insider knowledge and may not have the same experience.
Throughout the visit I felt undernourished, not from the work, from its context. Is the gallery deliberately punishing me for my ignorance? Is it telling me to up my game and do the research because we’re telling you nothing. More likely, they’re letting the work speak for itself rather than joining the dots for the untrained eye.
Scattered about on tables are books and catalogues of his previous shows and collections. One all about cars catches my attention and I skim through some pages. He maintains that cars are always considered to be in the way of the shot, but given the time we spend in them, their utility and the memories they evoke, well the humble car deserves to be the shot. Here’s the detail, the narrative I’d been looking for someone to spoon feed me. It’s sitting there all along in his books and catalogues just waiting for the visitor to read.
[Cover photo: courtesy of IMMA website]
Theatre was my first love. It all started with the One-Act and 3-Act AmDram festivals in our local theatre to get out of the house to smoke cigarettes on school nights. It wasn’t long before I had graduated onto the Class As in the Abbey, Peacock, Project, Tivoli and even more fringe events and locations. It’s physical. Being present with the cast, the crew, the soundscape of mutters, coughs, and gasps from the audience; the dust, the set, the murmur murmur hum before curtain. Pure energy. I can forgive anything — set, direction, costumes, props, performance — except bad writing.
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