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Catalogue Text – Mark Garry (2016) ‘A New Quiet’, designed by Atelier David Smith

May 29, 2016

‘A Winter Light’

The Model Sligo 8 February to 20 April

Installed across eight large spaces, Mark Garry’s ‘A Winter Light’ is the most expansive solo exhibition by a mid-career artist ever undertaken at The Model. While not formally a retrospective, given the artist’s many new and site-specific works created during his recent residency in Sligo, a deep sense of history permeates this ambitious exhibition, rooting it in the Irish terrain, while making visible spectrums of personal and collective struggle. Far from being forlorn or overly nostalgic, ‘A Winter Light’ is ethereal, joyous and luminous with hope. Most well-known for his site-responsive ‘thread installations’, Garry’s wide-ranging practice is suitably showcased here, allowing  new photography, film work, and  musical collaboration to resonate alongside his hand-crafted works, amplifying their tactile appeal.

 

Responding to the Niland Collection housed in The Model, the installation A Winter Light, 2014, memorializes the painterly palette of Mainie Jellett – a radical female figure of Irish Modernism.  An iridescent band of coloured thread-work traverses the space, swooping psychedelically overhead, and disappearing

into translucency in places bleached by sunlight. Pinned painstakingly at either wall, the individual threads combine harmoniously, emulating harp strings or the inner-workings of a piano. A singular beaded thread configures on a wall below, appearing as a rainbow-coded sound wave. Sprouting from another wall, a lily-like flower, carved from American basswood, depicts the North American blue-eyed grass – a non-indigenous plant which thrives in Ireland’s marshlands. This botanical inquiry becomes ubiquitous through sculptural elements including Sewickley, 2014, – a nest constructed from horsehair gathered by birds in an equine environment, and Sycamore Leaf Origami, 2014, embodying a human compulsion to craft things of beauty.

 

Radical women find further adulation in the installation Karen, 2014, named after 1960’s Cherokee folk singer Karen Dalton, where peacock feathers displayed in a glass vitrine provide undertones of exoticism. Dalton’s delicate figure is emblazoned repetitively across three wall-mounted screen-prints, her face obscured and arms out stretched, appearing to configure a ‘human-chain’, suggestive of solidarity and resistance. The singer was previously compared to a ‘canary in a coalmine’ because of her hypersensitivity towards social injustice. Accordingly, within a tear-shaped suspended birdcage, a chimerical white canary chirps contentedly, breaking the silence of this otherwise soundless exhibition.   The bird was subsequently replaced with two newly flowering snowdrops, reminiscent of Irish artist William McKeown’s floral symbols of emotional solace.

 

A moment of sentimentality seems permitted in a series of photographs entitled The Moon and other Light, 2014. Here, the circular vermillion auras of car lights and streetlamps masquerade as the moon, against blackness, sprinkled with raindrops and a scattering of stars. Although displayed individually, a solitary pairing of images lends tender pathos to the work, and a deep, inexplicable sadness.

 

This depth of sorrow is echoed in only one other place, providing important anchoring points for the exhibition’s more buoyant and celestial moments. Garry’s inclusion of two oil paintings by Irish landscape painter Paul Henry, invites art historical insights into Ireland’s bleak past. The achingly entitled The Lake of the Tears of the Sorrowing Women, 1916-1917, marks a period when Henry’s ‘pure landscape’ (bereft of figures, symbolic of poverty, war and emigration) became ‘symbolically Irish’. These erudite narratives of modern Irish history are further probed in Journeys, 2014, where a wall-mounted cruciform shape, constructed from two strips of pale blue cotton, appears as a soothing Beuysian band-aid, referencing Irish poet W.B Yeats, and his rumored support for the right-wing National Guard, known colloquially as The Blueshirts. Yet the obvious associations with Catholicism cannot go ignored. From certain vantage-points, a triptych of free-standing wooden frames History Windows (1-3), 2014, assemble to form one perceptible ‘confessional’ structure. In the context of unfolding discourse surrounding the Church’s role in what journalist Fintan O’Toole has termed the ‘modern Irish slavery’ of the industrial school system, and continuing revelations of wider systemic and political corruption, attempts remain ongoing to identify where such paradox, trauma, and acquiescent silence sit in the modern Irish psyche. Consequently, these History Windows become discerning ‘view-finders’,  framing personal or collective memory and offering clarity of vision. The frames’ threaded, dream catcher-like, internal structures recall a Cherokee fidelity to craft, and promise to soothe a sufferer’s nightmares.  This notion of craft as an existentially stabilizing process thoroughly permeates the entire exhibition.  If, like Paul Henry’s landscapes, ‘A Winter Light’ speaks of modern Irish culture, then a visibility of the ‘making process’, transparency, and a laying bare of internal mechanisms, undoubtedly becomes emblematic of future nation-building. Only through such creative, cooperative and culturally

democratic processes, Garry implies, might fresh shoots begin to emerge out of darkness, into peaceful co-existence.

 

Joanne Laws is an arts writer based in the west of Ireland.

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