NCAD Students Exhibit a Mirage on Thomas Street

Through the big window of the NCAD gallery on Thomas Street, passers-by can see avatars around a table.

Among them is a life-size cut out of Melania Trump shaking hands with Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan.

There’s a darkly dressed witchy figure, half a man with internal organs on show, and a soft rag doll with a cloud for a head.

They were made by recent graduates of NCAD, to represent themselves as they couldn’t get together due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The exhibition, A Reluctant Mirage, is about the way that living your life on Zoom and other virtual platforms leaves you “with a false sense of community”, says Aoife Banks, artist and curator.

It is “bizarre, we are creating these false spaces”, says Banks, who created the concept with Brendan Fox.

A Chance to Exhibit

Students who finished NCAD’s MA in Art in the Contemporary World last year didn’t get the usual send-off of a graduate exhibition.

Trying to present their work at the end was a struggle, says Banks. “It all just seemed a little bit fruitless and disappointing.”

In January, the college decided to put on an exhibition after all, making use of its gallery window onto the street.

The class had to work out how to put together a group exhibition without ever meeting up in person, says Banks.

They talked about their lockdown experiences, she says. All the artists felt “detached from themselves”.

The table with the avatars would be a symbolic substitute for gathering in person.

Artist Seanán Kerr was inspired in his avatar by a photo of Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan shaking hands with Melania Trump.

He made a cardboard cutout of the image, but in Kerr’s version, Madigan is holding something in her other hand.

He photoshopped in an image of her infamous 2014 local election leaflet, in which she said that using land at Mount Anville for Traveller housing would be “a waste of valuable resources”.

Kerr says he was shocked when he discovered in 2018, at an opening of an exhibition, that Josepha Madigan was the then Minister for Culture: “She’s not the minister for art? What?”

Kerr says he thought it was inappropriate for her to be invited to cultural events as the guest of honour because he felt her leaflet had been racist. “I thought there would have been a shitstorm over that.”

“I don’t want to point out people’s hypocrisy,” he says. “But the Minister for Culture launched her political career off doing something that you would associate with Trump.”

A spokesperson for Minister Madigan says she “completely and utterly rejects these accusations”.

“The leaflet related to the best of use of available land at the time,” he said. “Minister Madigan, who has outlined her position on this on numerous occasions, has always sought to support marginalised groups in society.”

She works closely with the Southside Traveller Action Group in particular, he said.

A Million Years Painting Watercolours

Also visible through the window is one of Kerr’s films, called A Million Years Painting Watercolours.

He took his instruction from tarot cards for that, he says. “I asked the cards, what is this artwork going to be?”

Each segment of the film was inspired by a card. The second card he turned was the high priestess, which represents the divine feminine.

He thought about the herbal healer, Biddy Early, who was accused of witchcraft, and found a recording of the storyteller Eddie Lenihan talking about her.

He sourced imagery of other women who embodied the divine feminine to him. Cleopatra, Sinead O’Connor, and “Mary, mother of Christ”, he says.

Kerr’s work is inspired by the architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander, who believed that fundamental patterns influence not just art and architecture but reality.

“That life is a quality of the arrangement of matter,” says Kerr, in his short explainer video.

On Colonialism

As well as working on the theme and text for the overall show, Banks created a digital image projection, Dríodar Drift.

She looked at a beautiful local glen near her home in Sligo as a metaphor for postcolonial trauma, she says. “It is a beautiful reference point in the hidden history of Irish culture and colonialism.”

Dríodar Drift looks at micro-valleys, carved by glacial streams, she says. They formed “beautiful, beautiful patterns on the rock and on the walls”.

And “if these walls could speak, what would they say? What history have they seen?” says Banks.

Even the destruction of the native language is unbelievable, she says. “It’s shocking when you take a moment to reflect on the brute force of it.”

But such things are normalised because we learn about them in school as children, she says. “It’s wild.”

There in the exhibition, too, are a series of oil paintings by Dominique Crowley. They’re also about colonialism, she says.

The larger paintings, called Plantationocene, can be seen from the front of the gallery, she says.

She painted a mirrored scene taken from the Natural History Museum, with people and a stuffed shark on display.

She was thinking through the causes of the Anthropocene, she says. The image with the stuffed shark is symbolic of the way that humans take things from nature.

The Plantationocene is the concept that the current era of humans altering and destroying our environment has its roots in colonialism, she says.

“It’s really referring to the fact that colonialism has a big part to play in the current environmental crisis,” she says. “Resource extraction has changed commerce and the way we look at capitalism today.”

A Reluctant Mirage also features artists Orlaith Phelan, Paul Roy, Gráinne Murphy, Jessica Neville, Brendan Fox and María del Buey Cañas and is visible through the NCAD window on Thomas Street until Monday 8 March.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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