Clarke & McDevitt present:
Matt Calderwood, Björn Dahlem, Sophie von Hellermann, Ian Kiaer, Cornelius Quabeck 
Press Release
Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
15 April – 19 June 2005

Since meeting in London in 1999 we’ve been collaborating on projects with other artists. We started working together primarily because our individual studio practices are so different and therefore working on outside projects with other artists became a way to communicate common interests.

When the Hugh Lane invited us to curate the re-opening exhibition we chose to work with five European artists whose work we have been interested in and excited by for a number of years. Importantly we felt that each of these artists was capable of responding both to the immediate architectural demands of the space as well as the wider context of the museum and its function.

Our approach with this exhibition has been to consider the way artworks manifest themselves in different ways prior to their completed state as seen in a gallery, as most people experience them. We saw this as an opportunity to encourage the realisation of new work in response to an architectural space and existing museum collection. We also wanted to echo the working environment of the Francis Bacon studio by having the majority of the work produced on site. All of the work has been realised in response to the above criteria and almost all of it was produced in the museum galleries over the last 7 days.

For us one of the most exciting aspects of the whole project is that prior to the exhibition opening neither we, the Hugh Lane, nor the artists had a complete picture of what the finished work would be.

These five European artists have never previously exhibited in Ireland.

Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt are both artists, based in London and Berlin respectively

“I Could’ve Been a Contender”
Temporary Exhibitions at the Hugh Lane Gallery
Dave Beech, The Internationaler, Pilot Issue, Oct 2005, pp.11-12

After a period of closure for building works the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin re-opens with two temporary exhibitions. Clarke and McDevitt Present and Offside, both curated by young artists invited by Christina Kennedy, Head of Exhibitions at Hugh Lane, as part of an ambitious programme of exhibitions. While building work continues in the rest of the gallery, these temporary exhibitions occupy a string of five galleries running from the main entrance to Francis Bacon’s London studio, relocated in 1998. But neither exhibition merely occupies the space: these temporary, informal guests make themselves right at home.

Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt were invited to curate this exhibition after they had produced Tischtennistisch, a concrete table tennis table handed over for public use on O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare. Billed in the catalogue as a somewhat ambitious inquiry into the notion of the artist-curator, including a rather evasive interview with Jens Hoffman, the exhibition passes up any conspicuous curatorial engineering for what is, effectively, a chain of solo exhibitions. Matt Calderwood, Björn Dahlem, Sophie von Hellermann, Ian Kiaer and Cornelius Quabeck are each given a room of their own. And in another curtailment of the curator’s customary job, none of the work in the show was selected in advance but produced in the week or so leading up to the exhibition, converting the gallery temporarily into studios. Perhaps Clarke and McDevitt are not so much artist-curators as artists in the place of curators.

Warmly, Clarke and McDevitt trust their artists. Quabeck paints like some guys you know play guitar – easily, impressively, stylishly. His portraits of Rory Gallagher hark back to teenagers copying images off album sleeves in the art room, bedroom or on the kitchen table. Hellermann’s epic series, which charts her life, looks naïve but couldn’t be more adult in its fascination with every accidental adventure of childhood. But Calderwood steals the show. He does this, largely, by stealing the main wall of the gallery he has been allotted. In a short video, a projection of white light, accompanied by the sound of an engine, is interrupted by two punctures in the surface – it turns out that these are the forks of a fork-life tractor that subsequently removes a false wall from the middle of a field. The idea is simple but the execution is faultless and the effect genuinely surprising. Even liberating. It is like watching a prison break. The whole show, in fact, seems to be demob happy. Somewhere along the line, something went very right with this show.

Another artist-curator duo, Mark Cullen and Brian Duggan, who set up Pallas Studios and run the gallery-in-a-housing-estate Pallas Heights, curated Offside in Hugh Lane immediately after Clarke and McDevitt Present. This is a far more extensive exhibition, incorporating several off-site projects, an evening of sound-based events, Offside Live, curated by Fergus Byrne, and the works of over twenty artists. Taken as a whole Offside is an anarchic festival of unofficial hopes. If this give the exhibition an unwieldy but heady openness, individually the works are as good as any you are likely to see. Paul O’Neill’s list of commercial names for ecstasy, in alphabetical order in vinyl text on black walls, is riveting. The strict classical interior, with its sublimation – rather than abolition – of sensuousness and the body, is somehow apt both to the pseudo-scientific act of recording and organizing these names and to the unfettered bliss that they promise. There is a different kind of promise in Mark Cullen’s temporary reservoirs. He has filled dozens of clear plastic bags with water and distributed them around the gallery. They are futile attempts to overcome a global crisis: they speak eloquently of the well-intentioned but powerless individual. Making more of a splash, however, is Nina McGowan’s massive metal and cardboard reconstructions of Star Wars fighter craft. Movie-lovers couldn’t fail to be impressed. Art-lovers too.

The highlight of Offside wasn’t officially in Offside at all and wasn’t at Hugh Lane but timed to coincide with it. Over at Pallas Heights, in a rundown residential section of the city, Jesse Jones projected a video of an event that she had set up on the courtyard at the foot of the flats. Three young musicians casually but perfectly play the moody, urban soundtrack to On the Waterfront. The estate, like the Marlon Brandon character in the movie, is semi-derelict and about to be bulldozed. And the energetic, melancholy music is a kind of funeral march for this particular piece of failed town planning. Jones politicizes the locale, invoking frustrated aspiration and stolen potential, with a gesture that is as emotionally charged as it is conceptually, culturally astute. By overlaying the instrumental element of a film about the Docker’s Trade Union struggle in America, Jones potentially raises the possibility of the struggle continuing here and now. Terry Eagleton has said that our intellectual interest in pleasure needs to be redirected so that it addresses the problem of how to make more lives more pleasant. Similarly, if art still has anything to do with beauty, then Jones’ work, Pallas Studios generally, as well as the whole temporary exhibition programme at Hugh Lane, is beautiful insofar as it gives us a glimpse of the most beautiful thing in the world: people acting collectively to improve unpromising conditions.

The View – panel discussion, broadcast on RTÉ, Tuesday 17th May 2005
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News - Dublin
Valerie Conner, Contemporary, Issue 76, 2005, p.17

The Hugh Lane, at Charlemont House on Parnell Square since 1933, was established as the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in 1908 by the collector Hugh Lane, who perished seven years later on the sinking RMS Lusitania. In the same week that I went to the gallery to see the exhibition ‘Clarke&McDevitt Present’ I happened to read an article by Marta Herrero, in International Sociology, Vol. 17, about Irish intellectuals, modernity and the making of a modern art collection – the Hugh Lane Collection. On his importation of foreign (especially French) art, Lane was condemned for creating a cross between a Theatre of Varieties and a Café Chantant. This would have been a good description of ‘Clarke&McDevitt Present’, which featured Matt Calderwood, Björn Dahlem, Sophie von Hellermann, Ian Kiaer and Cornelius Quabeck, who were invited by artists Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt to make new work. The permanent collection was absent form the public rooms and is now largely in storage or temporarily hung elsewhere, as the Hugh Lane is now knocking through into the building next door, where the National Ballroom once was.

The brrrgh-brrrgh of pneumatic drills reverberating around the galleries was happily apposite to Clarke and McDevitt’s stated wish to consider the way artworks manifest themselves in different ways prior to their completed state. Together and in themselves, these were a great introduction to the contemporary projects planned prior to the collection reopening in 2006.

“Clarke & McDevitt Present” - Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane
Luke Clancy, Modern Painters July/August 2005, pp.108 - 109

‘Almost all’ the work in this group show was created in the week leading up to the exhibition explain the event’s artist-curators, Clarke & McDevitt, from the repose of their collapsing brand name. The pair, who are busy exploring the notion of curator-as-artist, were also behind the Play it as it Lays show of LA art, so it should not come as a shock that the work here is in a scrupulously chilled out vein.

This time the work is by a group of European artists well capable of creating confusion as to whether they are being diligently laid-back, or whether endemic relaxation has simply let the work get away from them. Short timelines seem to push the artists – if they needed a push – towards low-cost materials and the literal / metaphorical bricolage that accompanies their use. But given the importance of process here, it is not at all certain that the work would interest itself much more in presentational polish had the time available been infinite.

Sophie von Hellermann has contributed some paintings on a scale that might suit an exhibition of nineteenth-century academic art, but created in a style (sketchy, preparatory-looking) that emphasizes their intimate, autobiographical subjects. Cornelius Quabeck adopts a similar tone for his large canvasses featuring Cork-born guitar hero, Rory Gallagher, rendered with a tie-dyed halo, which again seems to centre on adolescent experience, as well as on an uncomfortable moment when religion re-emerges in the form of rock hagiography.

Quietly wandering into deep waters is Ian Kiaer, who has chosen some pleasant pictures from the Hugh Lane collection to hang in his space along with a few objects of his own. But from the evidence of the couple of desultory sheets of grey-green acoustic baffling material, abandoned on the floor in one corner of the room, it is hard not to imagine that the show somehow got away from him.

Björn Dahlem has been most successful in laying down a trace of the hours he spent in the gallery with his installation, Hyper-Psyche, which features two large, skeletal wooden constructions (using the gallery’s fitted benches as a plinth) around which orbit a haze of satellite works forging an unexpected link between hobbyist and astronaut.

Matt Calderwood’s Screen wins the competition – there is a competition going on here, right? – for most bang per euro. Creating something that adroitly engages with the gallery’s architecture by all but ignoring it, Calderwood’s conceptual capital is healthy enough to overcome the minimal means of an empty room and a large projection.

On entering it, visitors see only a glowing white projection filling one wall. Take a little time and two scratchy forms appear to disturb the pure field, nibbling dark shapes into the white. The sound of an engine also registers, unsurprisingly as we soon see that a tractor with a fork-lift attached has made the holes and is now proceeding to lift the white wall away, leaving behind another sort of field, a huge video image of a bucolic country vista.

While the others may be picking away at the gallery and its claustrophobic classical stylings and baggage – one thing Clarke & McDevitt Present certainly reinforces is quite how much assistance an artist can receive from a naked white cube of the sort that is pointedly not on offer here – it is Calderwood’s demolition of the space that finally seems to succeed in offering a realistic challenge, all the more so since it is a demolition that leaves the building intact.

“From Despair to Where …”
Declan Long, Feint, issue 2 vol 1, 2005, pp. 2-4

“If I were not perfectly sure of my power to write and of my marvelous ability to express ideas with the utmost grace and vividness …”. So begins Vladimir Nabokov’s Despair. Or so we think it begins, since this is a novel of multiple false starts, of narrative misdirection and misinformation, throughout which the narrator Hermann Hermann constantly delights in his deranged capacity for “light-hearted, inspired lying”. From the outset we are made aware of this novel’s highly playful, mischievous process of coming into being: “So, more or less I had thought of beginning my tale”, the opening passage continues, before there is the suggestion of a jump ahead in the plot, quickly followed by a digression into ‘philosophical speculations’, and then a sudden rejecting of this mode altogether.

“It may look as though I do not know how to start”, Nabokov’s narrator notes - a sentence which might also be easily applied to my own opening paragraph - but I mention Despair largely because I’d been reading it at the same time that I visited Clarke and McDevitt Present at the Hugh Lane Gallery -  an exhibition which, as it turned out, also involved (and inspired) some degree of reflection on process. Perhaps under the influence of the self-conscious narration of Nabokov’s novel I was drawn to the way in which Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt’s diverse group show set out “ to consider the way artworks manifest themselves in different ways prior to their completed state as seen in a gallery, as most people experience them”. In this case, the forms of ‘manifestation’ partly resulted from responses to aspects of the architectural and institutional environment - an environment which includes the Francis Bacon Studio, a memorial to a specific mode of creative process - and so, for example, works by Ian Kiaer, Cornelius Quabeck and Bjorn Dahlem in part thrived through the freedom the artists had been granted to make connections with selected works from the Museum’s collection. In Kiaer’s case this involved a restrained conversation between his oddly compelling low-key assemblages and an isolated Charles Lavery painting on a distant wall. For Cornelius Quabeck, a recently developed enthusiasm for Rory Gallagher was coupled with an interest in two Paul Henry paintings - the colours of the Henry landscapes being echoed in the psychedelic halo that surrounded a large-scale representation of Gallagher. Bjorn Dahlem’s elaborate installation had a more obviously exuberant open-endedness, with choices from the collection appearing as elements in a video montage that formed one of the components of an appealingly whimsical transformation of the space.

But before this text begins to sound like a fully-formed review, it should be said that thinking about (or not thinking enough about) these matters of making and of how things are manifested ‘prior to their completed state’, has given me enough of an excuse to leave my assorted responses to Clarke and McDevitt Present in a state some way short of completion. So rather than reaching critical conclusions I’ve gotten no further than a few promising and pleasurable connectivities and some rather clumsy false starts, dead-ends and wrong turns. Had this process come closer to completion (had I not, like Nabokov’s Hermann, spent too much time in a “state of exhaustion, now listening to the rushing and crashing of the wind, now drawing noses in the margin of the page, now slipping into a vague slumber, and then waking up all aquiver”), I might, for instance, have addressed why it is that I value the type of process of ‘making connections’ between disparate ideas, practices, forms and histories that an exhibition such as Clarke and McDevitt Present appears to encourage. In following this up, perhaps, I might have looked to Jean Fisher’s interest in the character Mina in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Mina, Fisher says, is in this novel a “receiver, collator and transmitter of perceptions and affects … [her] role is not one of interpretation but of making connections”. As such she stands apart from those individuals whose business is interpretation: “the cluster of bourgeois male figures … whose collective aim is to observe, analyse, hunt down and destroy the vampiric threat to emergent bourgeois dominance, replicating the panoptical and disciplinary strategies of Victorian imperialism.” Mina is admired by Fisher since “it is striving towards understanding the relations among things” that above all informs Fisher’s critical writings. Fisher’s related interest in the vampire as a figure of disruption, a dangerous ‘other’ to the bourgeois subject, might also have provided some context for the occult evocations prompted by Cornelius Quabeck’s wall drawing of the Hellfire Club…Given time I might also however have taken the opportunity to think a little about the veneration of Rory Gallagher in Cornelius Quabeck’s work. It would have been a potentially rewarding digression for me if I could finally nail why it is that this Irish blues-rock legend bores me to tears.

But it would also have been valuable to think more broadly about the practices of artist-curators Clarke and McDevitt, perhaps looking in some depth at the marvelous Tischtennistisch - the table-tennis table that became a temporary ‘monument to leisure’ on O’Connell Street earlier this year - a work which at once appeared to suggest the possibility of a social interstice, a space of relational play, while also seeming to address modes of regulation: sporting endeavour as social discipline. This tension between free play and social or institutional regulation would, in turn, have been relevant to work in Clarke and McDevitt Present such as that by Matt Calderwood. Calderwood’s witty video piece offers the illusion that the gallery wall is being removed, the structure of the institutional space giving way to reveal a verdant open, natural space. Had I gotten round to this subject, however, I might well have made the obvious comment that showing a ‘landscape’ does not exactly mean an escape from the conventions of the art institution (especially as we would have already encountered several ‘landscapes’ in other areas of the exhibition). Perhaps Bjorn Dahlem’s curious rope ladder at the entrance to the exhibition might have been understood as implying a similar tension between escape and containment.

Had I gone in such a direction I might also have chosen to contemplate the apparent interest in movement and restriction, flux and fixity, that is one characteristic of Sophie Von Hellermann’s paintings. According to the exhibition information, Von Hellermann’s new work was made in part as “a response to the frozen moment of a creative life that the Bacon studio represents” and in her paintings it is possible to sense a tension between freezing a moment of memory (each painting representing a six year period of the artist’s life) and recognizing a constant flow of events, a relentless movement through space and time. There is extraordinary ‘energy’ in these images: people are seen dancing, playing, running, swimming, and everything is seen (or remembered) through a haze that is either blissful or disorientating. Perhaps all this urgent movement might have prompted me to turn again to the rapid traffic between forms and images and ideas in Bjorn Dahlem’s work - the way in which his Hyper-Psyche allows instant shifts from cosmological imagery to country music, the way it combines intricately fashioned one-off, site-specific wooden forms with arrangements of mass produced fluorescent light bulbs.

Such energetic, enjoyable jumps from one thing to another might even have been thought to be characteristic of this exhibition in general, leading me to recall how Martin Jay has noted that the derivation of discourse is discurre - ‘a running around in all directions’. Yet had all this pleasure in ‘free play’ been considered in the context of a more ‘complete’ discussion, then a more fully developed sense of discourse and context and, crucially, an awareness of limits they impose, would certainly have been appropriate and perhaps I’d have turned to a figure such as Edward Said for whom images and texts must always be understood as existing ‘in the world’-“the proliferation of meanings is always contained by the institutions that mediate them.” But whether or not I actually believe this, I still haven’t decided…