Vessels of Memory

Not the Norma Rea’s most enjoyable exhibition, but a thought provoking collaboration from two of Ireland’s emerging artists

Venue: Norman Rea
Curated by: Catherine Smyth
Run: 16th-30th Jan 2012

Entering this exhibition is like walking uninvited into someone’s bedroom. It is difficult not to feel like an intruder when faced with such a collection of personal objects: shoes, dresses, family photos, birth certificates, not to mention the large display of paper knickers. Yet, the artwork itself is hardly attention-grabbing; the primary colour is off-white and you could forgivably mistake some of the dresses for wall paper.

And it is precisely this quiet fragility that draws you in closer. The moment you move within a metre of the artwork, the exhibition’s veneer of simplicity is shattered. A dress apparently made of cotton actually consists of wafer thin paper, and what seemed to be just a pretty pattern turns out to be the words ‘always expected to succeed’ cut out over and over again. It becomes clear that these ordinary objects are, literally, written through with painful memories. Every work is saturated with cryptic remarks, and you can only speculate as to what they might mean.

The artists, Alison Lowy and Rachel Dickson, have been thoughtful in their use of materials; everything is calculated to create an ephemeral effect. For instance, the use of a technique called ‘pate de verre’, which involves using a glass paste to cast intricate shapes, culminates in a striking set of grey baby bonnets. With their old fashioned design and smoky colouring, these symbols of childhood become an eerie testament to the fogginess of memory after the passage of time.

‘Vessels of Memory’ is an exploration not only of childhood and antiquity, but of womanhood. It is impossible to look at the paper high heels, and not wonder where their owners have travelled. A set of plates on the wall at first appear normal and even cheerful, the type to be brought out only on happy occasions. But underneath the bold designs, doubtful scribbles hint that dinners spent with them were anything but.

This isn’t, perhaps the easiest or most enjoyable exhibition, and it may not be to everyone’s taste. The voices written into the artwork are disconcertingly anonymous, and the sense that you are intruding never fully disappears. Yet, such a thought provoking collaboration from two of Ireland’s emerging artists is well worth a visit.

One comment

  1. Well, I’m not sure about it feeling as though I was walking into someone’s bedroom. More like walking into a really crappy exhibition.

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