Garden Galleries, Irish Museum of Modern Art
10 April – 5 July 2015
Review by Darren Caffrey
In the downstairs room of IMMA’s Garden Galleries, the work of Diogo Pimentao can be found. Titled Disequilibrium Displacement, it is perhaps best not to understand it in terms of words. For the purpose of this review, words will have to suffice however. Luckily, this exhibit comes with more words than just those of its title. The gallery text says “…using very simple materials like paper, graphite and stones; and simple processes such as drawing, rubbing and folding; Pimentao blurs the distinctions between drawing, sculpture and performance”.
What stands in for these words in the gallery space is a number of pieces which do indeed show use of the materials mentioned. There is graphite used on the wall and on the piece hanging next to it on the same wall. These works are titled Between (cognate #3) and Fascia (structure #66) respectively. There is graphite used also in Fascia (structure #67), which stands up next to these other examples. This third piece which leans up next to the others is covered in paper, and so too is the one hanging nearest to it. The one which uses no paper instead makes its surface the actual wall of the gallery. Each of these pieces is 159 x 119cm. Graphite and diamonds take the same atomic structure, so it’s not surprising that each of these works reveals a metallic sparkle in their finish.
There are two other examples of the artist’s direct use of graphite within this exhibit. Standing at just over three metres, two grey slabs lean up into a skylight hidden in the gallery ceiling. Titled together as Hold (Inherent), these forms of folded paper can be perceived to touch, and where they do not, there is a resulting elliptical light shaft. The light which leaks through is left over from that which illuminates the gallery space, with particular attention shared upon the back wall. On this back wall countless matchsticks have been lined up to make Drawing (horizontal). This wall is the longest in the room and it is presumed that someone has already lit the matches as each one is burnt down to its stick.
We might think that it would have been easier to burn these matches and then fix them to the wall, and again the list of works is helpful here, telling us that ‘burnt matches’ are what constitute this work. I would like to think that someone turned off the fire-alarm in IMMA’s Garden Galleries, and for a moment of sheer madness, lit one and watched as the rest took as quick. But on another wall of this rectangular room, the diagonal of its entire length is redrawn with more burnt matches, all lined up one by one. From top to bottom, the provocation of Drawing (diagonal) is not so compelling as that which runs across the body at arm’s reach. Indeed the second example of the matchstick trick is less about the viewer and more about the institution. This miniature effigy of the torch does not need our imagined role as fire starters. It has already gone up.
Where the last match meets the floor, a tidy collection of what looks like scrap paper lies seemingly undisturbed. At rest as tiny pieces, each one is small enough to carry a single non-thought and no bigger. The desire to bend down and gently whoosh an arm as though to waken its chaos is strong. But according to the list of works, what appears as pieces of scrap paper are in fact flakes of dry wall paint, gesso and graphite. The thin graphite lines drawn onto some of these flakes only adds to the reason for confusion. Either way, it appears that every single flake which constitutes Walldrawing (line movement) has been stuck down one by one. No gentle breeze will serve to scatter them.
Curator Sean Kissane writes: “the graphite is hammered onto the surface of the paper in Fascia and it is scraped off the wall and reassembled on the floor in the work Walldrawing (line movement).” And in the work with matches, he refers to ‘the uniqueness and fragility of each burnt stick’, suggesting that the variety is owing to the nature of creation. This creation can be destruction also, and the chaos that we are shown far exceeds the vision put forward by the gallery.
Ordinarily when you go into a gallery and see art works on the floor or on the walls, it is understood that you cannot touch them. This is as much for practical reasons as any other and it is difficult to argue with. This is in spite of the fact that an artist’s work can take very interesting forms and literally provide access to materials beyond our everyday encounter. So sometimes an artist might make use of these conditions and exhibit work about this very tension.
With Pimentao’s ‘Disequilibrium Displacement’, the gallery has provided us a brief text. It details for the reader how the works we see came to be. As discussed above, it outlines a clever artistry behind the works formal arrangement. With the work in each case finally amounting to something other than what may be perceived on first glance. In fact, the accuracy of Pimentao’s ‘falsification’ of common materials, using just simple art materials is something we can only trust. The gallery conditions do not permit us to touch and feel for ourselves, but if we could, we would immediately know what we already thought. Namely that paper covered by graphite does not feel like wood or metal. The tactile answer would be all that we should need to settle any realm of confusion. It is this failure to supply a tactile answer that we see repeated throughout the show.
With everything looking like something other than what it is, we are ultimately left to the poetry of interpretation. In most cases this is a delightful prospect and can offer new ways to look at a work. For the work of Pimentao, this prospect is stopped at the gallery door by the contract which each enters into once it crosses. Once again, this is not ordinarily such a big deal, but in the minimalist styling of Pimentao, it is the predication on which the work is made. This means that the artist and the gallery share an element of the work which is not available to the everyday viewer. If we could attend at the time of install, we could see how light or heavy those two grey slabs of Hold (Inherant) really are.
This vital information would reveal the truth at a glance, but it is not accessible to us as viewers. For us, looking and the aesthetic question are as far as we are allowed to go. Yet the way that each fabrication hangs or stands or at times appears to almost float, all leaves us to feel like this information is actually needed to fully appreciate the level of Pimentao’s visual reproduction. Of course as we all know, this tactile answer is not accessible and so we are drawn once again to the gallery as a mediator for the work. In this regard, the gallery text fails where the work has succeeded, drawing attention to only the information that it shares with the viewer, about art and materials and mediums. It does not however suggest that it appreciates the manner of Pimentao’s argument, only his application.
It seems from a viewers point of view that the artist is also saying something about the conditions in which his work can be experienced. Is a joke a joke if you already know the punch line? It might still be funny. But perhaps it is more important to see it that Pimentao’s work is in a way censored by IMMA, showing it to us as a quirk rather than a lie. There is something deeply political about the real nature of this work, yet this institution makes no mention of it. In this respect, we are found looking again at what exactly is the position of the artist in all of this.
Perhaps the work which best illuminates the artist’s position is the one which is placed in the stairwell and lift next to the basement gallery. This lone work is titled Intrinsic. And it is the only one which does not come with parentheses attached to its title. Simply a block of graphite which is small enough to fit in the hand, we may read the plainness of this work like the hammer or sickle of the communist era, each reflecting how the labour of the worker is symbolic of the social arrangement. How else do you explain what cannot be verified? Pimentao suggests that you look again at the subtext, while at the same time the museum seeks to present a more solid conclusion for its viewers to understand.
Photos courtesy of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, unless otherwise indicated.