Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Trip to the Niland: Part One

The Model Arts & Niland Gallery is this place in Sligo where they show modern art stuff. In all my time visiting Sligo I somehow managed to miss its existence until very recently. Now a trip to the Niland is one of the highlights of any visit to Ireland's north west.

At the moment, the Niland's normal location is in the middle of a renovation, but the institution is showing stuff in other locations. Their current show seems to be some kind of touring exhibition based on war, terrorism, and that kind of thing. Most of the exhibition is video work of one sort or another. The first piece you see is four screens showing footage taken at two big events in Turkey. One is some kind of army passing out parade, featuring loads of soldiers marching around and declaring their intention to kill anyone who opposes a certain narrowly defined vision of Turkishness. The other is some kind of youth congress, at which a series of cute as a button small children make similarly blood-thirsty promises. Happy is he who is a Turk!

The second piece was by a Bosnian artist. She filmed herself making a series of emphatic statements while in a voice-over the artist repeats the same statements. Sometimes the voice-over is in phase with the on-screen comments, sometimes not. The statements range from the ominous (“I kill people who think differently from me” or “I like to rape women”) to the surreal (“During Ramadan I do not smoke or drink alcohol, but I take ecstasy”) to the somewhat banal, all delivered in more or less the same tone. There are obvious resonances here with the troubled history of Bosnia, the various references to sexual violence or exploitation of women gaining an extra frisson through being said by a woman, albeit one at that point speaking in the persona of a man.

The Bosnian's piece was refreshingly short, unlike the nevertheless fascinating piece that followed, which was a series of three films by another artist. Actually, I only saw part of one of these films, as it was too long to watch all of. It was a series of everyday scenes shot in Baghdad on the eve of the US invasion, a poignant vision of people living lives of a normality that would soon be shattered. The footage was fascinating; shots of two sisters dancing was an image that will live with me for some time. As an art piece it was however a bit problematic. The footage might have been better used as the raw material for a TV documentary rather than something to be shown in an art gallery. I strongly suspect that no one who chanced across this piece stood there to watch the whole 51 minutes, let alone hung around to watch the other long films by the artist that were showing.

The next room had a big sign telling you in English and French that you are now leaving the American Sector, set up so that it was visible through glass windows to people in the street. Although it looked like something you would see in divided Berlin, it was actually placed initially on the border between the USA and Canada. It stood there for just under a week, until complaints forced its removal.

That room also housed a piece by another artist, the accompanying notes for which indicated a certain ambivalence on his part about the theme of the exhibition. The exhibition's broadly post-11-9 sensibility irritated him, as it is not as though extremism and political violence was conjured into the world on that 2001 day – in much of the world people have long had to live with the fear of sudden violent death. This is, surely, an agreeable sentiment, but I am not so sure I liked the art-work that went with it – footage from apartheid-era South Africa of a suspected informer being tortured to death, sound-tracked by Magritte (or was it Matisse?) talking about art.

The next piece was another video piece, consisting of cut together news footage of various terrorist events, intercut with all kinds of funny stuff. The gang was all here – the Mogadishu rescue, Sadat's assassination, lots of footage of planes blowing up, and so on. I was particularly struck by footage of an airplane coming into land, missing the run way, flying into trees, and then (just when you thought that just maybe they might have made a hard landing that some people would get away from) exploding, sound-tracked by disco classic 'Do The Hustle!'. Again, though, it went on a bit, but an art gallery was probably the best place for it, as it was plainly too weird and tasteless for TV. And I now find myself singing 'Do The Hustle' to myself whenever I take a plane.



Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog about our current show. Really interesting to read a visitor perspective- looking forward to part 2.
Aoife @ The Model Niland

ian said...