Review: Limerick: Amanda Coogan at Limerick City Gallery of Art

CIRCA 111 review

Amanda Coogan: Mississippi goddamn , 2004, colour photograph, lambda print, 100 x 75; photo Jimmy Fay; courtesy Limerick City Gallery of Art Amanda Coogan: Reading Beethoven ,
2004, colour lithograph, 100 x 75 cm;
photo Michelle Coogan; courtesy Limerick
City Gallery of Art

Amanda Coogan’s exhibition A Brick in the Handbag at Limerick City Gallery of Art constructs a tightrope balance between the sexy, painted, consumable woman and the underbelly of the biological evidence of decay: the body staining and perishing.

One of the strengths of Coogan’s performances is the attempt to encourage an understanding of our physical limitations and capacities to receive and interpret information. Coogan interrogates her own capabilities: physical endurance, psychological control and, crucially, the audience’s interaction with the performance, their potential to lengthen or reduce the performance through their responses. The glossy lambda print of Reading Beethoven is inadequate to describe witnessing the performance, the sheer physical effort of head banging, the sweat, danger and control, the sound and the vibrations.

Coogan uses her essential props, her theatrically dressed body and cosmetically painted face to entice and then to confront the viewer with the violence of a constructed feminine existence. The absolute triviality of beauty treatments and the insidious manipulation of the female body in the pursuit of beauty is a recurring theme throughout Coogan’s work. In Kylie , a female, naked, pink-and-white bottom moves and shakes to the sound track of Can’t get you out of my head while one cheek is scrubbed until marked and raw. A portrait of the artist as David juxtaposes opposites, the image of the classical statue printed onto the kitsch apron, worn by the naked female artist. It slyly draws attention to the legacies of the Greek Classical belief in the female body as proportionally and inherently flawed.

Conducting other performers is a new venture for Coogan, encouraging new participatory meanings for the selected performers and the viewers. The Dublin Deaf Drama Group, orchestrated by Coogan, signed the words of Queen’s anthem Bohemian rhapsody while the music filled the atrium. The writhing, mesmerised dancers that respond to Ode to joy in the DVD production of The head bangers are conducted by the artist from a solitary position on a separate screen, netting the viewer between two sources of energy.

Coogan’s use of her own body in the artistic negotiation of the sexualised feminine image is fraught with peril, risking both the danger of being reinterpreted into a patriarchal script and the potential accusation of narcissism. These risks are countered by re-engaging the body in a broader context of discrimination and disability. Coogan now demands the participation of others on her voyage, searching through the remnants of the Romantic artist genius to restructure her work around a social dynamic. The group performance is as compelling and energetic as the disgust and empathy experienced on seeing a young woman stained with vomited chocolate cake, or triumphantly spurting dubious white fluids from a bottle.

Pippa Little is researching towards a Ph.D. in curating under the Shinnors Scholarship at Limerick School of Art and Design and Limerick City Gallery of Art.

Amanda Coogan: A Brick in the Handbag , Limerick City Gallery of Art, Limerick, January – February 2005

Article reproduced from CIRCA 111, Spring 2005, p.112