The Geneva Window, The Lab, Dublin, January – February 2011

Hilary Murray is a curator and writer based in Dublin

Hilary Murray

 Harry Clarke: Juno and the Paycockwatercolour, courtesy Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane / The Lab
Harry Clarke: Juno and the Paycockwatercolour, courtesy Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane / The Lab

The Geneva Window is a complex array of video and film work that responds to the notion of identity proposed by Harry Clarke’s ill-fated Geneva Window. Clarke’s stained-glass window detailed Irish literary greats of the twentieth century; each writer chosen was progressive and challenging for the day. Works from O’Casey, O’Flaherty and Joyce all feature. The window, however, had been commissioned to herald a vision of a new Ireland at the League of Nations in Geneva, an Ireland that certainly wasn’t mired in alcholism and poverty, much of the subject matter for the writers illustrated. The window was soon seen to be redolent of an Ireland the new Ireland wished to ignore. The work was ultimately sidelined and forgotten. It was to be Clarke’s final work.
The segmented digitised imagery of Steven Claydon’s video installations The Ancient Set and Fictional Pixel (both 2008) flickers and separates into composite colours, each image coupled with a determined, useless and confusing language overlay. The premise is set for the perception-image – the complex array of input that one takes on when in the world, each pixel eventually becoming parsed by the brain into the conscious awareness of form or thought. Yet prior to this summation, in that minuscule moment, chaos reigns. It is this complexity of input in its separate form that has caused the fields of science and philosophy to implicate perceptual process as a format for consciousness itself. How to examine it has proved a hard question to resolve, and art has become an excellent template for this examination, due to that fact that (good) art has no resolved singular meaning. Art forces the viewer to see the perception rather than the conscious conclusion.
 Dara Birnbaum: Kiss the Girls, 1979, video still; courtesy The Lab
Dara Birnbaum: Kiss the Girls, 1979, video still; courtesy The Lab

This perceptive array is evident in the re-edited footage seen in Dara Birnbaum’s Kiss the Girls, 1979. We see here a pallid TV interpretation of human emotion, dissociated chat and general fakery, all compounding the awareness that explanation and image are not tied together. This notion is further developed in Lewis Klaur’s, Daylight Moon, 2003, a segmented performative film noir storybook lacking in sequence, with a somnmolent voice-over containing a narrative that we try and follow, but cannot. It is senseless – no singular sense can grasp it. Perceptive parsing runs amok in all three videos. The fractured nature of each work puts the viewer ill at ease; the images are at once knowable and unknown; the subversive self, removed from the system of consciousness, is under a microscope. It is also worth noting that these works span three decades – Dara Birnbaum’s work was created in 1979, the other works were all created in the twenty-first century; the perception image remains a constant source for artistic development.
 Mark Leckey: Cinema in the Round, 2007, performance and video, 42 minutes; courtesy the artist / Cabinet London / The Lab
Mark Leckey: Cinema in the Round, 2007, performance and video, 42 minutes; courtesy the artist / Cabinet London / The Lab

Another thread to this complex exhibition is the performative, already mentioned in relation to Klaur’s work. We see it again in Mark Leckey’s Cinema-in-the-Round, 2007. Here the artist stands at a podium and further develops the idea of image and realisation, object and awareness. This performance by the artist it is at once empathetic; it is so intimately subjective we easily associate with it. The viewer is pulled into a wave of self-examination – an uncomfortable one at that.


 Elodie Pong: Endless Ends, 2009, video stills, looped video, 7 minutes; courtesy the artist / Freymond Guth & Co Fine Arts, Zurich / The Lab
Elodie Pong: Endless Ends, 2009, video stills, looped video, 7 minutes; courtesy the artist / Freymond Guth & Co Fine Arts, Zurich / The Lab

Elodie Pong’s Endless Ends, 2009, sees the filmic finale, ‘The End’, appear over and over – each ‘End’ oddly characteristic of the country from which the film issues. This work sits metaphorically to one side of the others; maybe this is why it is situated in the upstairs gallery, alone - it is the one work that does actually address the terms of identity seen in Clarke’s Geneva Window.
The fact that each piece is a video / film work brings them under the performative rubric; this coupled with the play on perception places each at odds with The Geneva Window as object. The Geneva Window is used here as a source for identity, and yet  the identities dealt with by Clarke and by the artists featured in The Geneva Window are quite separate. One is a national identity, undoubtedly personal in some respects, as all art is, yet in the greater schema, national it remains. The identity dealt with by the artists featured in the exhibition (all except Pong) is a pre-conscious identity, one that struggles in the becoming – a perceptive awareness of the self, one that cannot be fully known. It is this deeper, more personal identity that the art here deals with, and it bears little relation to the identity dealt with in Clarke’s Geneva Window.
 The Geneva Window, 2011, installation shot with Steven Claydon\
The Geneva Window, 2011, installation shot with Steven Claydon's work The Ancient Set, 2008, video, 9 minutes

(courtesy the artist and Hotel London), The Lab; photo Damien McGlynn; courtesy The Lab
The creation of an empathetic historicity to Clarke’s work throughout the exhibition in the display of typed letters to and from the commissioning government attempts to link it to the work within the show itself, yet whether this is achieved or not is questionable. Furthermore, Clarke was never limited by his medium, his images were not those usually assciated with glass; his line is painterly, and he was also an exemplary draughtsman. The focus on video work here is odd – odd in that it forces the mode of the show into medium-specificity, which is exactly what should not happen to a show that responds to Clarke.
The link to Clarke here is one of sentiment and artistic empathy, not identity. The works in The Geneva Window do deal with identity, yet one that composes itself in a complex web of subjectivity, perception-image, performance and internal dialogue. When removed from The Geneva Window premise, the work featured does well to engage the viewer in a form of identity analysis that affects one deeper than one’s national persona; it is the persona itself.