Just as for her 2012 exhibition day wears at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Dublin, whose works and titles drew references from a range of literary sources – Allen Ginsberg, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf – Aleana Egan’s show at Konrad Fischer, Berlin, took inspiration from the now largely forgotten English writer Mary Butts. Where day wears cast out daringly unstable networks of association between the objects on show, their titles and their literary references that informed them, light on a leaf had a singular undercurrent: Butts’s 1928 modernist novel Armed with Madness. The book follows a group of young bohemians on holiday on the Cornish coastline in England, where they have an encounter with the Holy Grail myth. This sense of the meeting of the anachronous was rehearsed in Egan’s new works, which employ an appropriately mysterious, adventurous yet reticent sculptural language.
nature to change (2015), the most physically dominant piece, consisted of a large, bright blue steel frame. Over a corner draped a length of printed linen, alongside which was a tall, tripod-like work constructed with long, dark, slender bars of lacquer-coated steel. Sitting at the foot of this was a shrunken lecturn-type object housing two small squares of coloured cotton. The elements that comprised this room-like piece constantly framed and reframed each other, their shifting contexts and potential uses suggesting a curious space at once domestic, cloistered and almost industrial.
Patterns of habitation and imagined private and public moods are continuously unearthed and re-proposed in Egan’s works, particularly in the intimate emptied out and peaceful (2014) which comprised a solid, almost functional-looking stepladder bearing a small glass jar of red paint and protruding paintbrush. Beside this, draped on the wall, were two of Egan’s trademark cardboard strip, filler and paint pieces. These are drooping, wall-based constructions that some-times appear quite elegant, sometimes anxious, sometimes fragile and fatigued, and sometimes (certainly in this case) robust, clumsy and clotted. These wallworks are mystifying essays in material: as structure, drawing, index and relief. In this instance, the entire assemblage generated a tipping-point between types of privacy and access, but also evoked a kind of stillness that one might find in the pauses that perforate preparation.
In the early 1920s, Butts left her husband and young daughter and travelled to Sicily with her lover Cecil Maitland, spending three months at Aleister Crowley’s spiritual retreat, the Abbey of Thelema. Within Crowley’s orbit, female liberation had an often contradictory conservativeness, and these types of difficult tensions seem to appear at certain moments in this show, expressly with a social edge (2015), another arrangement of near useful objects, consisting of three upright, waist-high steel pipes powdercoated in maroon, off-white, and ivory colours. Beside them stood a well-turned ladder with three rungs – one in steel, two in copper. In front sat a pair of stubby, fireplace-grille-like works. This hearth-to-chimneypiece-type ensemble compressed the public and privacy of these nearly recognizable objects, enacting different types of necessity – for repair, protection, privacy, labour, rest, excitation and visibility.
expressive window (2015), comprised a large peach-coloured, window-shaped strip of cardboard garlanded from two masonry nails fixed into the wall, spoke yet another language of thwarted recognition. In front of this sat a vertical steel frame with wheeled castors at its base. The shiny industrial PVC strip curtain that hung from the frame partly reflected the gallery space, but also warped the view of the cardboard work behind it, both suggesting and denying the abrupt strangeness at the threshold of familiar things.