With more than 50 participating artists, this year’s EVA International nominally responded to the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising – the failed revolution that nevertheless set the pattern for the politics and ideologies of the future Irish Republic. Titled ‘Still (The) Barbarians’, it is one of a vast number of commemorative events and exhibitions around the country that are at their best when they ignore knee-jerk romanticization of past martyrs and, instead, explore how we deal with our histories, the imperatives for contemporary revolution and what the future might hold.
In EVA’s largest venue, the semi-dilapidated former Cleeve’s Condensed Milk factory, the many hours of video work make for an initially daunting prospect. However, Cameroon-born, Senegal-based curator Koyo Kouoh is an excellent exhibition-maker and has paced things well. Highlights here include Jeremy Hutchison’s Fabrications (2013–16), an installation exploring the history of Palestine through a semi-fictionalized account of indigo mining, which culminates in the hauntingly evocative image of a once-dazzlingly blue land drained of all its colour.
Equally compelling, in an entirely different way, Jonathan Cummins’s trio of films – When I Leave These Landings (2004–09), Go Home (2010–13) and Out the Road (2012–16) – is a durational project following the thoughts and lives of four anti-Good Friday Agreement political prisoners and their families. Presenting the humanity of those it might be more usual to demonize, Cummins implies, in the subtlest of ways, that the only future in a divided land lies in the hope of understanding the mindset of those cast as ‘other’.
Alice Maher’s Cassandra’s Necklace(2) (2016), a reworking of her 2012 film, roots the conversation back in the mists of a more mythological, ancient time, giving rise to the idea that conflict, brutality and our baser drives and desires are elemental. Amanda Rice’s The Site Where a Future Never Took Place (2015) adds a note of beauty, albeit in a quietly disturbing way, as her camera pans an abandoned space, leaving us with the sense that nothing good can have happened there.
Dorothy Hunter’s Unassigned Monuments One through Six (2013) is ostensibly based on monuments and their passing (think of the toppled statue in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias, 1818). What we see are elegant, Aleana Egan-esque steel, wood and jesmonite structures that demonstrate how objects, however subtle, inflect and charge the space around them.
Most satisfying of all at this venue is a trio of installations: Tom Flanagan and Megs Morley’s A History of Stone, Origin and Myth (2016), Criodhna Costello’s Murmuration (2014) and Alfredo Jaar’s The Cloud (2015). Two videos looking at water, stone and air – accompanied by Jaar’s dramatically lit hanging sculpture of a dark storm cloud – both shake and stir.
In comparison, Liam Gillick’s And then … (2016), a ‘spoken word film festival’ taking place every Thursday of the biennial at Mother Macs pub, may seem a little off-message. Yet, behind the amusingly abstract descriptions of film plots lies the central idea that art’s currency is metaphor, which is often a vehicle for greater truths than can be conveyed by narrative.
Over at the biennial’s other main venue, the Limerick City Gallery of Art, Kouoh’s exploration of Ireland as Britain’s first colonial experiment splinters – under the contextualizing weight of current warfare, migration and refugees – into a compelling series of conversations about the legacies of colonization and its contemporary cousin, globalization. Ireland may be marking a century since revolution but – as works including Philip Aguirre y Ogtegui’s Cabinet Mare Nostrum (2016) and Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor’s Le monde et les choses (The World and Things, 2014) and Le monde et la dette (The World and Debt, 2016) suggest – power imbalances and injustices continue to haunt us all.