October 30, 2009

Review by Rosalind Abbott

Review of Preponderance of The Small from Trinity College's University Times by Rosalind Abbott

This month sees the Douglas Hyde Gallery run its collaborative project Preponderance of the Small, a part of its Gallery 3 initiative, alongside the two usual exhibitions in the gallery itself.  The project consists of 21 different artworks, by 21 young Irish artists, installed in 21 locations in close proximity to the original gallery. This alternative approach to exhibiting might mean that the collection isn’t as practical to digest in one sitting as a conventional display held under one roof, but this is clearly the intention. With participating venues including the likes of Bewley’s, the Powerscourt Centre and seven locations within Trinity College itself, the idea seems to be that you’ll run into the creations by chance as you go about your daily life. You can pick up a map of the featured venues from the Douglas Hyde Gallery or download one from their website – it’s worth keeping one handy so you know where to swing by, if you’re in the area.

Having said this, running into the artworks by chance may be easier said than done: as someone who went actively searching for the works, I can testify that they often slip by unnoticed. Often, I was virtually staring right at the piece before I realised it was there. In the Sony Centre on St. Stephen’s Green, I stumbled around the shop for a good ten minutes, avoiding sales-deprived staff desperately persuading me to buy a new laptop, only to realise the video installation I was looking for (Tristan Hutchinson’s ‘Commution’) was in the shop window, facing outwards. At times this became frustrating, however there is a sense of achievement to be felt when you finally spot a piece you’ve been searching for (asking staff is cheating). I imagine the element of surprise felt by those who ‘find’ the works by accident would be equally as pleasing: it’s kind of like a modern art treasure hunt.

After all, though it might make them more elusive, it is the works’ small scales, and their tendencies to blend into their surroundings, which make them so special. Whilst many artworks are designed to take centre stage, distracting attention away from their surroundings and onto the piece itself, these understated creations prefer to complement their setting. For example, Paul Hickey’s ‘Weave #4’ (a collection of Dulux paint swatches intertwined around the fencing of Trinity’s tennis courts) harmonises with the autumnal tones of the trees surrounding it, subtly reflecting the many hues found in the leaves at this time of year.

Other pieces simulate their surroundings in a more direct way – Maggie Madden’s polychromatic model of a cityscape, comprising of multicore telephone wire, sits amidst real architectural models by Eileen Gray in the foyer of the Irish Architectural Archive (Merrion Square). Likewise, the glass cabinets of geological artefacts housed in Trinity’s Museum Building are somewhat comically (though no less beautifully) mimicked by Laura McMorrow’s ‘Cardboard Rocks’ – an assortment of recycled cardboard boxes with precious stones and fossils painted on them, housed in a museum-esque glass case. Rather than competing with and overriding their surroundings, these pieces serve to highlight the beauty of the objects they imitate, and cause the viewer to take a second look at what may otherwise have been passed by unnoticed.

This is one of the advantages of the Preponderance... project’s novel approach to displaying works: each piece is carefully designed to integrate into its venue – and the venues are often worthy of admiration in themselves, making the whole experience more rounded. This is a feat which would be hard to achieve within the bare, whitewashed walls of a gallery. In addition, the collaborative style of the project means we not only encounter more variety in the venues, but also more artists, each with a different approach to the task. A wider variety of materials than usual are utilised – from the traditional oil-on-canvas (used on Gillian Lawler’s untitled piece in the Freemasons Hall) to concrete, film and, frequently, mixed media – which can mean anything from discarded erasers to empty packets of King’s Crisps. All of them, however unlikely they may seem as artists’ materials, are put to surprisingly good use.

Finally, the mood of the artworks, and the effect they have upon the viewer, will also, naturally, vary. Niall de Buitlear’s sentimental ‘Found Bookmark Project’ in the National Library will bring a smile to even the dreariest face – the forgotten bookmarks of hundreds of library users are collected and displayed (mostly via video, though some arranged on a table-top). Of all the artworks, this is perhaps the most personal, especially since handwritten notes feature prominently in the collection, evoking daydreams of who left them there...and perhaps a little paranoia that my own scribblings aren’t amongst them somewhere. Some of the artworks bear hints of wit and irony (‘Cardboard Rocks’), some carry messages (‘Nothing lasts forever’ by Laura Fitzgerald, to be found in Road Records), whilst others are simply beautiful to look at: Beth O’Halloran’s ‘Let’s go home, little bear’, in Blooming Amazing, is as pretty as the flowers which surround it.

Unfortunately, it’s probably a fair assumption that the vast majority of people who pass by these creations may fail to even notice them. But those who are attentive to their surroundings, and who stop to appreciate the works, will be rewarded. This is perhaps the overriding message of the project: to encourage us to take the time to observe the minute; to pay attention to detail; to celebrate our small successes. Each of these understated artworks serves to turn our attention back to these little things in life that we so frequently neglect, in our frantic search for grandiosity and ‘the bigger picture’.  So in future, when you’re out wandering around town, try to keep your eyes peeled – whether it’s for one of the artworks exhibited in Preponderance of the Small, or for the many ignored and overlooked objects of beauty the project celebrates, and which are around us everywhere. Sometimes in life, it’s good to think small.

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