Naughton Gallery in association with Bbeyond/Black Market International.
Brian Connolly and Amanda Coogan at Queens University Foyer and Quad.
Leo Devlin at Elmwood Hall.
Belfast, Friday 4th May.
The Artist is Blind
By the time I get there Connolly has already been at it for some hours. He has built a kind of rickety shelter from a table elevated by lengths of wood attached to its legs by G-clamps. He is intent and intense. His focus is on the job in hand. He seems at this point to be dismantling the structure climbing up and down an aluminium step ladder. On the table top are a number of those hobbyists gadgets, magnifying glass/with pincer holders, that allow you to see in some detail the delicate things with which you are working, lead soldiers, rare postage stamps. Held in the pincers there seem to be feathers.
The event is going on in the checker-squared foyer of the Lanyon Building at Queens, the Black and White Hall, opposite the huge statue of what I take to be an allegory of ‘learning’.
I know Connolly a little and I position myself so that I can achieve eye contact with him. But I clearly do not exist for him. A revenant from the world that Connolly has dis-espoused for the afternoon, I do not create even a whisper of stimulus. I find this odd. Here he is, working in a public thoroughfare but behaving as though he is working in, shall we say, a studio, or in a black box, or in another place. He is of course very vulnerable here. Someone might tip over his ladder, someone might tip over his table. Damn it all, someone might talk to him. Perhaps worst of all, someone might look at him. Hold on you might say, if he has positioned himself right in the doorway here, for some hours of a publicised event, surely he is expecting people to ‘look’ at him?
The artist is blind, then. he cannot see me. Or refuses to see me, which is effectively the same thing. Hysterical blindness has the same effect, the blocking out of visual stimuli, as neurological or physiological blindness. But this of course is not actual blindness. It is strategic blindness, maybe aesthetic blindness, maybe theatrical blindness (the blindness of the fourth wall). And what’s more, he seems to expect me not to see him. Indeed, this might be an hysterical blindness, a blindness brought on by panic, by uncertainty, the fear of discovery, by that which emerges at some cost from the artist’s and the work’s unconscious: doubt.
The Viewer is Blind
The corollary of this blindness of the artist is that the viewer must also be (at least partially) blind. We must not see him in the work in the making of the work. His role is, perhaps, something like the black-clad puppeteers of the Bunraku theatre or the koken or kuroko, the black clad stage managers, of Noh and Kabuki theatre. Perhaps this says something about the preponderance of black clad figures in the work of Black Market.
It is a form of ‘suspending one’s disbelief’. Of acknowledging the presence of the performer (the maker) and ignoring him at the same time, so as to be focused on the spectacle. This involves ignoring ourselves as spectators and simultaneously spectating. Acknowledging and ignoring the frame. The frame, as it appears here in the work, is that rickety thing I mentioned earlier. Just about held together by G-clamps. And the complex viewing matrix that is unfolding at the work is similarly fragile and rickety.
The performer, paradoxically, is part of and not part of the spectacle. Another paradox is that the work effectively makes the viewer blind. How can the viewer, the one who sees, not see? Especially when the work seems to be offered to us in all its vulnerability, its nakedness?
The Work is Blind
To be continued…