Godfried Donkor's Rebel Madonna Lace Collection Picture: Miriam O'Connor, courtesy the artists and Eva International
EVA International is Ireland’s biennial of contemporary art, which takes place in Limerick every two years. While the biennial is one larger thing, it takes place across the city in different venues.
The Limerick City Gallery of Art is hosting part of EVA International, and clearly from what’s on show it’s abundantly full of stories and stuffed to the brim with history.
The place of the archive in art today is difficult to understate. Artists love archives.
The archive is rich in visual material, from photographs, to letters, and official documents. It connects the artwork with a certain seriousness – archaeology, anthropology, sociology, history and politics. Closely related to this, artists also love old photographs, forgotten crafts, and discarded objects for a certain kind of poetic feeling they represent. The poetry of old things lends itself also to storytelling, for a subject matter and structure for the artist’s voice.
In the first room, John Waid’s letters to RTE tells of how in 1916 the Irish time zone was moved by 25 minutes 21 seconds to sync with England, and Tiffany Chung’s video, map drawings, slab of stone and series of texts, all relate to the clearing out and reconstruction of a densely populated area of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Both are contemporary artists and both artworks are made in the last 3 years, yet they use the working methods and style of an archive – taking deep histories and connecting them to the present.
This line of thinking is continued by three artists who may not use archival material per se, but whose use of craft reminds of that which is forgotten. Godfried Donkor, whose drawings of animals, plants and people sprawl across the walls surrounding two, painstakingly handmade lace outfits; one a jumpsuit, the other a straightjacket. Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor, who worked collaboratively to make two sewn maps of the world – one describing each country not by its name, but by its levels of debt; the other showing each country by their main industry type.
Other artists in the Limerick City Gallery of Art are political in a similar way to those above, but take a more romantic approach, working with storytelling and the evocative nature of old objects.
Naeem Mohaiemen’s artwork, titled Abu Ammar is coming (2016), is large video projection, shown in a small darkened room; the piece involves a series of old photographs, either they sit still or are held by a hand wearing a white glove, slowly turning one over the other. A voiceover repeatedly asks questions about the men in the photographs; who are they, where are they from, what are they doing? Kapwani Kiwanga presents her own kinds of questions, but these are asked through the strangeness by which objects occupy the gallery space; the tossed table, the torn photographs. Again in a darkened room, the traces suggested here imply violence, mysterious with an unnerving potential for danger.
There’s all this and more in the Limerick City Gallery of Art – continuing until 17 July.
The ideas and themes of EVA International sit somewhere between history and politics, wavering in and around the politics of history and the history of politics. Contemporary society is marked by its colonial past on all sides, inside and out, and it is the sticky legacy of imperialism, racism and exploitation worldwide which Koyo Kouoh, this year’s curator, has made the subject of the 2016 EVA International biennial – in perfect time for the 1916 centenary.
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