The Art of Conversation

Chris Hayes


Chris Hayes

The Art of Conversation

Teresa Gillespie, Consumed, a work in progress

I’D call myself a lapsed artist – I gave up making art in 2012,” explained art critic James Merrigan, when we sat down to discuss his upcoming art project, DEEP-SEATED, which opened in Ormston House on April 1, which was of course is Fools Day.

It’s difficult to think about DEEP-SEATED without understanding it within the Merrigan’s own journey from artist to art critic.

At times, Merrigan’s reviews on have been polarising, eliciting as much of a negative reaction as they do praise. This makes sense as he describes the origin of Billion Journal as, “I was fed up with artists saying things in secret; artists are brilliant critics. I realised that very quickly. I was going to a lot of openings and a lot of people have a lot to say about their peers – and it was really good criticism. But it wasn’t getting out there.”

“I wanted my reviews to be part of the conversation,” Merrigan elaborated. “So, if there was an opening on and my review came out three days later, it became part of the conversation. I wrote a few catalogue essays as well and I never got the same energy, the same anxiety as with Billion; Billion is all about anxiety, as well as about conversation, it’s about energy – it’s about saying what you like, really.”

Could this project signal a return by Merrigan to the role of artist? Consistent through Merrigan’s projects, whether it’s Billion or DEEP-SEATED, is the considered but not casual approach to the idea of conversation. While DEEP-SEATED borrows the format of a panel discussion, it aims to be much more.

Five artists have been invited to describe an artist, artwork, everyday object, thing or feeling. The artists are Alan Butler, Conor Mary Foy, Teresa Gillespie, Breda Lynch, and Ian McInerney. He describes the connection between the artists, saying, “They elicit some kind of effect in their art, some kind of feeling. Especially when they’re pulsing images on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, they have an ability to push through all the noise.”

The event in Limerick will be one of three. While each manifestation has its own theme – Limerick is titled “orgy of scary” – Merrigan is keen to stress the openness of the format.

“It’s really open to them – I really wanted to steer away from panel discussions,” Merrigan said, explaining his frustrations with the limitations of panel discussions. “There’s always a sense that nothing is achieved, absolutely nothing is achieved. I always come away from panel discussions with this feel of the unsaid. This is going to come up a lot over the course of these discussions, this idea of the thing that is unsaid. So, I want for these artists to feel like they can say anything.”

Integral to the ambitions of the project is the use of the psychoanalytic idea of “the talking cure”.

“The thing with psychoanalysis is that it is all about the artist, and the symptoms of the artist, and the trauma of the artist – what happened to them to become an artist.” explained Merrigan, who co-ordinates a module on psychoanalysis and art in Trinity.

He continued, saying “In some ways for the psychoanalyst the artist is ill. Psychoanalysis is always about the promotion of the conversation, and this idea of the talking cure. Yet in psychoanalysis there is no cure; it’s an on-going process, never-ending in some ways.”

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