Anaesthesia originates from the Greek word anaisthēsia, from an- 'without' + aisthēsis feeling'. While anaesthetised, there happens a temporary suspension of time which is highly controlled and monitored by both the expertise of the anaesthetist and the use of machines such as vaporizers, ventilators and pressure gauges in the mixing of oxygen, anaesthetics and ambient air, so that pain is temporarily suspended.
In 2013, I visited the anaesthetic archive in University Hospital Galway which provided me with access to vintage anaesthetic equipment. From my studio, an old disused surgery in Galway, I developed my research through painting and drawing. The dilapidated building itself merged, integrated and became a further integral part of the work. Slate that had fallen off the roof became a canvas for the trilene paintings, as did a mirrored door hacked off a timeworn wardrobe. The stories behind the chemicals became a clear focus - how chloroform replaced ether at the beginning of the twentieth century but was quickly abandoned upon discovery of it’s toxicity. Then, in turn how Tricloroethylene ( Trilene, coloured blue with a dye to avoid confusion to the similar smelling chloroform ) replaced both of these in the 1940’s, but was itself replaced in the 1960’s with the introduction of halothane.
This work was shown by Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust in 2014 as part of the Galway International Arts Festival with an introductory talk on the exhibition by Maeve Mulrennan, Director of the Galway Arts Centre.
In 2018, I was invited to work in the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre (SFI), NUI with CÚRAM, the Centre for Research in Medical Devices as part of the Artist/Teacher in residence program.
The residency informed teaching practice by providing access to lectures and the CÚRAM laboratories.
TULCA is a multi-venue, artist-centered festival of contemporary art that works with Irish curators to present innovative exhibitions that provoke and energise audiences into the world of the Visual Arts. TULCA Festival champions Galway city and county as central to the contemporary visual arts community and as a hub for artists, audiences and culture. TULCA promotes the development and exhibition of the contemporary visual arts culture through a national and international network of artists, audiences, curators and art critics. There is a strong emphasis also on audience engagement through the Tulca Education program. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with TULCA from the early years right up to today in the capacity of both artist and also as an educator.
In ‘Within and Without’, 2006 curated by Clíodhna Shaffrey and Sarah Searson, I showed a large body of work completed between 2004/2005 which was based on academic research into the work of the 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, examining his theories that were put forward in his seminal work ‘The World as Will and Representation - Volume 1’*
One of the key pieces of the show was a 6ft pencil drawing of the twins aged 7 in GUH, which was complimented by a diptych completed in oil and gloss paint on wood, also of the twins, this time only a few hours old which was shown in the ‘Fairgreen’ Gallery https://issuu.com/richardoleary/docs/tulca_catalogue_06
In September 2013, I produced another 6ft drawing of the twins, aged 13 specifically for ‘Golden Mountain’ which was curated by Valerie O’Connor. O’Connor in her introductory essay states that ‘…the drawing of the twins is large and unequivocal. They are young, female and have super savvy T-shirts. Surveys of the Tulca audience have found that it is a she, and she is young and art educated….’. ‘Mecca is a Place called Topshop and Knock’s H&M’, 2013 revisits the original ‘06 piece, ‘Got them all in Penneys for a fiver’. The twins are presented, this time after a period of six years, dressed in similar clothes in an identical pose. Time has passed, much has happened, but things appear fundamentally the same. http://www.valerieconnor.com/golden-mountain.html
It was also in 2013 that I first worked with Joanna McGlynn, the coordinator of TULCA Education speaking about the work on show in Galway Arts Center to NCAD curatorial students. This was the beginning of a collaboration that has been built on and developed over the past few years through my work with students in education. In collaboration with Joanna and Dr Gavin Murphy, curatorial degree students from CCAM, GMIT developed and delivered practical workshops that explored TULCA themes.
*Schopenhauer's aesthetics flow from his doctrine of the primacy of the ‘Will’ as the thing in itself, the ground of life and all being; and from his judgement that the ‘Will’ is evil. Schopenhauer held that art offered a way for people to temporarily escape servitude to the ‘Will’, and from the suffering that such servitude entails. In effect, his aesthetics turn art into a substitute for religion. Schopenhauer was among the first to contend that at its core, the universe is not a rational place.
He developed philosophy into an instinct - recognising, mystical and essentially ascetic outlook, emphasising that in the face of what he believed to be a world filled with endless strife, we ought to minimise our natural desires in order to achieve a more tranquil frame of mind and a disposition towards universal beneficence. Often considered to be a thoroughgoing pessimist, Schopenhauer in fact advocated ways, via artistic, moral and ascetic forms of awareness to overcome what he considered to be a frustration - filled and fundamentally painful human condition. If reality is the blind will to live and the world is the objectification of such a blind will, life is painful misery. Shopenhauer makes a broad and acute analysis of all the various branches of existence, only to conclude that life is essentially pain and that it is a mistake to persevere in the will to live. According to him, everywhere in the world everything is desire, because all everything is ‘Will’. To desire signifies suffering distress on account of the lack of what is desired. If the desire is not satisfied, the distress remains and increases; if it is satisfied, satiety and annoyance follow and this in turn causes new desires and new distresses. The ‘Will’ finds thousands of pretexts for perpetuating this unsatisfied hunger of the will to live. Theses pretexts only perpetuate the misery of life. Primary pretexts relating to the work include.
Love. The ‘Will’ of the species masks itself under the pleasures of love with the purpose of perpetuating the desire or life in others. In doing so it satisfies its own will to live
Egoism, which impels us to increase the pains of others in the hope of gaining some advantage in our own miserable life.
Progress, which in actuating itself only makes more acute the sense of distress
A possible solution then according to Schopenhauer was to use aesthetic perception as a mode of transcendence to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness. In this special perception, he maintains that we can lose ourselves in the object, forget about our individuality and become a clear mirror of the object. Aesthetic perception thus raising the person into a pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.
Engage Studio Installation
‘A Question of Placating Sycophantic Artistic Consumerism’, 2006
3. Crying Twins, looped (1999) DVD, converted VHS video installation in boxed construction
‘An Investigation of Philosophies on Art’
‘Everything I know in life about contemporary art practice, I learned from the writings of one Stephen Patrick Morrissey’
12 x Mixed Media Images on Wall - photocopies, acetate, paint, ink, nails
Response 2018 by Lauren Conway, IADT
Morrissey is often described by critics along the lines of a snotty teenager, sitting amongst the guests at his parent’s dinner party, egregiously making his opinions known above the ripples of polite conversation. This show is the same, although that does not necessarily mean these opinions are incorrect.
There is something inherently punk about the work in ‘A Question of Placating Sycophantic Artistic Consumerism’, I feel this is something that must be addressed first.
The artist borrows this early punk aesthetic as the pop idol Morrissey did and crucifies each for her own ends. His words and images are nailed to the gallery wall streaked in blood. Informal printing techniques reminiscent of D.I.Y. concert flyers are used while being amalgamated with the sophistication of a Bauhaus treatment of the concept. I’m sure he would love this, much like the singers early aesthetic, the work bleeds with a sort of sophisticated defiance.
‘Placating Sycophantic Art Consumerism’ is a homage to defiance, the artist borrows the pre UKIP/Brexit Morrissey as her moral framework, specifically solo career Morrissey when his lethargy with the status quo truly came into its own (see tracks ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ ‘The World Is Full Of Crashing Bores’). Initially, these acetate ‘stations of the cross’ seem to have no connection to the second installation, photographs of two young girls and a looped video piece featuring the piercing screams of newborns babies.
In ‘Twin 1’ there is a defiant stare, a cheekiness thrown straight back to us, the objectifier, while ‘Twin 2’ attempts quite ineffectively to appear as though she does not realise she is being watched. Can we can see the artist herself in these portraits, watching us watching her. The artist and figure await the reception of the audience as Morrissey does, with a similar aura of apathy and a cavalier demeanour.
On a darker note, in the work ‘Twin 2’, the figures avoidance of the audience, her desire to step outside the role of “object of vision, a sight” recalls the now infamous essay by John Berger in his landmark book ‘Ways of Seeing’.
“From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. And so she comes to consider the surveyor and the surveyed within her as the two constituent yet always distinct elements of her identity as a woman.”
A feeling half of us share.
These are images that exist inside of yet in opposition to the Family Photograph.
They are mugshot.
They are casting polaroid.
They are profile picture.
The noise is deafening, shrill, the sound every exhausted parent of a colicky baby knows, there is no off button. Wailing with discontent, like Morrissey himself, we are plunged into the depths of the artist’s gaze and the unsettling way in which she applies it to her infant children. They are specimens to be observed, as she has had to amidst their overwhelming sensory overload, they are not to be passed around a coffee table or objects to be commented upon as ripples of polite conversation. The stills alone invoke, horror, unease, an intense sense of voyeurism. The television screen represents the barrier between their reality and audience’s, highlighting their intense and seemingly infinite suffering as well as our inability to solve this problem we are being presented with. Similar to Morrissey, it is the suffering of an infant, there is no emergency.
The work is particularly of note in Conway’s career to date as it is very much at odds with her medium of choice, representational through pencil or paint. In much like the way Morrissey wails about the state of the world, Conway’s wailing children represent her uncomfortableness with, as she states the ‘real or imagined pressure to conform to the current fashionable practice of utilising digital and multimedia imagery together with an academic writing practice in order to be relevant’. Conway speculated that these devices were becoming overused, formulaic, cliched and outdated as early as 2006.
In 2018 this begs several questions about how we engage with the digital in relation to art practice. In 2006, the use of digital imagery and installation work which utilise technology could have easily been brushed off as a crutch, although in today’s reality the use of work that utilises or refers to technology is for better or worse integral to our understanding of the self and how we orientate ourselves in a reality that is becoming increasingly interwoven with the online and a digital representation of that self.
The urgent feeling to do right and to concede when presented with these two screaming infants is a direct parallel with the artist’s attitude towards the screeching pace with which contemporary Irish Art scene is moving.
In totality the work suggests a weariness with the Irish Art scene during the time of the Celtic Tiger when technological advances were increasingly within reach of public hands and subsequently artist’s themselves. There is a feeling in this work of being awash with continual sensory overload at a time when representational work was starting to becoming dated in favour of video, digital photography and the interpretations of online and social media culture that would eventually succeed it and questions how we might retrace our path back towards the representational in 2018.
1. Berger John, 1972, Ways of Seeing, London, Penguin
Where’s the Map ? 1997 Permanent Collection, The Crawford Muncipal Art Gallery, Cork City
Karen Avenue, Las Vegas Hilton, 2005
From pictures taken in Las Vegas and Nevada in 1997 with a disposable camera from a moving car.
The Blackcombe Gallery
Alannah Hopkins in her review for ‘The Sunday Times’ described this painting as a ‘…ghastly 1960’s family in deck chairs in a suburban back yard, all wearing glasses’.
This series of work was sourced from acquired photographs of a family from Brighton. There is very little information available about the people in the pictures but what is known is that they were only in contact with their young son/grandson for the first few years of his life in the late sixties. These photos are a record of this.
Backwater Artists Studio
Cork 1995 - 1998
Paintings completed between 1993 and 2005
1993 - 1997
2013 - 2014
Early Figurative Work
2005 6ft x 4ft Oil on Canvas, shown as part of ‘New Territory’ show, City Hall, Galway,
2012 6ft x 4ft Collection of the House Hotel, Galway
IADT, 1993 Oil on Canvas
IADT, 1993 Photo Silkscreen Prints and mixed media