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Tuesday 11 October 2011

Last Week | Indecipherable Evangelical Messages | ALTAR | Platform Arts Belfast

Text by Angela Darby

From it’s recent inception Platform Arts has garnered a reputation for challenging and innovative projects and according to its mission statement: the organisation actively promotes the creation, presentation and access to contemporary art practice in Northern Ireland. With such an impressive track record the latest exhibition ALTAR curated by one of Platform’s members, an emerging and talented artist Miguel Martin, has a high standard to measure up to.

In Martin’s own practice, he 'permeates his subject matter with chaotic overtones of horror and violence’ and this fascination is apparent throughout the exhibition. Additionally the subject matter here references the relationship between horror and religious iconography, which extends to the small booklet published to accompany the exhibition that resembles an evangelical tract. The work of Brendan O’ Neill and Phillip McCrilly feature symbols that are ubiquitous in Ireland’s North and South religious cultural history.

O’Neill’s vermillion coloured print, Untitled Blur (Repent ye and believe in the Gospel) has been mounted to the gallery’s ceiling and is highlighted by a single beam of white light. The artist has characteristically blurred text from an evangelical message, the type of which can be seen adorning trees along rural roads within Northern Ireland. The phrase’s meaning has been left indecipherable and attempts are made by the gallery visitors to try to make some sense of O’Neill’s adaption. The conclusion might be that, with the perceptual restrictions of our limited senses, only a fuzzy knowledge of the eternal can be achieved. McCrilly’s light-box image, which is exceptionally captivating, depicts a statue of the Virgin Mary decked out with silver Christmas tinsel. This ‘shrine’ we learn has been untouched for the past seventeen years and is dedicated to the memory of the artist’s grandfather. The image glows in the darkened space like an afterimage shimmering on the retina.

Indeed the way spotlighting has been utilised throughout the gallery creates an expansive space in which each of the works inhabit their own little microcosm. To the opposite side of the gallery Belfast-based artist Ben Craig has installed Mummy’s boy (A Shrine to the death of my childhood). The artist offers up the ephemera and residual objects that he has collected obsessively throughout his boyhood constructed into fetishist and totemic objects. In a cathartic attempt to relinquish his ties with the past Craig presents his audience with a reflective ‘self portrait’, one that is treated openly with reverence and appreciation.

An oil painting of five small children wearing masks, presumably for a Halloween night’s fun of trick or treat, is extremely compelling. Sunderland-based artist Ryan O’Neill’s piece entitled Aerodrum has captured the very essence of Martin’s curatorial theme. It is as children that we are introduced to the concept of good and evil and calendar based events such as Halloween provide the mechanism through which these concepts are reinforced. Equally compelling are Alexander Binder’s collection of photographs which the artist shot using old soviet cameras and lenses created from children’s toys to gain a dream-like effect. Binder’s body of work touches upon the occult, astrology and the ceremonial magik prevalent in the life of Aleister Crowley.

The coherent use of light plays a role in the beautiful sculptural installation Birdchurch by Berlin based artist Karolin Reichardt. An old, rickety and deteriorating Gothic church near the artist’s family home in Germany has been scaled down to the size of a bird box and presented on a wooden church pedestal. Abandoned and forsaken long ago by it’s congregation the building now serves only as an aviary. Constructed from materials found inside the original church the artist captures the buildings fragility perfectly in this miniature replica. There is a sense of melancholic eeriness to Reichardt’s installation established by a flickering beam of light enigmatically projecting the small church’s larger shadow onto a neighbouring wall.

Three small intriguing, humorous pencil drawings entitled The Goal are positioned close by to Ben Craig’s towering installation. Winnipeg based artist, Ben Clarkson offers the viewer a snapshot to experiments in procreation and eugenics. In one drawing a doctor stands, arms outstretched as he proudly displays a row of babies that look disconcertingly identical to him. Brooklyn based artist, Matt Allison’s sculpture entitled Oh the Humanity is reminiscent of a scene from David Lynch’s iconic black and white film Eraserhead (1977). Placed in the corner of the gallery we are beckoned over by a small torchlight revealing a shiny black, glistening object. On closer inspection one finds that it is a dental casting of a pair of teeth grinning at the viewer.

Forming an introduction and conclusion to ALTAR is the hypnotic video work Allucinazione by Cosmotropia de Xiam projected onto Platform’s stairwell to be viewed both entering and leaving this entrancing exhibition. Miguel Martin has curated a coherent collection of individual responses that deserve viewing.

ALTAR: Platform Arts Belfast continues until 15th October


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Karolin Reichardt Birdchurch 2011
Photograph: Catherine Devlin

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