Along with McMahon’s Field, this group exhibition sparked the following reflection on what is a specific form of off-site activity, which includes subjective notions regarding identity, especially within the collective ‘smoke screen’ at Basic Space. So let’s first get the names of the artists out of the way, not as an act of dismissal, but as a way to avoid a segregated overview that splits the individual artist’s work into paragraphs: Sara Amido – Kari Cahill – Peter Donnellan –Michael FitzGerald – Greg Howie – Andreas Kindler von Knobloch – John Ryan – Daniel Tuomey – Tom David Watt. Even though I picked up on names associated with specific objects in the group show, I felt that it was important to promote the statement that the collective of individuals and Basic Space were making, rather than the usual obligation to name artist with artwork. You know who you are! The fact is—and the artists may not want to hear this—it was difficult to differentiate between individual works due to the nature of the artists’ joint intervention in the substructure of the warehouse space. But this is what set this show apart from other manifestations of this type of off-site intervention.


Underground is made up of artists who are either current or recent graduates from NCAD. So the presumption was that the exhibition was going to be a hit and miss student show, with strong individual traits displayed with bright lights within white MDF partitions. From its inception over a year ago, Basic Space has avoided this institutional structure for the display of art. Sometimes it works, other times it is more compromise than intention.


An existing trench filled with clay and rubble inscribes the foundations of the Basic Space warehouse—a location that is found by word-of-mouth rather than signage. This subterranean scar was presumably made from testing the foundations to construct an infrastructure for a future build before the Irish economic bust. It was also a constant reminder for those who run Basic Space that the building was set for demolition in December 2012.


It was the opening night that informed my overall reception of the work. I cannot say if it was nighttime that helped the strong experiential aspect of this group show, but two decisions by the artists involved made this show into something out of the norm. First, as previously mentioned, was their joint intervention into the dirt trench in the space. The artists did this by digging down and/or populating the ditches with objects, from a projector to a white tile floor. In another instance an artist excavated to head height so the public could venture down a passage that had a precarious clay overhang. The piles of rubble extracted were also utilised. Second, the decision to use a smoke machine in the space was the reason why works and identities at the opening night melted together, reflecting our current urban landscape’s collective occupy culture: any leaks of individualism was camouflaged in a sfumato haze.


One artist built a granite wall with ice ‘keystones’ inserted in parts of the wall. Over time, part of the wall would collapse as the ice rocks melted. Another rubble-heap was rubbished with empty shampoo bottles and other plastic containers of sickly colourful substances that were ejaculated into handmade craters in a neighbouring ditch. These ditches and heaps of rubble were punctuated with one artist’s mounds of compacted concrete/earth to form seemingly half-sunken spheres; art objects that rejected procurement.


On the night Basic Space was filled with students and lecturers from NCAD.  Speaking with some of the lecturers there was an acknowledge-ment of identities but a disconnection with the works that these recent or current students had made for this specific group show. Although Basic Space and the artists that show there are affiliated with NCAD, there is autonomy. It also proves that student-artists don’t necessarily have to work within the institutional parameters that breed individual ‘specialness’ and competition to be seen and heard. Gordon Matta-Clark once described studying architecture at Cornell University as ‘his first trap’.1 But it also must be stated that what Matta-Clark calls “a trap” is the very thing that he reacted to in his work, so without the institutional trap the artist has nothing to break free from.

‘Underground’, 10 – 13 November, 2011, courtesy of Basic Space, Dublin, Photo: Matthew Thompson.

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NOVEMBER_2011_


Historical Cases of the Subterranean Kind

Underground

10 – 13 November, 2011, Basic Space, Dublin.

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