If you managed to recognise ‘it’ amongst the institutional detritus, Tom Watt’s 2011 degree show at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, was a standout production. Set within the nooks and crannies of the art college, discreet labels with the artist’s name were stuck here, there and nowhere, which went some but not all of the way to sorting out Watt from ‘what’. The artist’s elusive non-spaces, that involve a lack of what you could call art objects, never mind token signifiers, perform as anti-displays, whereby the lucky and willing participants were brought on a ride of discovery, riddled with physical cul de sacs and conceptual exits.1


Since his degree show Watt’s artworks have been located on the periphery of the conventional art space, existing in collective scenarios wherein the production of the art object (or emergence of an individual artist for that matter) has been sacrificed for an experiential group encounter (‘Underground’, Basic Space, Dublin2) or process (‘Resort[s]’3). Watt’s artistic positioning, whether a case of not being offered the opportunities or deliberately rejecting them, is a valuable position and represents a vital alternative to the gallery artist.


In a Georgian town house on the north side of inner city Dublin (Watt’s shared accommodation) the artist has built a very provisional, 180º flat-turn stairs that reaches to the high ceiling of a first floor sitting room. Even though provisional it’s quite an elegant and economical construction. The stairs, more like two ladders, meet a white minimal platform propped up by a ceiling jack halfway to the summit. The opening in the ceiling is, however, less refined, suggestive of a DIY attic door. Whether an attic door existed there in the first place is difficult to tell. Perhaps one did, being the motivation to gumshoe further. It’s not surprising considering Watt’s predilection for spaces that are just out of reach and living arrangements that are not of the Procrustean Bed variety – his own bed is raised to head height with a ceiling jack at 8 Seville Place.


After a precarious climb and tight wriggle through the ceiling opening you arrive inside, you guessed it, an attic, although proportionately not nearly big enough to crown a garden shed. A warm glow permeates the dark space, refracted off an orange two-man tent that nestles snugly between the rafters. With no room to wander, the open tent – furnished with a bed, side table and lamp, generic Persian rug, and incongruous roof light hanging from the tent’s spine – takes the form of a flat tableau, until you decide the break the picture plane by crawling inside. On all fours your back rubs off the roof light that is housed in a metal bell, making an appropriate jingle when disturbed.


Just when you think the setup is some literary device dressed in post-Minimalism (à la Mike Nelson) you notice dusty light filtering through another opening. This time too small to climb through, the hole is roughly cut out of a breeze block wall, reminiscent of the staggered brickwork peephole of Duchamp's Étant donnés. On hands and knees you pull yourself just under the rafters where festoon lighting – dimmed to the point that the lightbulb filaments are the only elements glowing gold – direct your attention to a tube TV with a silent film playing in the middle of a neighbouring attic. The ten minute video piece documents Watt ‘urban hiking’ with collaborator, Andreas Kindler von Knobloch (an artist who was also involved in group projects ‘Resort’, ‘Winter Resort’ and ‘Underground’). Starting downstairs from the attic that you are presently shuffling around in, Watt glimpses himself in a mirror, revealing a video camera strapped to his head. Then the pair are off, up the stairs that you yourself just travelled, to scale a ladder that exits through a removed skylight and out onto a roof of slated valleys and verges.

OCTOBER_2013_


The Path Less Travelled

TOM WATT
‘Opening’

8 Seville Place, Dublin

10 October  – 3 November, 2013


TOM WATT

Opening (2013)

8 Seville Place, Dublin

Photo: Daniel Finnegan

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