1. “Earth + Sky” – Artists statement
2. “Crossing lines of Wire” by Lilly Wei
3. “Ribbon Lines” by Paul Whittington
4. ‘‘Process–tonal Geographies” by James Merrigan
5. “Celestial Geographies” by James Merrigan
6. “Mapping the Self” by Gemma Tipton
7. “If buildings could speak” by Gemma Tipton
“Earth + Sky”, Artists Statement
My impression of the landscape is one of a teeming and active earth: dragonflies, butterflies, grasses and flowers moving and swaying, an undergrowth of constant movement and change. We look down all the time, watching and observing. There in Lough Boora Parklands I observed how big the skies seemed when I stopped looking down and looked up. The skies move constantly too, and rapidly. I wanted to capture the vast expansive and fleeting skies, if only temporarily, in the surface of the earth. It’s like cutting into the bog to reveal the sky above. It reminds me of the cut black bog pools you see in the bog landscape. Then, when you peer over the edge of the mirrors, it is like looking into a reflective pool. The space between the earth and sky is diminished. Our micro and macro worlds converge in the moment of the reflection.
“Crossing lines of Wire”, Lilly Wei
Martina Galvin’s Crossing Lines of Wire was a site-specific project that was part of a group exhibition, ARTFRONT/WATERFRONT- Site-ations International Project in 2002, sponsored by the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, New York. Galvin’s work, always responsive to its location, functioned as an intervention and transformation, taking a historic site and re-interpreting it with a wonderful economy of materials, if not of labour — which is often intensive. Crossing Lines of Wire was situated at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, at the entrance to New York Harbor. An 18th century fort with panoramic views of the water, sky and land, Fort Wadsworth formed part of New York’s defense system and is one of the oldest military installations in the United States.
It was an early summer evening, a welcome close to an exceptionally hot day. A group of visitors were driven to the fort to look at Martina’s installation. I had been given a vague description of it but it hadn’t quite registered. Walking on the very green grass of the fort’s grounds gave an impression of coolness, and the waning sun also promised relief. There was a hush as we entered the grounds, the sound of traffic suddenly muffled, remote, as thousands of cars streamed homeward. Turning a corner, we encountered the dry moat that surrounds Fort Tompkins and entered it. A scarp (right wall) faced a counterscarp (left wall) to create a 30-ft. wide dry moat, with 30-ft granite walls. Within the counterscarp, there were vertical gun slots. On the opposing wall, there were similar slits. Attackers entering the moat would be mowed down by a deadly crossfire. But luckily for everyone, no attackers had ever come.
In front of us was a blur, a haze; it seemed to be a cloud of some sort at first, then it turned into a shimmered, translucent plane, one that seemed to tilt into a vertical position, as if it were a projection or an emanation. Martina had woven clear fishing line back and forth across the moat from gun slot to gun slot, in parallel lines that optically merged to create a delicate, floating tapestry, its soft vagueness in stark contrast to the hard factual walls of the moat—a simple idea but dauntingly laborious and, most important, utterly effective. As we walked through the lines, the illusion deconstructed but re-constituted itself in the distance, before and behind us. Hers is a message of disarmament.
Tracing the imagined lines of crossfire, of bullets whizzing by, Martina substituted luminous, innocuous wire.Threaded across the gun slots, it symbolically closed them, the guns of war silenced, death domesticated, deferred by women’s sewing, by ordinary life, time stopped, sewn into this pocket of green.
It was getting dark. When we finally turned to leave, hundreds of fireflies appeared, their tiny lights glowing, dancing among us, as if in blessing.It seemed a small miracle, a tribute, perhaps, to the serenity of that night, one in which war was far away and dreams of peace were not just dreams.
Lilly Wei is a New York-based independent curator, essayist and critic who writes for several publications in the United States and abroad. A frequent contributor to Art in America, she is also a contributing editor at ARTnews and Art Asia Pacific.
“Ribbon Lines”, Paul Whittington
Ribbon Lines, Coloured acrylic sculptural boxes, Paul Whittington The presentation of medals and ribbons is a military tradition that may date back as far as Alexander the Great. And while they’re ostensibly an offical recognition of exceptional valour or distinguished service, their meanings tend to shift and change with time. To the soldiers and families who receive them they’re often a mark of honour, but they can also be sad reminders of wartime suffering and loss. Some are cherished, others get lost, and many are presented posthumously and seem a slender recompense for the ultimate patriotic sacrifice. This ambivalence makes them potent artefacts, and poignant echoes of lives and conflicts past. In recent years Martina Galvin has created a series of sculptural forms incorporating mirrors that are inspired by the elaborate tombs and sarcophagi she has found in central and eastern Europe and north Africa. Ribbon Lines is also inspired by this interest in human memorialising and our endeavours to crystallize and preserve achievements, individuals and moments in time. Martina Galvin, Celestial Geographies HE first words ‘spoken’ (written) in the Book of Genesis are
‘‘Process–tonal Geographies” by James Merrigan
Whatever has being does not become; whatever becomes does not have being.” Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
MEETING and conversing in the studios of the three artists Martina Galvin, Maria Makrai, and Cecilia Bullo, set a train of thought that begins here with the contention that ‘art spaces’ are ‘free spaces’ in all their guises, such as the artist’s studio, the pedagogical setting of the art institution, and the gallery? Is this perception an oversimplification of the very idea of freedom––a space where the artist can verbalise and visualise whatever they desire through the art object? In the short but biting essay Toward Freedom, the two French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari ask the question: “how is it that desire can desire its own repression?” This question is posited in the private space of the mind rather than the ‘institution’. No rules abound in the mind––well, that is the belief. However, the history of experience teaches and imprints rules and values that guide our thoughts away from irrationality. Only recently I had a discussion with the Galway based artist/writer Michaële Cutaya regarding the differences between the English and French languages; the former she conceived as being layered to the point of absurdity, while French being ‘tree-like’ in its construction, reaching a series of raised plateaus, making it logically
- Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophize with the Hammer, Trans. Richard Polt, Hackett Publishing Co, 1997.
resilient. Coincidently, Deleuze and Guattari define another “tree” model in counterpoint to a term that they both forged out of their joint philosophy––the “rhizome”; they write: “All of tree logic is logic of tracing and reproduction. In linguistics as in psychoanalysis, its object is an unconscious that is itself representative, crystallized into codified complexes, laid out along a genetic axis and distributed within a syntagmatic structure. Its goal is to describe a de facto state, to maintain balance in intersubjective relations, or to explore an unconscious that is already there form the start, lurking in the dark recesses of memory and language. It consists of tracing, on the basis of an overcoding structure or supporting axis, something that comes ready-made. The tree articulates and hierarchies tracings; tracings are like the leaves of a tree. The rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing. Make a map, not a tracing.” My own “tracing” of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy has helped to collate a series of terms that can be adjusted to fit my initial question of “freedom” in regard to the act of art-making and the geography of the artist’s studio: which are framed by self-imposed rules; institutional boundaries; desire; mapping and tracing, all combining to form a ‘geography’ that defines––not only the ‘institution’ as a regulator of freedom, but also the ‘self’ as part of that geography. The artist in the studio is momentarily fixed in ‘non-time’ and ‘non-place’. On entering the studio––the instant when the artist leaves the linear and rule bound trajectory of the everyday, language and experience are synthesised. Deleuze describes this type of assimilation and synthesis as a form of “buggery” and “immaculate conception,” which produces a “monster.” Deleuze defends this practice when he writes: “But it also had to be a monster because it
- In conversation with Michaële Cutaya, July 1st, 2011, Dublin.
- Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University Of Minnesota Press, 1987
- Marc Auge, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, Trans. John Howe, Verso Books, 1995.
was necessary to go through all kinds of decenterings, slips, break ins, secret emissions.” It is a matter of fact that the ‘subjects’ that are poured into the art object are quite ordinary and banal, but it is the changeover in form––that transformative alchemy from language to object––that gives the art object unusual properties. I am not referring to transubstantiation (wine into blood), but we could say that the verbal or notional is somehow formed into the art object until the time when the viewer translates it back into the verbal. What I am building toward here is a type of ‘geography’ that maps and locates the artist in the studio––a space that is defined by selfimposed lines, grids, numbers, colour coding, language, place, longitude/latitude: the sum of which adds up to the eccentricities of the artist’s ‘art identity’. If you take a brutalist black and white view of the behavioral geography of art-making and the artist’s studio, we could say that both are conditioned by learnt regimental procedure rather than ‘free’ intuitive processes. Alternatively, the “white” view announces that art and education are the only free spaces left in society. From this utopian perspective art has no limits. However, this is a perspective that generalises the definition of the ‘art space’ as a site where ‘anything goes’. After experiencing many artists’ studios over the years (not to mention my own), my personal view of the artist’s studio is of a space that feigns freedom, but behind the badly hung paintings, scraps of paper, messy floors and half-arsed ideas and forms, there are a series of complex opposites at work that are neither utopian or dystopian, free or imprisoned, learnt or intuitive, light or dark. You will find that “freedom” in the act of art-making is individually paired with its black-eyed doppelgänger––an oppositional force that defines the dynamic dualism of art practice.
James Merrigan, July, 2011.
- Gilles Deleuze, Bergonism, Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Haberjam, Zone Books, New York, 1991
“Celestial Geographies” by James Merrigan
THE first words ‘spoken’ (written) in the Book of Genesis are “Let there be light.” Mar tina Galvin’s current work is predominantly concerned with the natural changing light on the natural world and manmade materials. The artist captures these passing moments––poetically and painterly, with photography; or through sculptural means––such as her large ‘mirror-boxes’ which she has ‘inset’ in the Australian, Italian and Irish Landscapes. Galvin’s ‘light project’ is not a traditionalist rendition of light: the signifier or ‘source’ of religion and divinity (although her “mirrorboxes” tentatively reference Sarcophagi. In the past, art used light didactically. Take for instance the term tenebrism (painted figures illuminated by a source from within the painted canvas, e.g. painted lantern). In these Baroque canvases, colour was subsumed by light. Galvin’s high-colour ingredients of coloured perspex and copper, that form miniature mockups in her studio, celebrate chance; revealing a faith in exterior force and design to form an aesthetic.
Being in Galvin’s studio while the artist skips through JPEG images her work––revealing a travelogue of creative interventions on foreign landscapes, you get the feeling from her photographs that the work is an ongoing archive of experience––hundreds of sleeved photographic slides recline heavily on her studio desk––which catalogue a four year vigil of the interior of Dublin’s Aldborough House. This durational commitment proves that this artist is not interested in the ‘full-stop’ of the art object, but the process toward the art object.
There is also a sense in Galvin’s studio that lots of things are ‘becoming’. The Columbian artist Doris Salcedo once remarked that the viewer and artist always arrive late to the art object. In the artist’s studio there is a sense that she doesn’t want the object to finish or ‘become’.
Galvin’s recent utilisation of coloured perspex––a material that both reflects and absorbs light, forms crystallising prisms of light across the walls of her studio. During the process of scanning through previous work on her laptop, she intermittently stands up and shows how the daylight bounces and passes through a batten of yellow perspex, creating what seemed like a solid triangular form, predominantly made from light. Her energetic perforative actions in the studio to produce this ‘effect’ had a spontaneity, that like light, is nigh on impossible to capture or re-present in the gallery.
These ‘acts’ of rehearsing, spontaneity and reflection (‘self-’ and ‘mirrored-’), was put to the ultimate test by the American artist Dan Graham in his brilliant Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975). In the live performance––documented in black and white video, Graham describes in monotone speech, each and ever movement of his body; and comments on the audiences’ live reception of his performance.
The audience is left to choose between experiencing the artist’s performance as a reflection in the large backdrop mirror; through the ‘real’ Graham pacing in the space; or they can gaze at their own reflections and reactions to Graham. Performer/Audience/Mirror has the passivity and casual becoming that you find in the artist’s studio. This is in opposition to the aggressiveness of the art object in the gallery. Watching Galvin physically describing the potential effects of light on the materials in her studio, has the same sense of ‘live’ creative process that you get from Graham’s ‘70s performance. Galvin scans through more images on her laptop, during which I hold in my hand a catalogue of the artist’s photos that obsessively record (over a multi-seasonal duration) the interior of Aldborough House, Dublin. The formalities of light and colour seem to attract Galvin’s attention. On her laptop the artist decides upon a photo ofthe moon, that she equally obsessed over on a residency on the west coast of Ireland. The tenebristic light source of the moon doesn’t give away too much of the surrounding landscape: this is the artist simplifying the image down to light and dark. Galvin admits that she doesn’t mind blurred photographs. I deduct from this that there is a reductionist desire in her art practice to reduce elements down to their purest formal properties; an eradication of all the fuss––just like the erasure of Willen de Kooning’s expressionist drawing down to a conceptualist footnote by Robert Rauschenberg. The artist hands me a photocopied image of a sectioned meteorite, that reveals a matrix of architectonic criss-cross lines across the surface of the space rock. The layer of meteorite looks like it has a cellular structure that is incongruous to its lifeless form. Galvin likes the visual extremes of ‘detail’ and ‘distance’, where blurring disguises the banal object––and in turn deceiving the viewer’s perception of scale. In a series of photographed details of calcite crystal, the artist plays with manufacturing the ‘sublime’ (the unfathomably immense), through the photographically ‘zoomed’ details of the surface of the rock mineral. These mirrored and ‘light spaces’ that Galvin documents and fabricates, are experiential. Graham said in reference to his previously mentioned Performer/Audience/Mirror: “Inasmuch as language intervenes, the mirror, a silent, visual device – the mirror is fixed and we can let ourselves be guided by our imagination -, can be in opposition to language which is a symbolic, social device.”
Galvin’s process––within her studio, offers a ‘geography’ of celestial effects that are gifted by the sun and moon. Her constant vigil on light phenomena that effect the everyday, is translated in the gallery and public space through the document (photograph), or performative obstacle (mirror-boxes and perspex), that amount to an archive of happenings and becomings.
- Dan Graham, Ma position. Ecrits sur mes oeuvres, Villeurbanne, Le Nouveau Musée – Institut / Les Presses du réel, 1992, P. 98.
“Mapping the Self” by Gemma Tipton
Extracts from essay for the catalogue of the project “Fingerprints – Identidy”.
Ideas of mapping and shaping space are a preoccupation in the work of Martina Galvin, which has often touched on the outline of the invisible in the landscapes we occupy, exploring the stories these lines can hold. In New York, strands of fishing filament stretched across the defensive moat at the eighteenth century Fort Tomkins, map the trajectories from gun slot to gun slot. Crossing the Lines of Fire (2002), demonstrates the memory of a once-deadly web, made visible in the overhead traps of an ethereal net……….
With this present project, Martina Galvin continues to explore ideas of mapping, borders, boundaries, naming, and the terrain both of the land and of the individual. With their deltas, ridges, islands, bridges and spurs, fingerprints are like miniature maps on your hands, delicate unique charts of the self. Day to day, we ignore their astonishing individuality, moving through life and leaving trails in the smudges and smears of our touch. Looking intently into the tiny lines draws you in……
Revealing the beauty of fingerprints Galvin has also made her own drawings as part of the project. Dispaced onto paper, these are tiny meditations giving delicate focus to individual elements within the unique patterns on our hands. Picking out the whorls, ridges, deltas and bridges, Galvin’s drawings unconsciously mimic those used by Garda and Police experts in their studies of fingerprints. As beautiful and intimate as a Kathy Prendergast map, one can experience the same sense of wonder being lost in a fingerprint, as one can in the lines of one of Prendergast’s City drawings, or in the tracings of filament in Martina Galvin’s Crossing the Lines of Fire. Gaston Bachelard described the wonder of the miniature, “Miniature,” he says, in The Poetics of Space, “is one of the refuges of greatness,” Miniature encourages us to focus, and through this concentrated way of looking, to see beyond the object itself, “the minuscule, a narrow gate, opens up an entire world.” This is a feeling clearly shared by those working with Galvin on this project. An exploration of the participants’ own fingerprints simultaneously leading to an understanding of the potentially isolating power of individuality, and a connection with the world beyond the self. “My fingerprint looks like God’s…” “I think my fingerprints looks like the waves in the sea and the walk around the zoo.”
Blown up onto billboards, or disbursed as postcards, Martina Galvin’s exploration of the cartography of fingerprints demonstrates that individuality and community can be celebrated and explored by something as seemingly-everyday as the marks we all make through touch.
i Bachelard, G; The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press
“If buildings could speak” by Gemma Tipton
Aldborough House review. Is it romantic to ascribe emotional characteristics to buildings? It seems impossible not to. Perhaps it comes from our knowledge of their years of use, but churches do seem serene, intact castles magnificent, ruined ones eerie, and cottages homely. Inert stone seems to soak up atmosphere and thus to become alive. Perhaps it is something physical, molecular, subatomic even. Taking up Flann O’Brien’s idea in The Third Policeman: that if you ride a bicycle enough, you will begin to share and swap characteristics; buildings become us, and we become them. Or perhaps, and more possibly, it is because buildings are the scene and shelter of our hopes, dreams and daily dramas, that we imagine and project emotion into their spaces, and therefore can’t be surprised to find them there waiting for us.
For a while, in Ireland, buildings were “property”, and homes were “investments”, but as we leave the depredations of the property boom behind us, they are once again being seen as emotional spaces, spaces that reflect and inflect the lives lived within, rather than being simply units of financial transaction. In this context, Gaston Bachelard’s highly influential text, The Poetics of Space, though initially written in 1958, has come to be a handbook for artists, whose work investigates these ways of understanding how, and why, walls can come to speak. Drawing on this, Martina Galvin’s haunting series of photographs give one particular house an eloquent voice.
Aldborough House, on Portland Row in Dublin’s north inner city, is a place of mixed emotions. The last of the great houses to be built in Ireland, its foundations were laid in 1792. The Stewart family, who were the Earls of Aldborough, had grand plans, though judging from its architecture, and from contemporary reports of its interior décor, it is highly possible that they also had more money than taste. The house also seems to represent their hubris. There is no evidence that the Stewarts ever made Aldborough their main, permanent residence, and by 1802, they had moved out altogether. Ten years later, Aldborough was a school, then a barracks, then a stores department of the Post Office. IMRO (the Irish Music Rights Organisation) had its headquarters there, and later the recession put paid to plans to turn it into a private hospital. For a while it was turned over to artists’ studios, and now, a little like the poet Shelley’s statue of Ozymandius, ruined and still further decaying in the desert, it stands as a testament to vain dreams of grandeur.
The original house included a theatre and a music room, had adjacent grand gardens, a magnificent stone staircase, and parapets complete with eagles, sphinxes, lions and urns. There were Adam fireplaces and Bossi chimney pieces, and in the acerbic words of Lady Hardwicke, written at the turn of the century, some impressively tacky art:
The staircase is richly adorned with paintings. Let one be in your idea a model for the rest. Imagine a large panel occupied by the ‘Triumph of Amphitrite’ personified by Lady Aldborough in a riding habit with Minerva’s helmet, sitting on the knee of Lord Aldborough in a complete suit of regimentals, Neptune having politely resigned his seat in the car to his Lordship […] Think of a whole mansion decorated this way.
You won’t see any of that now, layers of paint and years of decay have put paid to the Stewarts’ grand designs, and Aldborough is a boarded up place of ripped out interiors, bare floorboards, and barred and broken windows. What has emerged from the site, through a four year period during which Galvin spent time observing and documenting, is a series of photographs, haunted and haunting, recording the present period of the house, as history slides inexorably away from it.
Galvin is an artist interested in, and influenced by light, by the patters of illumination and shadows, which add a layer of immateriality to the material world. This critical faculty is key to her images, which show inside and outside, and the points at which the two interact. The frames of the photographs are like stage sets, in which the drama of the house, and the images takes place. Galvin explores the proposition, drawn from Bachelard, that “there is ground for taking the house as a tool for analysis of the human soul” [Bachelard’s italics]. In this sense, Aldborough is an old, old soul, whose voice can speak of the different things that mattered to humanity over the course of two hundred years.
In these images, remnants of activity, ivied windows with broken panes, radiators dating from the institutional period, uprooted floorboards and sagging curtains, are doorways for stories about what happened there. Meanwhile, shadows and light come to be redolent of the passage of time, of decay and stasis, but also embody ghosts. Light is both ephemeral and eternal, it has moved in the same daily and seasonal patterns since the day that Aldborough House was first built. If this seems fanciful, Bachelard quotes Leonardo da Vinci, “who advised painters who lacked inspiration hen faced with nature to contemplate with a reflective eye the crack in an old wall”.
The success of these images is that they are not only aesthetically pleasing, but that they invite this level of contemplation, and through the cracks provide passageways to the past. Aldborough may slip further into decay, but at least this moment is marked, in a way that brings poetics to its space.
 O’Brien, F., The Third Policeman, Harper, London, ed. 2007
 Bachelard, G., The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, ed. 1994
 Casey, C., Dublin: The City Between the Grand and Royal Canals, Yale University Press, 2006. p172
 Bachelard, 1994. Op cit. p xxxvii
 ibid. p 144