Cabbages and Things
Solstice Arts Centre, Navan
opening reception Friday, 29 October 2010 at 7.30pm
exhibition continues until Saturday 27 November 2010.
Cabbages and Things contains two works, paper Cabbages and fabric Things each made in many multiples, filling the galleries with newsprint cabbage stucco and the piercing stares of superhero The Thing cut from fabric remnants. Phelan continues his interest here in not only what art can mean but the different ways it can be made. The Cabbages were made in a series of fabrication workshops with hundreds of helpers over the past two months. The Things were made by Phelan alone, but using different versions of the cartoon superhero from the net, none the same but all somewhat emasculated when appearing in fabric scraps. Together the galleries are decorated with our bleak present though a labyrinth of crisis headlines and hopeless heroes who can never save the day.
Phelan’s artworks are often caught in a seemingly unfinished space with his use of found and raw materials. Phelan further infuses his production methods and works with complex and often conflicting narratives. This has been described as an ‘infrastructural aesthetic’ which not only encodes the materiality of the artwork but demands that the work be read from several possible positions.
This exhibition builds on work that formed part of his much acclaimed Fragile Absolutes project that was exhibited last year in solo exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Chapter in Cardiff. The Cabbages were first made in similar workshops last winter in Cardiff and as with all of Phelan’s newspaper paper works the articles were specific to the context. For Chapter the Cabbages were made from copies of defunct Dublin newspapers that covered the Great Lock-Out of 1913 combined with articles from the Welsh miners strikes in the 1980’s and the then current postal strikes in the UK. Placing labour history into the process and product of the pieces was contrasted by their arrangement which was based on the Baroque ceiling plasterwork in the Chapel at IMMA/RHK, thus fusing distinct social and cultural moments. If a cabbage represents the classic peasant food, when fused with headlines they become something else encapsulated in the subtitle for the work - symbolic history ‘spectral’ fantasmatic history.
For Solstice the newspaper articles sourced and selected by participants have drawn on the current economic crisis, with the Cabbages forming a kind of moribund recession synopsis. Their arrangement echoes the architecture of the building, with even some exiting the gallery into the tiled ‘sky gardens’, with aluminium sheets from the 3 colour litho printing providing the printed material for the outdoor Cabbages. The paper cabbages form a disjointed labyrinth through the galleries, guiding viewers to the Thing works. These fabric pieces also build on a previous work Phantom Blanket, 2008 which presented the cut out face markings of Darth Maul from Star Wars in a found orange blanket. Similarly here the face of the super strong, super loser mutated superhero The Thing from the Fantastic Four is cut from a variety of fabric remnants and scraps, including leather, bed sheets, embossed vinyl, embroidered fabrics and man-made silks. The hapless Thing is graphically represented in a myriad of sources and a selection of these provide the basis for the cut-outs. His expressions waver between ultra tough guy and meek chimp-like expressions, all trapped in an inconsiderate fabric hanging or fabric object.
Phelan continues to examine various ways of making art through collaborations, tertiary sources and outside fabricators. This acknowledges and brings to the forefront the many ways art gets made and how authorship is now sometimes more confused than diffused. For Solstice he decided to engage with local audiences directly by having them help make it. This way of working is somewhere between participatory, relational and community practices with Phelan having positions for and against each, settling on fabrication workshop as a way to more honestly describe what has taken place. Eleven cabbage fabrication workshops took place over the past two months which include participants from Navan Youthreach, Dunboyne Flower Club, Mercy secondary school, Meath Arts Group, and DIT fine art students. Their labour, company and time are much appreciated by the artist and Solstice Arts Centre.