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Based on a True Story - ArtSway - 3 July - 30 August 2010

This is a complex group exhibition which looks at the ecology of mediation, at media language and the way the underlying texts of the works shape or resist that language. Its pertinence is exemplified by the significance of the evolving media environment, between how people view media language, and networked communication itself, with its range of influences and possibilities.

The works tend to revolve around explorations of the split sign in semiotic terms: the signifier and the signified, so that what is signified are both the complex realities of the image, as well as the way we read those images, perhaps conditioned by the automatic responses we have to media language:

"... Kristeva's important point is this: transgression is played out through language itself. The break with the past has to work through the means of meaning-making itself, subverting its norms and refusing its otherwise imperturbable totality... Semiotics foregrounds language and emphasises both the crucial importance of the signifier... and the dual nature of the sign... For feminists this split has a triple attraction: aesthetic fascination with discontinuities; pleasure from disrupting the traditional unity of the sign; and theoretical advance from investigating language and the production of meaning." [1]

It is the 'imperturbable totality' of mediation which several of the works question. In Sarah Dobai's Emily and Emmanuel simple, clear figurative portraits are taken against sparse, anonymous urban interiors. They are like mass media portraits, except part of what is signified is the modernist, decaying backgrounds, and the subjects are models for the artist, and yet not fashion models. The effect is disconcerting, where the context of viewing these images: the art gallery, questions the significance of the images themselves. Unlike in media images, there is nothing 'for sale', advertised within these photographs. Emily and Emmanuel are 'objectified', and seem to be made the focus of attention, and yet the eye wanders to scrutinize the backgrounds they stand against.

Emily Allchurch's Urban Chiaroscuro 2 : London (after Piranesi) moulds the discontinuities of photographs through collage into a single image, post-produced to effect the fiction. This creates the illusion of a 'found site' in London, which is empty, and which inevitably recalls Italian architecture, and which also suggests computer graphic gaming environments. The display of these images on lightboxes enhances their artificial and illusionistic qualities. There continuous lines are somehow felt to be 'too perfect'.

Michelle Deignan's Our Land is a digital video, made in documentary style. Her work is particularly interesting in terms of mediation. She draws historical and political connections, as well as drawing herself into the 'narrative' through apparently autobiographical details. The focus of the 'documentary' is St Anne's Park in Ireland, bought by the Guiness family and now an Arts Centre. Two 'presenters' deliver factual information in a media style. One of the presenters has Indian roots which complexifies his reportage on the historical connections between St Anne's and Imperialist India.

And yet transgressions constantly occur, disruptions to the 'unity of the sign', and soon you realise that an important part of this art documentary is the factual detail, conceptually working within the parameters of the 'format'. Like Sarah Dobai's work the language is explored: the signified almost resting outside the frame, as though the viewer is addressed directly, much as in the language of The Media, and yet the transgressions open up spaces for new perceptions of both The Media and of cultural histories; of our realities now.

This deconstruction of the mediated image takes place alongside the exploration of feelings and portrayal. Rachel Goodyear's Won't Give it Back is an extraordinary evocation of childhood feelings, suggested with small pencil drawings on envelopes and other discarded paper, which are displayed in a collage style, unframed and simply attached to the gallery wall.

This work relates to Ronnie Close's video installation of the 1981 Irish Republican Hunger Strikes: Night Time Room/ I Remember. In a darkened off gallery space, three videos of interviews with men who went through the hunger strikes, talking about their experiences, are contrasted with a large screen projection on the adjacent wall of a hunger striker remembering, within the confines of his daily life, in his flat. This footage illustrates the claustrophobia and persistence of this memory: the subject looking through a small notebook in which he appears to have stuck sheets of toilet paper with his handwritten testimony.

Kirk Palmer's Hiroshima is a 16mm film, projected on a large scale, of the reality of contemporary Hiroshima. There are modern streets, views of traffic, reflections in buildings. The shots are portrayed in a straightforward style, so that there are different events going on in different parts of the image. Composed shots linger on 'action', but only as a small part of the composition, like swimmers in a public pool in one corner of the image, or tennis players in another. This film, of course, has a huge sub-text: what happened historically to Hiroshima. The portrayal is a contemporary reality, but the modernity belies the violence that led to its recreation.

Sarah Thompson 14.07.10


[1] Laura Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures, p.126