Dublin Degree Shows
Review by Nicholas Allen
The graduate show of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin featured several excellent exhibits of photography. Set in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, students had a comfortable space in which to present their final year Fine Art Degree project. Outstanding among these were Fidelma O'Neill's six prints, entitled Co-ordinates, and Louise Halpin's eerie Untitled portraits.
Two map co-ordinates, each referring to a North and Western bearing complemented each of O'Neill's prints. The images were, variously, of two lighthouses, three redbrick buildings in various states of decay and, finally, a piece of dockside architecture. O'Neill's work addresses the temporality of solid objects but never surrenders to the dogma that since all things decay, permanence is of no merit. There is a rare clarity and occasional beauty in her urban record, the strongest of which is the marginal landscape of the final dockside image. The metal structure surveyed is amputated and reaches towards a sea dimly apparent in the background. The colours in the photograph are startling, making the object's distance from the natural scene to which it aspires more striking.
Halpin's Untitled series consists of one hundred and sixty images separated into two sets equal in number. Each image is a portrait, with the subject's face obscured by a beeswax mask, each of which forms the basis of Halpin's other degree submission, Untitled II. The effect is sometimes funny and often disturbing as bald heads and long locks poke round the masks' uniform obscuring of individual features. There was a real playfulness at work here, a quality of confidence that made the reviewer return to the images after a tour of the rest of the Gallery. Of the other photographers on show, Frank Kiely presented an accomplished sequence of images set in a school classroom, the best of which was Desk Top, and Olivia McGowan offered a bizarre set of five prints portraying a female subject with the oddity of six digits on each hand. Monica Kerrane's All About Eve was a relevant study of gendered self-perception that failed to impress the reviewer as much as her seven Plastic Life studies.
The Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design held its graduate Diploma show on campus, to the disadvantage of its students. The space in which exhibits were shown amounted to little more than a long corridor, with ancillary rooms for video installations. Annemarie Durcan's seven sets of five images hung vertically to detail some of the intimate, and occasionally dysfunctional, episodes of family life were the most accomplished of the photographic work on show. The strongest sequence was the first, titled November, a detail of remembrance through its portrayal of an elderly male relative and visual reference to the First World War. The suffering of Irish soldiers in both world wars was a long neglected subject in nationalist Ireland and November is a timely and relevant evocation of their experience.
Other photographic work exhibited was Alexandra Clarke's series of images and text and Neva Elliot's two sets of images, Without Breaking (to peel an apple in one go) and Clean Break. Clarke's second image of an indigent framed on the street by an out of focus children's choir is a perceptive comment on the underside to Ireland's present success, an honest recovery of a life left behind by a quickly changing society. Presented without pathos the image makes a quiet, effective point. Elliot's study of compulsion was less effective, the subject matter contradicting the style, as the continuous and repetitive peeling of apples made the serious point of her work appear histrionic. There is however an obvious technique and desire to engage in Elliot's work so the future promises more than was evident here.
Both institutions exhibited a high degree of competence and ingenuity in their students' work. Promisingly, both exhibitions were well attended, a feat perhaps more remarkable in Dun Laoghaire's case considering the college's distance from central Dublin. There was a definite sense of confidence associated with all the work reviewed, a confidence repaid by the large amount of work purchased by collectors and enthusiasts.