Exhibition of the work of Liam O'Callaghan, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork, Thursday 15th March - Thursday 26th April, 2001
Review by Nora Donnelly
Issue 27 Summer 2001
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"Here we enjoy an immediate apprehension of form, all shapes speak directly to us, nothing seems indifferent or redundant" (Friedrich Nietzsche 1844-1900)
It is the unique fusion of the form and content in the work of Liam O'Callaghan that brought the above quotation (Long since consigned to the Academic out box) to mind. Initially taken by the points of tension created between what was depicted/represented and the manner of its depiction of representation, I was reminded of Nietzsche's exhortation to "look and go beyond the look".
In O'Callaghan's work we are confronted with that which, in almost all other circumstances, we resolutely ignore. Foregrounding what we tend to shove into the back of our minds, his 'in your face' slide projections magnify and celebrate the detritus of Life. Repositioning the underfoot to the overhead, he demands that the viewer also shifts position. Further, the placing of these slide projections in such a way - now at eye-level, now positioned so that you have to bend right over to see them - shows that O'Callaghan has considered the significance of the effect on the viewer of the directional glance. The pull towards each of these images is initiated by the need to examine the filigree-like Lines and tiny marks closely. This shift is both literal and metaphorical: literal since the nature of these minuscule particles demand close attention and the alteration of our body stance; metaphorical because we consequently become absorbed in the object as our perception is altered. Discarded, carelessly abandoned artifacts and organic matter depicted are metamorphosed: the insignificant is given a new and prominent significance, the worthless a new and imposing worth.
At first glance these images appear very still. and very silent. Immutable and mute, they seem to have existed for ever and ever; it is as if they had always been exactly as they are now in the very place you find them just waiting to be found. They maintain a curious sense of remote morbidity, of dreamlike petrifaction, of measured tranquility. However, the acutely observed forms have an essential, if spare, physical presence; a form and existence that speak directly of life. And speak they do. We find ourselves in another space; drawn towards an intimacy that enables the still small voice - or merest nuance of articulation - to be clearly heard.
In O'Callaghan's show we find that the silence is shattered, emptiness filled, stillness broken; chimerical vagueness gives way to stability of coherence and real clarity. Here it is not merely that some tight is thrown on the subject, but rather that new Light illuminates meaning: not only that the work makes sense, but that new sense is made. Cool and austere, yes, but without a deadening calm and aridity.
In the experience of O'Callaghan's show the significance of what is essentially insignificant emerges. The life force in evanescent molecular forms is inspiring. Equally powerful are the instances of enchanting ambiguity. Gossamer lines may represent both cobwebs and pencil marks; unflinching and rigid forms can be seen as pliable; dark patches suggest both folds and fissures; textured areas invite the touch (plaster rubbings? Unfocussed blurring?); filigree can be taken as leaf mold or tangled thread. There are little shards of flashing brilliance finely balanced with hushed and bleak ephemera. The overall effect is one where art appears without artifice: where the unique fusion of simplicity and profundity, plenitude and paucity interact. I look forward to seeing more work from this Artist.
Other articles by Nora Donnelly: