On Doubt

Siamsa Tíre Gallery Ireland

April 1st - 29th 2016


Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris

May 12th - June 18th 2016





Short video introducing themes and outcomes of 2016 exhibition installation On Doubt


Transcript of text performed at On Doubt opening at the Centre Culturel Irlandais Paris, May 12th 2016

Art Changes Nothing…Probably

In preparing for this exhibition I looked at consequences for lives lived in the pursuit of an ideal. Concentrating initially on two fellow Irishmen, 1916 rebel, poet Thomas MacDonagh and arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, I moved on to explore disillusionment within my own brand of artistic idealism. There followed an admission around a persistent obsession stretching back 30 years, a search to create what I understood was a moment.


The moment is indeed difficult to define but recognisable upon emergence. I experienced a moment while waiting for a night sailing to Dublin. Under harsh light I looked up from reading Raskolnikov's astonishing confession to Sonya from Crime and Punishment to watch a fatigued mother and child as if they were the first on earth. The spell lasted and was broken only by a call to board.

Present within all art forms this phenomenon is explored and identified more within some cultures than in others. Lorca, the Spanish poet, writes in his essay Theory and Play Of The Duende, that every artist struggles "not with an Angel, nor with his Muse but with his duende".


There is a suggestion that inspiration and activity plays only a part and the mystery of a moment is induced by the abandonment of the creator to the greater purpose of the expression. The artist must therefore have sufficient human experience to be in a position to summon "the dark sounds", as Lorca has it, while not ignoring the artistic maturity necessary for its production.


Biopics of artists dwell on an all-consuming desire and relish the ensuing chaos in and around the pursuit. A sincere Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life suggests compellingly the intoxicants present in the painter. Director Minnelli intelligently shows how lead paints and absinthe didn't do to him what self-doubt did. In John Maybury's Love is the Devil, Derek Jacobi as Francis Bacon spends his afternoons drinking in the Colony Room. This contrasts with his diligence the morning after. While Soho sleeps, Bacon is up and at it in the attic. Both painters are susceptible to filmic biography because the viewer knows they will realise their desire. The tension is in how much damage will ensue before, (and indeed after), the artist realises it too.


To explore this relationship between desire and time I have created a biopic about myself. In the future perhaps, the public role alone as presented by an artist may be considered equal to any artistic product. For the time being I only use the biopic as cover - an artist pretending to be an artist. My biopic explores the realisation that achieving a long held artistic desire causes more and not less chaos. This revelation led to better understanding the psychology of idealism. This brought me back to my fellow countrymen and their desire. The suggestion that failure may have been the endgame all along coalesced into identification with MacDonagh and Shackleton. In psychoanalytic terms we may all have been pursuing a goal we should never, for the sake of our sanity, attain.


The arc of the biopic is an attempt to create a symbolic painting for 2016. I fail of course, wondering after if such a collective gesture is now plausible. The choice of a symbol to define an epoch and by turns a shared identity is ripe for appropriation. For me to consciously abandon the painting seemed symbolic enough of my own attitude to identity and diminishing concern surrounding responsibility.


For 20 years I had believed in an art impacting upon society; perception infiltrating policy, grassroots creative options offering human centred solutions to practical living problems. I should of joined the bank. I see now that power will never incorporate ideas that diminish its status and benign creative agitation will do little to roughen up its mantle. Worst still, in some way, I understand why this has become so.


Until recently my search for a moment was largely left ignored, not quite an affectation but perhaps a luxury. Accepting my ineffectiveness allowed a return to the obsession that begun it all. I found I had aged along with those moments I admired and age had lent some insight. Raskolnikov's confession, the end of The Dead, the mystery wind of Tarkovsky's Mirror. All sequences building to unearth a sudden identification with a Pre-Edenic Loss. A sadness that is not yet my fault.


My sense is that in creating a moment an artist must reinterpret the doubt generated by the continued failure of an absent deity to appear. This doubt, galvanised in the absence, somehow resolves to lift expertise to exaltation. The artist must err on the side of this doubt, follow its trajectory and accept its untold failures. Yet when the moment happens the artist is first to experience its euphoric pleasures. Momentary and full with epiphanic potency, what artist wouldn't do whatever it takes to get there again?


Of course there is a cost. As in all obsessions that put any singular pursuit as the purpose of life, contentment becomes more and more elusive. Production does differentiate art from self-destructive practices, yet motivation and remorse is similar. Why do I spend my days in this ineffable dispute?  It is the failure, so unremitting, that keeps me going.


The resonance of a moment may de delayed by a myopic history catching up. Idealism runs risk also of being fetishized by adherence to a central idea which history too has rendered obsolete. This may be true for nationality, identity and responsibility. In On Doubt, I make the case that loyalty was inculcated into future leaders by teachers whose adherence to authority was part of their vocation. Today and mainly because of my experience of living outside Ireland, I choose my allegiances. Putting aside all other concerns, the singular pursuit of a moment is now my preferred aim.


On Doubt is not yet revealed and my thoughts run to a new one. A calculation upon one's age and the time it takes bring an idea to fruition suggests a finite selection of ideas will make it. I have thought already on the type of painting I can achieve should I reach infirmity. It would be small I imagine and without great gesture. As a result of my preoccupation I have begun to filter my intake of information. To be effective in the ongoing pursuit I feel I must edit out some, but not all, of the imagery feeding daily through television and social media. I turn away particularly from images of needless human suffering. For too long I viewed any inaction on my part as complicit. This plays into a self-conscious criticism, which long hid a useful doubt behind a destructive and harmful doubt of self.


The museums of the world are full of moments because the world is filled with moments. Small, mundane actions are elevated by the focus of one who has attuned their perception and devoted time to such matters. The sharing of the action, accompanied by the doubt of its relevance, temporarily obliterates all differences, hoping only to rest long enough in the mouth for the effect to become emptied unto the open mouth of another fool. Another fool, just like me.