Paul Seawright: The List
30th January – 21st March 2015
Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
(Question and answer guidelines can be found here)
Best known for his stark and haunting work through his examination of urban space, especially seen in the work of his home city in 'Sectarian Murder 1988, Belfast', Paul Seawright continues along a similar subject and theme in this current exhibition where he is examining urban space in the series 'The List'. However, in this series it is the American landscape that Seawright studies. The subject is again a troublesome subject and he manages to encapsulate and portray this important historical and documented series of hard hitting and disturbing human events in a strong and bleak manner.
The Kerlin Gallery provides an appropriate cube space for this exhibition as the space is an open and isolated room featuring nothing but the white walls where the prints can perfectly portray the emptiness and coldness in some of the recurring themes found in this series of work. Seawrights poignant pigmented prints powerfully grab your attention through their repetitive lines, the dreariness of their tone and the bleak darkness of which is sometimes contrasted with colours of white. It is a large disconnect and move away from the picturesque human habitation, or, the progressive, sublime and pastoral landscape previously portrayed in the majority of landscape art.
Upon entering the cube space, you are immediately faced with an angel print when you ascend to the top of the stairs in order to enter the gallery. It grabs the audiences attention as it is a large print and it is mainly composed of darkness. This dark print is strongly contrasting against the white wall where it is placed within the exhibition space, Angel 2015'. Even while walking around the rest of the exhibition, there is a strong pull towards this Angel print of which is holding its own on the centre of the wall. With such a bleak and troublesome subject, this angel is perhaps a symbol of light and hope within the bleakness of its surrounding environment. The angel statue is beautifully centred within a white circular halo-like effect, of white light, found within the darkness of the forest trees and shadows that surrounds it. However, it is very interesting to note that when we further inspect this print we can clearly see that the angel is in fact facing the opposite direction to the audience and this may also be a symbol of the angel turning its back upon the subject that we are being faced with in this exhibition.
This contrasting effect of white light and the black darkness surrounding and engulfing it can be seen in many of the pigmented prints placed around the gallery, for example, in 'Rose, 2015', 'Untitled (Sheet), 2015', 'Tree Night, 2015' and 'Plant Night, 2015'. Some of the prints appear to have a forensic feel to them, such as, in the detailed and over-exposed plants and sheets found in the exhibition.
There is a strong sense of sadness found in the bleakness and isolation within these withering subjects - even though the majority of prints are in fact visually appealing to look at. The curator again achieves a great impact upon the audience through the placement of ‘Red House 2015’ within the exhibition space as it sits directly facing the audience as you turn to walk around the exhibition space at the door. This piece catches the audience due to its repetitive layering of white scribbles of plant and tree lines which are blocking the view to that of the dark setting that lies behind these white scribbles. This thus forces you to gaze further into the picture, with curiosity, in order to examine what you may discover behind the windows of the house that is found in the background. The vegetation continues to grow up around this house thus shielding it from society; this may be a symbol that whatever may be found within the house is dark and forgotten from society.
We also encounter the interesting use of layering and rhythmic patterns of repetitive lines depicted in fences, wooden house frames, brick walls and electrical wires throughout this series. This creates a sense of being caged in and again forces us to question what lies hidden behind these barricades. This is interesting to note because we discover that the apparently derelict neighbourhoods are actually isolated areas in America where clusters of ex sex offenders may be found; this may be why we feel a sense of prohibition as these individuals are forced to the outskirts of society and are living in run-down desolate areas. This is perhaps why Seawright aimed to arouse these types of emotions from us through these prints.
We can also feel a sense of hidden, restriction and eeriness through the boarded over windows and the white sheet blocking our view into the deep darkness as seen in 'Untitled (Blue Wall), 2015', 'Untitled (Steps), 2015', 'Untitled (Sheet), 2015', and the derelict building in 'Bindings, 2015'. There is a feeling of isolation and abandonment and this is further enhanced and magnified by the exclusion of humans in the exhibition and thus their invisibility in these communities. There is also a sense of sadness and uncanniness in the work and one could well believe that these pictures were taken many years prior and that time has stood still while the rest of the world moves on with a disregard for these spaces. Even though there are many trees and houses featured throughout this exhibition, the movement somehow remains still due to the bare trees and shutters boarding over any glimpse of movement and human encounter.
We view large quantities of waste rubbish in some of these troublesome bleak environments, thus highlighting the neglect of this urban space. This perhaps insinuates the feeling of giving-up and it may symbolize a loss of hope and thus no reason to conform to the standards and structures of regular society. The trees provide an eerie backdrop to this haunting work and we feel a sense of unease while observing the urban space in front of us. Even some of the natural environment of the plants are withering and failing into a mass of darkness as they starve for life in these neglected spaces; as seen in 'Tree Wasteground, 2015', 'Untitled Cat, 2015', 'Untitled (Tree), 2015', 'Untitled (Steps), 2015' and 'Withered Plant, 2015'. The grass is dehydrated and dying in the majority of prints, however, we do again we see a contrasting pink tree in 'Untitled (Blue Wall), 2015', and green vegetation in 'Untitled (Apartment), 2015', leading us to believe that perhaps not all has failed and given up on life. Though we possess a human desire to observe what lies hidden behind the curtains and shutters, at the same time we feel a fear of what may lurk inside and question if we really want to see this. The pictures are captured in almost a cinematographic and haunting manner and this horror feeling within the work is further highlighted in such pieces as the confrontation of the prowling cat in 'Untitled Cat, 2015' and the black crows waiting patiently for their prey in 'Untitled (Fence), 2015'. We see some traces of life evidenced through a fan peeping out of a window in one of the prints and the graffiti on the wall in another but the people remain closed off and hidden to the audience.
There is somewhat of a similarity in this landscape as to how Mairead o’hEocha approaches landscape. O'hEocha diverts away from the traditional fine art media to something almost flat and unappealing in the subversion of Irish landscape. It doesn’t necessary create a palatable arousal in response to her work but yet it still contains something bizarre within the images as she questions and re-addresses the norm.
These neighbourhood clusters, as in Seawrights work, formed due to restrictions on ex sex offenders in regards to close they can be to schools and certain other locations. This thus leads us to reflect on Henri Lefebvre’s studies in 'The Production of Space' and, in particular, on spatial space and how human society may influence social relations. These studies, in conjunction with 'The List' exhibition, therefore draws on many important studies, questions and further investigations that may need to be considered for society in terms of space.
1. Angel 2015 – Paul Seawright, The List, Kerlin Gallery. Own photography, February 2015
2. Paul Seawright, The List, Kerlin Gallery. Own photography, February 2015
3. Tree Night 2015, Paul Seawright, The List, Kerlin Gallery. Own Photograph, February 2015
4. Red House, 2015, Paul Seawright, The List, Kerlin Gallery. Own Photograph, February 2015