Below are some images of works from David Lunney‘s solo exhibition Glencree Intervention, which is running at the Lab in Dublin until the 8th of November. I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute a text to the show, which can be found below the images. And if you’re lucky enough to be participating in this weekend’s inaugural Dublin Gallery weekend, I’d strongly recommend dropping into the Lab to see this and, while you’re at it, a show by Emma Donaldson in the downstairs space. Two other interesting shows are also literally right beside it, in ArtBox and Oonagh Young Gallery.
For the past while I have lived away from the city. It has been difficult, at times, and continues to be. And yet at the same time I appreciate – quite reluctantly – some greater freedom outside the constraints of outrageous rents and ceaseless traffic: it makes sense. People leave for all sorts of reasons, mostly practical, and yet another reason involves simply being outside of some horizon of expectation, of being able to get away with something you couldn’t before. Most people appease this particular desire through short-term ‘Nature,’ with some kind of orchestrated ‘getting away from it all,’ like hillwalking. Things at least appear less complicated there.
David Lunney’s practice revolves around a long-standing fidelity and attraction to these kinds of places: more specifically, it turns towards the Dublin mountains. These mountains, which – though long-claimed by Dublin hubris – are in fact mostly in Wicklow, have a chequered and murky history: both the site of sublime natural beauty and the often-violent dumping grounds of the city below, there the demands of civilisation seem to peter out to a whisper. David spoke to me of strange gory altars being unearthed by unsuspecting walkers; animal organs fastidiously arranged accordant to some purportedly satanic ritual. The mutilated form of a dog was also happened upon, intensifying this image of an oddly potent environs, like the city’s image in a mirror, darkened and bloody.
Of course, these mountains are also where people go simply to get away from the city, quite innocently, or to just walk their dogs. The interventions that take place here, for the most part, are inconsequential and benign. It is somewhere within this schema of interventions – from the violent to the absolutely quotidian – that Lunney’s is to be placed.
The incident I refer to starts with a work made by the artist in March of this year, which was installed and left in a picturesque woodland clearing in the Wicklow valley of Glencree. From the documentation that remains, it comprised a large steel frame that seemed to emerge from the soft soil, with its lengths welded so as extend out in a triangular form. The steel is clad diagonally in a blanket of coarse muted threads; on top of these, six taut lengths of twine in rich reds and blue reach down the two opposite vertices of the triangle. The result is a strangely hallucinatory image, a kind of sculptural punctum against a backdrop of beautiful and lush, if monotonous, forestry. The installation breaks up the landscape, and its sense is one of definite but esoteric purpose.
At a later occasion, Lunney returned, only to find the installation greatly altered. No longer a break in the constancy of the wood, it was now exposed against a newly bare and deforested scene. The logic of the work was changed: it now seemed less aleatory, and somehow more grandiose, as though it in fact had caused the trees to unfurl and retreat around it. It was now more vulnerable, too. Two mixed-media works in the exhibition illustrate the shock of this before, and after. Strangely, the workers who carried out the felling appeared to have treated the sculpture with some baffled reverence, gingerly working around it, and leaving it unscathed amongst the fallen timber. Unfortunately, we can only speculate regarding the amusing conversations it surely provoked (Lads, will we just leave it…?).
On a more recent visit Lunney found the installation irrevocably damaged. Its steel lengths were now ripped apart and dispersed, with some violence. If there is a sense that those mountains are where someone, anyone, can get away with something, it appears this anonymous vandal’s ability to do so, trumped the artist’s. The damage was senseless, but enacted with a purposefulness that contradicted its senselessness. Bored youths, perhaps, but carried out with a worrying degree of laboured intent. To bastardise that Berkeleyian riddle: when an artwork falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Can this destructive act even be termed vandalism?
In many ways, the work here exists in a kind of post-traumatic state: desirous of a retracing, of forming conjecture, and of trying to fill the gaps in knowledge. It is of course an impossible task. All that is left is an attempt to muddy perception of this place, to mystify and demystify in one and the same effort. To this end, Lunney uses material in a way to break up the narrative specific to the place, to atomise and refract it in creating something wholly other – to the point that it becomes almost unrecognisable. A mirrored sculptural device is created, purely functional but nonetheless still embodying some kind of hulking grace. A camera rests atop one its wooden lengths, pointed so as to capture the image through the yawning gap that the pair of mirrored panels creates. The images that result are spatial composites, the sculpture’s legerdemain forming a disjointed and expansive representation of the rural scene.
A series of tacitly pragmatic decisions constitute Lunney’s recent body of work. Typically it starts with the familiar – the Wicklow countryside, chosen simply for its relative proximity to where the artist grew up. This is then broken up and disrupted through his practice of drawing and image making. The choice of materials, too, is direct: coloured pencils are used to render the images on account of their uncomplicated and familiar quality. The resulting drawings have a strangely duplicitous nature: at once comfortable and almost innocent, and at the same time somehow technological and unreal, nearly like some kitschy ‘drawing’ effect in Photoshop. To me these drawings belie the matter-of-factness of their making: instead the process they are inserted into, becomes key. The location, much like the materials, is chosen for its semantic blankness: their reluctance to connote makes them ideal for insertion into a process that is paramount above all else. Through this process, the subject matter becomes re-complicated, and rethought.
Each artwork, of course, has a life and a death. Lunney’s installation in the Glencree valley was not expected to last forever, but to degrade naturally over time, the elements working as they do. In the fear of anthropomorphising, its life was instead cut short. Here, it is put back together in another, much darker, iteration. Two of its twine-covered limbs are hung in parallel up the gallery wall, within a crucifix form: its horizontal lengths comprise two manipulated photographs of the work, one of when it was whole, the other of some vestige of steel in the wake of the incident. These photographs’ manipulation, through the rudimentary application of glue and sawdust directly onto the glass, mimes the violence of the sculpture’s tampering. The result is totemic – an image representative of its chequered existence. It’s not all loss, though: the sculpture here has a serendipitous afterlife. For the sculpture to be destroyed, after all, gets right to the rub of the place – a place that is simultaneously pastoral and vicious, natural and all too human.