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Thursday, 2 June 2011

A Knowledge of Things Familiar: David Beattie, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, Dublin.

James Merrigan is an artist and art writer based in Dublin.

David Beattie’s work has an element of alchemy about it, where banal objects or happenings are transmuted into metaphysical experiences. A previous incarnation of this trend of energy efficient alchemy by the artist was shown at Oonagh Young Gallery Dublin in 2009. The work entitled cloudmaker, consisted of a head height metal tripod; an upturned plastic water container, that was wedged into the apex of the tripod; and a portable hob with a hot plate, placed on the floor directly beneath the pierced cap of the upside down dripping water container. A cause and effect scenario was manufactured by the mixed media setup, when the slow drips of water from the container touched ground on the hot plate – evaporating into a cloud. This apparatus was in fact a reversal of the natural phenomenon of clouds making rain; here water was made into clouds. Beattie’s solo show at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios, Dublin, entitled A Knowledge of Things Familiar, sets the premise for similar 'cause and effect' scenarios, but this time his focus is on sound, or more specifically “infrasound” (sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility).

Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (TBG&S) is slap-bang in the middle of Dublin City. I use the adverb “slap-bang” to get across the idea of noise or noise pollution that is part of the sensory overload of the city. This element of noise is important in the context of 'receiving' Beattie’s subtle output at the gallery. In counterpoint to the city, the art gallery is usually a space of gaping absences and focused presences, where the viewer negotiates around an object to experience and ‘read’ what the artist has left for them; but also what the artist has perversely left out. It took two visits to TBG&S to account for this review of Beattie’s work at the gallery. On the first visit no high colour, acute sound, or moving image registered as a starting point, but observing other individuals in the gallery negotiating the objects highlights the fundamental experiential essense of the work from an anthropological perspective.

At one end of the gallery Beattie presents a setup of floor bound objects, which include a UV light, a microphone, a tape recorder, and sheet of corrugated steel tilted against a wall. It was interesting to observe other visitors and what they made of the composition of objects, one individual knelt down before the setup, picked up the microphone and announced "one two, one two." The invigilator was over in a flash to apologetically explain that was not the right procedure of interaction with the art work. W.T.J. Mitchell would call this a primal meeting with technology, such as shouting at the T.V.

The other work in the space invited a similar physical interaction by another individual; who got down on all fours beside a speaker box (that seemed to emit a low frequency sound), and put his ear up against the face of the speaker. It was only on my second visit to the gallery that it became clear that both of these episodes of physical interaction were blocking the ‘effect’ that Beattie had manufactured in the gallery.

Paul Valery once wrote of “the active presence of absent things," but on the second attempt to view Beattie’s work I didn’t have to strain so hard to experience these “active presences” amongst the formally intriguing objects. I continued where my first visit had been cut short, (the image of the fellow with his ear to the speaker still phantom-like in my memory). The low frequency sound emitting from the speaker was felt rather than heard. A couple of metres from the speaker a large square sheet of glass is vertically positioned on the floor, sandwiched between two concrete blocks. The sheet of glass is positioned at an angle that bounces and directs the sound from the speaker into a head height steel shelter, enough space for the viewer to walk into. Standing in the shelter I felt nauseous, as if the sound was held within the shelter. There is something of the farmyard about the shelter and the herding of the viewer to end up in the metal canopied pen.

I wrote of noise and the city earlier, this tangent hints at my personal assumption that you need optimum conditions to receive the frequencies that Beattie is outputting at TBG&S. Although formally fascinating, I can only assume what is happening in the first setup, between the UV light, the microphone, tape recorder and corrugated steel – I presume a similar thread of sound waves that end up vibrating the steel. In saying that, an explicit disclosure of the function of these apparatus would overshadow the effect that is caused, felt and seen in the gallery — the corrugated steel seems to shimmer? The definition of a phenomena is one of wonder and is usually verbally uncooperative. The accompanying literature does mention “at 18hz[hertz] the human eye is thought to resonate causing hallucinations in the form of shadows or ghost-like forms.” I am left with ghosts in my understanding, but I also remember the nauseous feeling that I experienced in the shelter. This fabricated shed by Beattie succeeds in blocking out the noise pollution of the city that unavoidably filters into the gallery, but also traps the 18hz sound wave that the artist is 'bouncing' off the functional props in the gallery. In this instance, Beattie is acting as the medium, and his message is received loud and clear.

David Beattie, A Knowledge of Things Familiar at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios Dublin, runs until June 30A , 2011.


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A Knowledge of Things Familiar
Courtesy the artist

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