Lismore Castle Arts Waterford 23 April to 30 September
Upon stepping into the Lismore Castle gallery and being surrounded by shimmering black-and-silver walls, crumbling sculpture and exposed architecture, there is an immediate sense of opulence and archaism, or excess and decline. 'United Technologies' curator Philippe Pirotte points out in an interview that the artists 'changed the white gallery space back into a room akin to the others in the castle, with sumptuous wallpaper and trophies of our industrialised consumption'. In spite of these alterations, however, the once-derelict West Wing has already ceded some ground to its surroundings, in the supporting columns, trusses and cross-beams that sustain the exterior building and which cut through and shape the exhibition space. The artists, then, seem less interested in breaching the austere environment of the contemporary gallery than in working along these configurations, proffering works which address context and location (namely, the Duke of Devonshire's stately home and adjoining public gardens), history, design and colonialism. That's a lot to cover over 14 works.
For instance, in Ai Weiwei's Ton of Tea, 2007, an enormous cube of compressed black tea sits upon a shipping pallet; objects both familiar and alien, symbolic of Anglo-Irish consumption and Chinese cultivation and exportation. The circuits and systems of economic trade are made transparent in the work's volume, surface irregularities and form (the most viable for large-scale distribution). Seemingly innocuous, even accidental, the form is simultaneously redolent of industry and ecology, trade and politics, as in the artist's pools of black porcelain Oil Spills, 2007. A similar associative tendency occurs in Jason Rhoades' 2000-05 installation of 24 neon signs and drawings. Here, however, the disparate elements don't quite coalesce, and while the profusion of illuminated slang terms for female genitalia (including the wilfully incomprehensible 'Mingus' and 'Duckpond') and their equivalent cables and plugs might, at a push, suggest a contrasting correspondence between the male and female connectors of electrical devices, and the inadequacies and disentanglements of language, it still feels wholly out-of-place and inappropriate.
This tangential, allusive approach recurs in two other works by Rhoades: Sutter's Mill (Abstract Sculpture), 2000, a framework of aluminium scaffolding based on the central location of the 1849 gold rush, and View From Above, 2000, an aerial overview of his father's garden property in California, as replicated in photographs, metal piping and 'flying carpets' made from fabric. These and the open apertures of the tubes can't help but suggest conduits and passageways to other spaces, other ideas; the orifices of his neon work in the adjacent room, the original incarnation of the selfsame sculptural elements in a previous installation in Hamburg, and the Lismore gardens just outside. Rita McBride brings that environment indoors, in a rather unfortunate Rock Wall, 2008, that clumsily appropriates the intricacies of Irish masonry by way of wood, neopur and billboard paper, while Corey McCorkle's contributions facilitate the exploration of the grounds. Seven Woods, 2009, a series of ornately modelled, gold-leaf walking sticks leaning elegantly against the gallery walls, are perfectly at home with the accoutrements of the exhibition, yet intended to be taken outside by visitors. …