Magazine article Art Monthly

Monuments

Magazine article Art Monthly

Monuments

Article excerpt

Lismore Castle Arts Waterford 20 April to 30 September

Three large and distinct copper shells sit in the central space of the gallery, their undulating curves and ripples bolted together with flat, metal planes. An undercarriage of rods and supports is just visible under the carapace, and, on one work, a few faint footprints track dust across the shining surface. Taken on their own, the sculptures resemble prototypically modernist works: abstract in form, true to their materials and ambiguous in intent. However, Danh Vo's We The People (detail), 2011-13, is not what it appears - or, rather, is not merely what it appears. The pieces are, instead, fragments of the artist's life-size re-creation of the Statue of Liberty, separated and scattered across different countries and institutions. The gesture is provocative, perhaps especially so coming from a Vietnamese-born artist: is it an act of desecration, like the toppling of statues during the overthrow of dictators, or a realisation of the US's egalitarian ideals, as in Emma Lazarus's poetic inscription to the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore?' Monuments in general tend to favour such emotive reactions - unthinking celebration or blind antagonism - over critical reflection and, countering this, Vo offers an act of visual synecdoche, whereby the part stands for the whole. One reimagines the entirety through its pieces, imbuing these sections with a symbolic integrity that, nevertheless, allows one to see beyond the iconic original and to speculate on the export of US values as well as their political ramifications.

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This ambiguity is characteristic of the work in 'Monuments', curated by Mark Sladen at Lismore Castle. The site itself, a stately home and garden belonging to the Duke of Devonshire, is lightly addressed in the theme, with monumentality referred to as the embodiment of power and vanity, and, as such, an easy target for parody. However, the works are affectionate rather than scathing, demonstrating a nuanced exploration of the subject. In Iman Issa's Material for a sculpture proposed as an alternative to a monument that has become an embarrassment to its people, 2010, a tabletop installation of two spheres illuminates and dims in sequence. The title proposes a display that implicitly rejects the megalomaniacal statuary of national leaders and heroes but, in its place, offers only a vague, fuzzy humanism that represents everyone - and no one. Like her other piece here, a series of coloured geometric forms and accompanying book entitled Material for a sculpture commemorating the life of a soldier who dies defending his nation against intruding enemies, 2010, the provisional, non-specific qualities of the work seem intended to fit any context, where and when the need arises. And this emphasis on the proposal, the plan or maquette as a way of circumventing the expectations of a potential public also informs Pablo Bronstein's work, in both his laser-print drawings and his installation Pavilion, 2013, located in the castle grounds. The former series, entitled 'DB Nostalgia Ironwork Redesign', 2010, presents images of architectural facades, incorporating historical icons such as a ziggurat or the Eiffel Tower. …

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