Irish Festival at the Ash Gallery.


Irish stew

Io Manby explores a mixed bag of new work from across the water at Edinburgh‘s Ash Gallery.

.‘ylost works of art which come to rest in another country are effectively stolen. from museum collections based on colonial plunder. to the obelisques of La Defense which are trophies brought back from the Napoleonic Wars.

More positive is the tradition ofexchanging gifts. For example. France gave New York the Statue of

Liberty as a compliment to Atncrican values in 1884. National largesse persists. yet the latter half of the Zilth century has brought a subculture of informal exchanges between nations through art. running counter to the impersonal currents ofthe mass media and subverting the pomposity of offloading ()zymandian lumps of stone onto neighbouring countries.

This altogether more constructive form of exchange. nourished by the expansive energy of Joseph Beuys and the increasing politicisation of avant—garde art. will be much in evidence during The Asb (iallery"s April programme of painting. sculpture. time-based. site-specific art. performance art and theatre. ‘New Irish Realities. in part a celebration of the small but perfect Ash Gallery's first anniversary. is characteristic of the Ash philosophy. Irish artists will bring‘theirexperiencesofliving and working in Ireland to Edinburgh. with a view to provoking cultural and political dialogues.

Alastair Macl-ennan‘s statement reads like a utopian Ml"s list oflcgislative musts: ‘Asbestos

carcinogen dumps human frugality . . .Job-sharing

litter nuclearing-energy tie—population poverty irony. . .' etc.

Philip Napier deals with the kind of legislation we get instead. Ilis outdoor installation ‘Sunday Swings' will be erected in one of Edinburgh's public parks. It refers to the 1960s decision by the ruling Ulster Unionist Majority with unofficial support from some members ofthe Northern Irish Labour Party to close parks on Sundays ‘as part of a “moral code‘” which became known as ‘The Sunday Swings' issue. His proposal sketch shows a banner ofwhite shirts. bearing calendar dates and the words ‘Moral Majority". hanging from the crossbar of a swing. while the swings themseves are tied up. It is both a jibe at the ‘Sunday Swings' issue. which led to the demise of the NILP. and at what he refers to as the ‘John Knox business'. thus emphasising the link between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Gerry Gleason speaks of the ‘cathartic value of understanding one's opposite number‘. citing the myth of Ilolyrood: a priest tells King David to give a day of prayer to the holy rood. but he goes

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Potato on a Wire in the Ash Gallery's Irish Realities season

hunting instead. Lost in the forest. he becomes trapped by a stag. The stag is about to kill him when suddenly the holy cross appears in its antlers salvation and communication established.

The myth allows Gleason access to cultural and historical levels of Scotland. The stag. along with the coyote. fat and felt. was one of Beuys's staple symbols; his ‘Butterpots‘ ( 1983). two deerskulls filled with butter. was the last in a series ofgifts to the filmmaker poet Caroline Tisdalls‘ collection of Beuys artefacts which he assembled for her over 27 years.

Gleason acknowledges Beuys' precedent. adding syllables of his own to this microcosmic. metaphysical language ofsigns. His installation will show two figures crowned with antlers and bound together in a battle stance by ribbons of 35mm film. each frame portraying a fragment from their fight. Both figures will be polychromed in primaries and black and white to preclude the possibilityofside-taking.

The need for finding neutral meeting ground is reiterated in Michael Donaghy's statement about his outdoor performance piece. ‘I’ossession is ‘) lilths ot the flaw‘ v a serious summary of Irish problems.

Jim McKevitt proposes a symbolic release from the territory trap through a kind ofcultural archaeology. He will take members of the public to a coastal site to watch him build his sculpture. a twin spiral to the one he has recently created on the opposite side of the Irish Sea. implicitly spanning the waters to link Ireland with mainland Scotland. The spiral signifies the Celtic roots shared by North and South. mainland and island. before the rot of political divide set in.

Moira McIver‘s ‘Surface Seduction‘ will be a photographic installation piece criticising the way male heroism is invested with superficial glamour. particularly in public statuary around Derry, but also in any other city. As she points out ‘like the equivalent portrayals of ideal feminine virtue. they are far from the real experiences of the individual.‘

Gifts from government to government rarely benefit people directly. merely reinforcing codes ofacquisitiveness and reciprocity. Programmes like The Ash Gallery's. open to all. urge the need to dig deep below the surface of society to find potential for beneficial change.

New Irish Realities. 1—13 April at The Ash Gallery.

150 ('anngate. The Royal Mile. Edinburgh.