In 2001 I had my first intellectual experience of contemporary art with someone who was paid to intellectualise it, an art college lecturer. Mick Wilson was the lecturer; The Douglas Hyde Gallery Dublin was the gallery; the artwork was by Lucia Nogueria, who died 3 years earlier in 1998, aged 48.
In the same gallery in 1999 I have a memory of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' lightbulbs, who also died 3 years earlier in 1996, aged 38. But that experience, removed from context, from history, from someone teaching us how to think, was pure experience rather than a lightbulb moment. The combination of Wilson and Nogueria was a lightbulb moment. But the lightbulb was not all head, it ticked.
In a review of the exhibtion in The Irish Times the writer missed the heartbeat: "Lucia Nogueira makes sculptures from everyday things. Here, a random-seeming collection of broken, discarded objects—tricycle, washbasin, wire, piping—lie on the floor. It could almost have been designed as a sobering antidote to the consumerism of Christmas."
What a leap of convenience —"antidote to the consumerism of Christmas" in the month of December. In contrast, Wilson was making an impassioned plea to us to see beyond the convenience store. He asked the group of students what was it about this "random-seeming collection of broken, discarded objects—tricycle, washbasin, wire, piping—lying on the floor" that activated the space.
As second year art students we stood there, silent, willing Wilson to get on with it. But he didn't; he let the silence hang there like a botched execution. Standing there in the excruciatingly still lineup—hoping for a Houdini among us—I began to search the artwork for an escape.
And there it was. I don't remember if it was thread or wire, but the stuff that connected the "random-seeming collection of broken, discarded objects... lying on the floor" disappeared into the polished concrete as if the devil was pulling the strings. Randomness gave way to constriction, like the past erupting into the present.
Nogueria's rabbit holes in the Douglas Hyde Gallery floor in 2001 showed me an alternative way of thinking and seeing through art. They suggested to me that a world existed beyond the artwork which the artwork could only point to. That the artwork is always missing a part, a bigger part, which the artist can only express as absence.
Wilson and Nogueria came to mind during a visit to Visual Carlow last week, where I was confronted with an exhibition that blocked all but one burrow. Paul Mosse's work promises much by way of the candy-coated excess of his materials and fabrication, but the rabbit holes are caved in at Visual, where the mountainous scale of the main gallery space, like most museum-sized spaces, makes material molehills out of his art.
One molehill after another, Mosse's display of objects is ordered like an orphanage dormitory: the wall works, headboards; floor works, beds. They all have the scale of beds too, sometimes bunk beds. But the boys and girls ain't dreaming here. Dreams are airy things you don't catch.
Mosse coagulates his natural and manmade materials in resin and glue. Some of these mummified dreams look like Paul Doran's paintings from 5 years back. But with Doran you get the splinters, the desire to touch, to finger, to collapse. Here you get fixative.
So I wander around looking for rabbit holes. One will do. Believe me, I was really giving this a try. I remember the heaving effort that was needed to notice Nogueria's rabbit holes in the Douglas Hyde Gallery 16 years earlier—and they were in plain sight. And then I see one. It's not much, a notch in the gallery floor. Mosse has leaned what looks like a discarded Christmas tree that has engulfed its decorations against a wall in the corner of the gallery. It looks like a reject, a standing orphan among the embalmed ones. A length of rebar that doubles as its gnarled tree stem nestles in the notch.
I'm not sure if Mosse made the notch or found it—I don't want to know. Either way, there's intent and purpose in both scenarios. Not framed by space or wall or shelf or table or vitrine, like the rest of the collectibles, gives this little thing life. It becomes the bolt upright sitter in the morgue. Without the wall it would fall over; it critiques its kin just by leaning there.
Forget the battle between subjectivity and objectivity, figuration and abstraction, content and materiality, I'm lamping for rabbit holes.