Amazement Insulates Us All / Memento Vita
George Bolster and Damien Doyle
December 02 - January 16 2016
Their discussions about art over many years informed their practice as artists. Doyle's death in 2010 was a massive blow to Bolster who has sought to make sense of it through a number of works since. The central conceit of the exhibition, drawn from a film piece by Bolster called self erosion, examines the shared lives and experiences of two artists who were former partners, assesses their collective motivation for being cultural producers, and their mutual history of depression.
Other works in the exhibition are a selection of sculptures by Doyle and Bolster. Bolster has selected a series of works from Doyle’s range of sculptures made during his 19 years of his short career as an artist. His works employ everyday often industrially produced elements. Seemingly functional and recognizable, these sculptures deliberately obfuscate meaning, a disassociation Doyle felt allowed the viewer to engage with pure form. Viewers are left confused as to whether these objects were accidentally left in the gallery by specialized workers, or are actual artworks. Doyle reveled in this duality of intentioned representation. He wanted to create a purely visual experience and the kind of symmetry of line only seen in mass objects produced by machines.
There is a potent contrast between text works by Bolster in confessional simplistic meaning and the austerity of seemingly impenetrable industrial minimalism and simplified geometry of Doyle’s mass-produced forms.
Damian Doyle (1970-2010) was born in Dublin, he completed his BFA in sculpture at Crawford College of Art and Design, in Cork; and an MA in sculpture at the University of Ulster, in Belfast. He presented solo exhibitions at Triskel Arts Centre, Cork and USF Verftet Space, Bergen, Norway. He was included in numerous group exhibitions at such as: Tulca, i-podism: Cultural Promiscuity in the Age of Consumption, 2008, Galway Arts Centre; Sculpture Society of Ireland, Dublin; and Singled out, 1996, Catalyst Arts Centre. He was the recipient of numerous awards from the Arts Council of Ireland. His work was acquired by the Allied Irish Bank collection and University College Cork, in addition to numerous private collections.
George Bolster (1972 -) was born in Cork, Ireland. Selected solo exhibitions include: Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva, Nuit Blanche (Commission), Toronto, CA; High on Christ, Chung King Projects, LA, USA; idealisms fail because humans have to live them, Monster Truck, Dublin, IRE; Sociodesic: a space for the three great loves, Galway Art Centre, IRE and Eye of the Needle, Pallas Heights, Dublin, IRE. His group exhibitions include: Et si on s’était trompé?, Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris, France; /seconds, Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah, UAE; These Days: Elegies for Modern Times, Mass MoCA, Massachusetts, USA; Irish Art does not Exist, Station Independent, New York, USA; Flip, Chung King Projects, LA, USA; EVA International, Limerick, IRE and Passing Through, Glucksman Gallery, Cork, IRE. In 2013 he was given a residency award from the Rauschenberg Foundation, and will be artist in residence at SETI Institute/NASA from 2016-2017.
The exhibition and programme of events is presented with the First Fortnight Festival, Dublin. First Fortnight is a charity-based organisation which aims to challenge mental health prejudice through the creative arts.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a commissioned text by Sara Reisman, Artistic Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, NYC. See below.
Amazement Insulates Us All / Memento Vita
How is the legacy of an artist and the memory of his work - after the end of a career, or, more tragically, the end of life - remembered by those who knew the artist or saw the artwork firsthand? For those whose lives are dedicated to art, it is apparent that art is continuously and endlessly produced, with new converts committing to becoming artists, taking up art as their life’s work, however fleeting the artwork or life itself is. The ephemeral nature of our interest in specific kinds of art, and the fragility of life, both contribute to a sense of impermanence, short-term memory, and the likelihood of forgetting. Memory itself both in its sharpest moments and in its foggy dysfunction contributes to this cycle of intangible losses. We are aware of what is lost but without a proper record, our understanding of what has been lost is in flux. What is burned into one person’s memory is subjective, and how that is captured might bear little resemblance to what another person perceives as the same moment in time, when the same artistic gesture is received in a shared experience. Your experience is not mine, nor is mine yours, but we can attempt to link them together in order to understand our differences, and more constructively, what we might share in a given moment for reasons of artistic and social engagement.
I am attempting to write about an artist I have never met: Damien Doyle who was involved from 1990 to 1993 with George Bolster, an artist whom I know well. I am aware of the way in which exhibitions and writing about art enable a future awareness, in other words, visibility of artistic production. I tend to write on the basis of artworks I have seen firsthand, or on the basis of proximity I have to the artist’s trajectory, with firsthand experience with the artwork in question. I am writing about the work of Damian Doyle as it is being rendered by George Bolster, in other words, translating the work of one artist through the work of another. Not only am I writing about an artist I have never met, I am writing about an artist whom I did not know during his lifetime. Our lives intersect now, through the work of George Bolster.
I came to know of Doyle’s artwork through my friendship with Bolster, which seems appropriate considering Doyle and Bolster’s longterm relationship was one that encompassed friendship and love. My encounter with this bond between Bolster and Doyle is through Bolster’s artwork self erosion (2014) which is structured by a series of philosophical statements that are suspended on a backdrop of a sky full of clouds. The statements are at times barely legible, coming into clarity for brief shimmering moments that are gone almost as soon as they are apparent. Through these slowly appearing and disappearing texts, Bolster explains how, in the context of depression, the onset of despair prevents hope, possibility and the capacity to seek help. In this state of mind, the future ceases to exist, and one has “no interest in buying into what [the future] had to sell.” In self erosion, the artist’s voiceover explains that “art is about the future.” The motivation to make art is based on a desire to create something for the future, yet Bolster’s excursion into Doyle’s artwork looks towards a personal artistic history. In this case, Bolster’s art operates as a process and an object that connects the past and the future in the present moment.
The emotional state Bolster describes in self erosion is one that he shared with Doyle, but it extended into a much more dramatic and all encompassing sense of loss after Doyle took his life in 2010. The film is both a reflection of Doyle’s loss of engagement with the world, and Bolster’s subsequent despair. Bolster acknowledges that he waited a certain amount of time to artistically respond to the erasure of Doyle’s life in order to gain distance from the anguish that followed his suicide. As Bolster proposes that art is about the future, he brings to life this artwork and exhibition, which includes several reconstructed artworks by Doyle in a kind of two person retrospective. Together, as a legacy project, the exhibition is an effort to embrace, if reluctantly, through Bolster’s own art making and commemoration of Doyle’s artwork, a future.
For the last few years, Bolster has been laying the groundwork for self erosion, which was produced concurrent to a longer film entitled Un/natural History: Drowning Captiva (2014). Both films take inspiration from time spent on Captiva Island in Florida, where the late artist Robert Rauschenberg established a residency for other artists. Un/natural History begins with Bolster’s narrative in which he reflects on the ephemerality of the earth:
Terra firma (as we refer to it) is a time-based, ephemeral object. Ephemerality is a time based concept related to something ending during one’s lifespan or comprehension. As the earth’s demise is far beyond that of anyone living, it takes on a permanence we take for granted. We are, by comparison, much more ephemeral than the earth.
The film continues with Bolster’s admonition that humankind is the only species that is aware of the earth’s imminent demise, and knowing about its demise and contributing to it, makes us culpable. While the film is a direct response to Bolster’s time spent within the lush and waterlogged beauty of Captiva Island, it also speaks metaphorically to the subject of suicide as a cultural condition, albeit one that we collectively deny. Bolster’s film weaves together his own observations and critique of our disengagement from the natural world that makes up the earth and its ecosystems with a second narrator who describes in the first person fragments of the life of artist Robert Rauschenberg. While Rauschenberg’s voiceover speaks with hope of the possibilities that will be afforded by technology, specifically to fix the problems humans have created through technological means, Bolster expresses anxiety about what may follow, or, rather, what might not be possible because of this neurotically, over functional human condition that has been realised through extreme technological advances.
Included in the exhibition are a number of Doyle’s artworks that Bolster has recreated mostly from memory. Since Doyle’s death in 2010, his artistic presence in an archival sense is quite limited. Perhaps this is the motivation for Bolster creating a two person exhibition, to conjure the artwork of the late artist and to consider the aesthetic and cultural value of those works now. In other words, Bolster has organised a long overdue artistic homage as a way of moving forward and embracing the future.
Rauschenberg speaks with hope about technological possibility in Un/natural History. Art can be understood as a form of expression, an apparatus of communication and therefore a technological extension. Many of Doyle’s artworks generate a confusion that is produced by using forms that read as industrial design, but are ultimately lacking in industrial function, rendering his art objects foreign, useless, and timeless. For instance Buffer (1996), an aluminum case that contains a pair of sandals with soles made from bricks, is a primitive solution for covering one’s feet. The pair of sandals looks as though they might be at home in the post-apocalyptic cloudscapes and landscapes of Bolster’s films self erosion and Un/natural History.
Doyle’s artworks comment on the fetishization of mass produced objects and the technological supports that art relies upon. Preoccupation, an act before insight (1996) is a room-scale installation composed of doorstops installed along the walls. The regular spacing that Doyle originally established for the piece suggests a decorative element, yet doorstops are the kind of hardware commonly found behind doors, underfoot, and out of sight. That he brings them out into an immersive space, as a three-dimensional wallpaper, gives them a decorative quality. Like Buffer’s lack of utility as actual, functional sandals, Preoccupation makes aesthetic use of a visually unremarkable household item. The doorstops make another appearance in an artwork titled Dolly (2005). Rather than covering the interior walls of a room, the doorstops are attached to the surface of a rectangular sculptural object on wheels. The playful suggestion of utility of doorstops that have migrated up the walls give Preoccupation’s design results in a glamorous, post-industrial sensibilityThe poignancy of not being sure of the status of the objects that make up these artworks can be read as an emotional condition. I have often considered the differences between art and design and have long believed that art is art because of its lack of utility relative to design. This assumes that design’s functionality has a greater use value than a decorative painting, but the divisions between art and design are not so clear. What is made apparent in this recuperation of a lost body of work by Damian Doyle through its remaking by artist George Bolster, is that the value of art is defined by its viewer. Bolster has created an opportunity to revisit Doyle’s artistic practice, a situation that allows for art to viewed in a space where a future is possible.
Sara Reisman, Artistic Director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in New York City.