October 11 - November 24 2007
Felicity Clear’s new work consists of a series of large-scale acrylic and graphite works on paper. Typically there is a drawn building or urban plan, surrounded by a painted luminous vivid sky. The works reference architectural drawings but the plans have been subverted by the inclusion of problems and impossibilities. An apartment block is surrounded by water with no access, a building site is hermetically sealed in its own half finished world. There is a mysterious fairytale dimension to some of the drawings an enchanted forest a fairytale castle, of real buildings made strange. Not so much a critique of contemporary building these drawing are rather an attempt to tease out more general questions of aspiration and failure, a messing up to make mysterious again the planned, the transparent, the knowable.
In a series of small scale multiples accompanying the show; a scene is played over and over again each image slightly different then the last. There is a sense of déjà vu, of a memory played over, an insistence through repetition. But as in the larger scale works also an implication that this attempt to make sense, may prove difficult if not impossible
Born and currently based in Dublin, Felicity Clear works in a variety of media that includes drawing, painting, photography and silkscreen. She has exhibited widely with solo exhibitions at the Rubicon Gallery in Dublin and in group shows in UK (including Art Futures, Contemporary Arts Society, London) Belgium, and Italy as well as Ireland. She was educated at the NCAD from which she graduated in 1991 and has recently received an MA in visual arts practice from DLIADT. In 2008 she will have solo shows at the Galway Arts Centre and The Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray.
The gallery leaflet for this exhibition features an essay, Place(s) Without Place, by Cliodhna Shaffrey. See below.
Felicity Clear’s large-scale works – graphite drawing and acrylic on paper – of high-rise modernist building schemes and open space of suburban parking lots with their expanse of low-rise trailer town sprawl, seem at once familiar, immediately recognisable, and yet, at the same time unfamiliar. They are of real buildings made strange. Isolated, distorted, distant. It is as if we have found ourselves in the midst of a dream, hovering at its rim, a feeling of uneasiness pervades as of a jolted shock at sudden unexpected recognition. Before us lies the unreachable city - outcrops of buildings, some still in the process of development, - building sites with ghost-cranes, cut off behind hoardings, or walls; masonry islands surrounded by water, or barely visible in the distance through endless rows of regimented trees. The skies above always large, open, vivid – soiled yellowy sunsets, muddied clouds drenched through purple water-filled skies, or startling blues and greens, or where clouds are swept forth like alien spaceships emphasising a romantic torrid, a certain playfulness. Felicity’s works possess a fictional quality of the fairytale but are imbued with a contemporary haunting, the possibility that here we are not on certain ground. The picturesque of formal rows of dainty trees, enchanted forests and buildings that look like castles, and the perfect, detailed, drawing, so finely precise, so beautifully scaled, are thrown off kilter by warped perspectives, panoramic views, twisted and extended elements that lure and frighten. That odd flight of stairs that runs on the outside and halfway up the middle of a building in Fingal is here extended to the building’s rooftop. Those ‘endless’ stairs, where do they lead? To the other side, into a void, to the nothing? The tilted island-building like a stranded cruise ship that cannot sail, its concrete base has anchored its position firm – yet, by what pathway can we reach it, how can its residents leave? Are we trapped somewhere between the romantic nightmarish painting of de Chirico’s Mystery and Melancholy of a Street and Etienne-Louis Boullée gigantic hollow sphere - his proposal for a Memorial to Isaac Newton envisaging the majestic as ideal. Felicity’s, though, is a subtler hand for within the slippage between a dystopia and a utopia, a failed world of sorts, remains an idiosyncratic charm, and a sense of cheery homeliness pervades. Only slowly do we sense any unease, the possibility that we have been capitulated into a nowhere - into Augé’s ‘non-lieux’ or Garreau’s ‘nowherevilles’, or loaded into Michel Foucault’s “Narrenschiffen’. A drifting ‘place without a place, that exists by itself and is closed in on itself.’
Felicity Clear’s tightly conceived compositions – spare and perfectly structured are always dislodged, always left as if incomplete, unresolved. Dirtied up - the messing up [is] in order to make mysterious again[ii] Bravely she makes room for failure. Large expanses are left seemingly unfinished - acrylic onto unprimed paper, smudges and runs forming its own blotchy pattern and makes for a more fragile, transient scene, exposing the chaos behind ordering, the impossibility of perfection; the falseness in transparency. For here what might be transparent becomes opaque, impenetrable, untouchable, unknowable. Felicity’s plan is to mystify, to touch into an impossible knowing – those invisible lines that keep the uncanny resurfacing. In a series of small paintings reproduced as multiples, each one the same as the next but different, a sense of déjà vu is intentionally triggered. Focusing on a single scene played over and over - an isolated tree in geometric concrete space, or of the solitary immigrant trapped in the interior of her new found home, a glass prison of sorts; and the lone swimmer who clings ominously to the edge of the pool. What is happening? Repetition, the going over something again and again, which normally helps us work things out, won’t make any difference here, for Felicity leaves us on the outside, on the edge of these worlds – contained, alienating, spatially misaligned, emptied - and we cannot enter. Her capacity is to gently plug us into a dark sense of unease, to bring us close to the uncanny. A fundamental insecurity with our world, a radical rootlessness as Heidegger calls it, and one in which every one feels fundamentally unsettled (unheimlich), that is, that human beings can never be at home in the world.” [iii]
Anthony Vidler in his introduction to The Architectural Uncanny suggests that there is no such thing as uncanny architecture but rather that architecture at certain times is invested with uncanny qualities that give rise to a senses of déjà vu or what Freud called the ‘compulsion to repeat’. The problem with today’s architecture for Vidler is that while it reuses the motifs and language of modernism, the appearance of a fulfilled aesthetic revolution is devoid of their originating ideological impulses. Stripped of a promise of social redemption and the repression of the political, contemporary architecture presents an ostensibly nihilistic and self gratifying formalism. With the repression of the political there still lurks the ghost of the avant-garde politics, and one that for Vidler is proving difficult to exorcise entirely.[iv]
For Clear, as for Vidler, architecture may not be uncanny but rather is invested with such unhomely qualities, a capacity to mirror states of our being, to bring things up again for us. Choosing to focus on the new apartment blocks of the current building boom, Felicity is not directly commenting on the alienating forces of contemporary urban building – often bland and phobic - but rather is attempting to touch on more general ideas of aspirations and failures. If behind the current building boom is a nihilistic and self-gratifying drive, it also might be understood as an expression of a being out of control; the suggestion here is that these are doomed building schemes, they are simply not going to work. In their attempt to fill the void they somehow succeed in achieving the reverse so that these hollow spaces of capitalism,[v] bring us closer to the more shadowy paths of existence, a failing at the source. Felicy’s work opens to states of unknowing, feelings of uncertainty, that are aligned to the not belonging, the unhomely, to being out of place. But they also, in their playful unresolvedness suggest the Sartrian idea ‘that we can never hope to understand’, we can never be on certain ground. Thus the acceptance that some comfort may be found in the impossibility of solving the mystery behind this uncertainty, is at the crux of the making of this work.