I’m astonished wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins
November 15 - January 25 2014
Like its title, Mark Durkans show could be read as a ruin. Some time in the future a hunter wanders amongst the debris of this contained ‘system of objects’. His clothes and weapons have been appropriated from the bodies of the riot police that fell in the end of western capitalist civilization. When I saw this figure I was for some reason reminded of that great lyric of Kim Gordan:
‘Hey, kool thing, come here, sit down
There’s something I got to ask you.
I just wanna know, what are you gonna do for me?
I mean, are you gonna liberate us girls
From male white corporate oppression?
This interior space is a future where male white corporate oppression has fallen, I am not sure that what now remains is the female planet that Kim Gordan prophesied, but the commodities of the old world have been reborn with new agency. Just as a chair is never just a chair, these mirrored trapezoidal objects which in the old world may have been tacky coffee tables are now beautiful columns to refract and disperse light. The installation is a succinct reminder that a new world is but a new way of seeing the world.
The figure of the hunter is the key to this interior, he provides me with a prompt: He points his bow into this peculiar space of fragmented light, strange bubbling liquids and mirrors. He is the signifier of what is going on here. This is in fact smoke and mirrors in the best sense of that cliche, and it conjures up a very particular sensibility that Mark explores. He might disagree that he is making overtly political work, but I’d argue that it is political on the correct level of provoking a genuine questioning of ‘what the hell are we doing and where are we going?’
Marks interior contains a ruin of the future. The present is left behind at the door and we enter into a darkened space of striated light and the pleasant audible gurgle of fountains. The artifacts that are quite formally arranged within the space draw the mind toward sacred spaces. The space has a central nave with and alter of mirrored trapezoids at one end. The hunter occupies that singular position which makes sense of this symmetrical perspective, standing alert like one who has become transfixed. We are like trespassers upon his religious ecstasy, peripheral amongst the shadows of the scene we are witnessing, we don’t ever get to see what he sees. Fonts of mysterious liquid are juxtaposed between office water coolers in the aisle of the space. This life giving liquid is exalted in a future where it is truly precious. The present is further dissipated by the fraternal letter from the very victorian Padraic E. Moore, which could have lain there from some time even predating our present, long ago when people wrote letters. This letter itself becomes artifact and prophecy.(see below)
The work exhibits a mature spatial understanding and like some other projects by artists I’ve seen in the recent past goes to the heart of what space contains. As an architect myself it is both with joy and a little jealousy that I look on such projects that raid the architects toolbox unhindered by the accepted conventions of our training. As an undergraduate I read of the difference between art as an autographic practice of immediate expression and architecture as an allographic practice of translation ✪ Projects such as this one by Mark go some way toward bridging that gap.
I loaned ‘The System of Objects’ Jean Baudrillard to Mark quite some time ago, I’m not sure that it influenced this work but I hope he will return it now.
✪ Practice: Architecture technique and Representation, Stan Allen and Diana Agrest
Padraic E. Moore
I hope that this finds you well. I’ve thought much about by your exhibition since viewing and discussing it with you. On one hand it can be read as a prop filled environment that functions as a mise-en-scène for the fictional narrative you’ve devised and encourage the viewer to decipher. On the other hand the exhibition operates as an immersive installation in which atmosphere is all-important and everything is directed toward the creation of perceptible sensations. Viewing the show I was struck by how each zone of the tripartite environment combines functional apparatus denoting water filtration or provision with objects suggestive of religious or ritualistic function. The assembled components evoke some nondenominational place of worship but also a functional space-a laboratory perhaps. I found the arrangement of water coolers in the zone you entitled SANCTUM redolent of a futuristic holy well-a highly aestheticised place of provision.
However, what I find most intriguing and intelligent about the exhibition overall is the use of water as a unifying element throughout. While I know this certainly isn’t the sole focus or subject of the show, water is a key component and your treatment of it is probably what I find found most fascinating about the project. In addition to underscoring its inherently alluring properties the manner in which you utilise water also emphasises the potential for it to be used as a focus of meditative rumination. This was nowhere more evident than in the kaleidoscopic cosmic garden centre aesthetic of FOUNTAIN. It’s my belief that water is an element deserving much greater consideration than it is currently given. Having viewed your exhibition I suspect that you feel the same. In inciting speculation that water is something precious and perhaps even divine, the exhibition could be viewed as advocating a methodology that has been termed Water Consciousness by some. I thought you would be interested in the research into the natural and biological world that has been carried out in this field through a combination of intuitive perception and scientifically quantifiable analysis. Initially this methodology was formalized and applied by a small number of naturalists whose scientific investigation was imbued with a poetical mysticism and who posit that the qualities that water possesses -such as versatility and fluidity- should be emulated within society. Ultimately they believe mankind's relationship to nature in general has become unsustainable primarily because water has not been treated as a sentient, life giving entity. These naturalists consider water sacred; an element with its owncharacter that possesses an inherent ‘spirit’.
Probably the most well known figure associated with the movement is Theodor Schwenk, who published several fascinating books on the subject of water consciousness, the most renowned of which is entitled Sensitive Chaos Schwenk, who died in 1986, postulated that the closer water is studied the more it reveals itself as a living substance, which upholds cycles necessary to support all life. Another assertion held central to advocates of Water Consciousness is that water is living and can therefore become deadened as a result of the way it is treated. Water that has been ‘corrupted’ can become fundamentally devitalizing to life itself. While I find some of the ideas posited by these New Age thinkers a little too outré I acknowledge the ambition and the value of their metaphysical naturalism. It seems so much more
practical and ultimately more sustainable than the dominant modalities of thought in which water is understood simply as an inert substance.
One could argue that the manner in which water is regarded and mistreated in the contemporary world typifies the general condition of our self-destructive techno capitalist society. It seems ironic that while water is still used symbolically in the most significant of religious ceremonies it is rarely celebrated for its own inherent divinity as a source of all life. Ultimately the manner in which water has been denuded of its intrinsic divinity is representative of the chronic one-sidedness in thinking that prevails in almost all aspects of contemporary
society. Almost all spheres of life are dominated by technical and commercial modes of thought –directed almost exclusively towards utility and consumption. The upshot of this is that natural laws are considered to be something entirely calculable, which can be graphed and explained
entirely via rational systems. I’m not dismissive of technological progress -and my position is not that of a preservationist- but really I do believe that there is a serious flaw in the degree to which human society has become so alienated from the elements it depends upon to survive.
Ideas advocated by Schwenk and his cohort gained much traction in the early 1960s and a tangible manifestation of this was his Institute for Flow Sciences established in southern Germany. I think it’s curious how a concern with the ecology of water-and the repercussions of it running out- seems to have been an issue explored by a broad range of people at that time, working across several disciplines. In the cultural realm this is possibly most apparent in the work of several authors. This occurred to me recently as I read The Burning World, one of J.G. Ballard’s earliest novels published in 1964, but set in the not too distant near future. In the story vast quantities of industrial waste have spilled into the world’s oceans resulting in an irreversible chemical change that prevents evaporation taking place. This in turn inhibits the continuation of the precipitation cycle and therefore a catastrophic drought occurs, leading in turn to an apocalyptic scenario. As society disintegrates, gangs of ravaged people roam the barren earth, feuding over the few remaining water reserves. It is a terrifying but captivating novel, not least because it seems so prophetic of current times in which water shortages seem so very real. It’s interesting to note that Ballard’s book was published just a year before Frank Herbert’s Dune, which as you know is another sci-fi novel in which the theme of drought is central. Having viewed your exhibition I was prompted to reconsider certain aspects of these novels. Your work isn’t emphatically ecological in its concerns but this exhibition does hint at a narrative of a civilisation deprived of free access to water. However what your exhibition shares with these novels is the way it encourages one to reconsider water as something enigmatic and abstruse. Water is also a source of reflection of course, and is connected in this way to the manymirrored surfaces that are also a key component, the predominance of which distinguishes this exhibition. As you mentioned, mirrors afford the opportunity to exercise self-conception and perhaps even permit one to envisage two concurrent perceptual realities. In the context of this exhibition the use of mirrors underscores their folkloric and occult connotations. Like water, mirrors have been used throughout the ages for the purposes of scrying, divination and even attempting interaction with the unseen. Even naturally occurring pools of water were once seen as conduits to other worlds. If this exhibition makes the latent and unknown charge of water more prevalent then perhaps the repeated use of mirrors throughout this exhibition might also be seen as an attempt to underscore, and indeed tap into, their thaumaturgic potential.
Either way the coupling of the two enhances and emphasises the features of both. This treatment of water - and indeed mirrors- demonstrates a desire to reveal the true character of phenomena. That which initially seems prosaic and quotidian is unveiled as complex and prismatic. I think that this is a characteristic of your work that makes the work catalytic and vital. I look forward to discussing this in person with you.
Padraic E. Moore
Dublin, November 2013