Dublin City Arts Office
The LAB, Foley Street, Dublin 1

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Past Exhibition

Somewhere but here, another other place

Maria McKinney

August 07 - August 28 2010

Maria McKinney’s work explores subjects of boredom and activities used to pass the time, echoing the escapist nature of their objective. Using commonplace materials her work has a methodical and often compulsive character, drawing influence from conceptual and folkart. Visually, her work examines the traditional codes of space and perception, inviting query into the everyday. Somewhere but here, another other place at the LAB presents a substantial body of new work encompassing drawing, sculpture and installation. The work is experienced from both the ground floor gallery and the upper balcony, directly engaging with the architecture of the space. Familiar objects including jigsaw puzzles, shopping trolleys and crosswords are presented in entirely unfamiliar and intriguing ways.

Focusing on the lacunal space within the structure of the globally familiar systems of distraction and tools of mass consumption, McKinney considers the physicality of the chosen items as well as their habitual use or purpose. She then attempts to draw out or create an underlying significance through a predetermined and systematic process of intervention. A product of our age is the technological structures instigated to contain and promote every aspect of our daily reality; professional and personal, public and private. Though relatively new, the next generation has a different structural understanding of how this information can be disseminated, leaving the conjoining one to decipher a path from one mode to the next and leave the material remnants of these solitary yet unifying activities in the past. McKinney’s is a gesture to contemplate the material manifestation of these activities that are performed amid the actual proceedings of the day-to-day. The resulting consequence is an engrossing enquiry into the resonances of boredom and how we choose to fill it with distraction and recreation.

(Related text below)


Bits and Pieces

Lisa Moran

If one succeeds in arranging the confused heap of fragments, each of which bears upon it an unintelligible piece of drawing, so that the picture acquires a meaning, so there is no gap anywhere in the design and so that the whole fits into the frame – if all these conditions are fulfilled, then one knows that one has solved the puzzle and that there is no alternative solution.

Sigmund Freud[1]


One could argue that Freud’s sole objective in the project of psychoanalysis was to solve the puzzle of the human mind. He employs the metaphor of the jigsaw puzzle to describe the means by which the fragmented and unconscious parts of the psyche become integrated and made whole through the psychotherapeutic process. For Freud the challenge was to get to the root of the problem, identify and articulate its cause and eliminate all other possibilities in order to  achieve resolution.

This notion of completion and resolution is a current running through Maria McKinney’s work.  Employing the construct of the puzzle, she offers the viewer the possibility, the temptation that something can be ‘solved’– the individual works, the exhibition as a whole, the artist’s intentions. Yet, McKinney does not trust the promise of resolution and completion. Favouring fragmentation and multiplicity, she challenges the viewer to resist the imperative to solve the puzzle and ‘eliminate the possibility of alternative solutions’.

Drawing on the language of Minimalism and conceptualism, McKinney’s work is at times playful, prompting comparisons with the work of artists such as Tom Friedman and Tara Donovan. However, her approach is more systematic and compulsive, acknowledging her interest in science and the influence of Folk Art and Outsider Art. Referring to Naval oranges, pins and net (2010), which comprises four oranges, each impaled with pins, suspended in a net bag from the gallery wall, McKinney recognises a compulsive and repetitive dimension to her practice also evident in the complex grids of fishing line in works such Horny grids (2010) and Element of the Supermodern IV (2010?). In the series Quick Crosswords the artist’s interest in systems is evident in the intricately painted geometric patterns overlaid on a series of puzzles on the back pages of the G2 section of The Guardian. With a nod to Dada, the work suggests comparisons with the work of Gabriel Orozco, drawing attention to the tension and struggle for dominance between language and object.

The title work Somewhere but here, another other place, comprises used domestic tables and trolleys arranged in an ascending, conical structure. Similar to the towering installations of Cuban artist Kcho, the work parodies the grandiosity of the neo-Gothic Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, built by King Ludwig II, which features in various guises in the completed jigsaws on each table. Kcho uses boats and instruments of travel in his work, metaphors for the desire for physical and psychological escape from the island of Cuba. McKinney’s minimalist configuration uses objects from the domestic environment, suggesting a correlating desire for escape from the estrangement evoked by such places.  Her use of domestic objects draws comparisons with artists such as Doris Salcedo and Rachel Whiteread, yet McKinney’s interest in these objects is less about their implied personal histories than in the potential for subversion and disruption of those narratives.

Freud sought to solve the puzzle of the human mind by uncovering the hidden meanings of the banal and trivial in everyday habits. McKinney’s selection and configuration of ordinary, everyday objects reflects her interest in the craft and fabrication of these objects, but also a desire to offer multiple and inconclusive possibilities of their meaning.  In the works Horny grids (2010) and Element of the Supermodern IV (2010?), which feature a supermarket trolley and shopping baskets, her systematic interventions make no attempt to change or disguise these ubiquitous objects. The lattice work of fish wire, informed by and constructed on the grid systems of these objects, draws attention to the potential of such objects to take on forms and meanings other than the merely functional and repetitive (is there anything more repetitive and mind-numbing than filling a shopping basket?).

‘If everyday life, for the most part, goes by unnoticed (even as it is being revolutionized), then the first task for attending to it will be to make it noticeable. The artistic avant-garde’s strategy of ‘making strange’, of rendering what is familiar unfamiliar, can provide an essential ingredient for fashioning a sociological aesthetic.’[2]  McKinney explores concepts of place through the use of familiar, everyday objects made strange, and therefore noticeable, by  her intervention: the well-worn, quirky tables of living rooms and parlors, the supermarket trolleys and baskets of the non-places of late modernity. Acknowledging Zygmunt Bauman’s notion that our relationship to home is now defined in terms of unplacement rather than displacement, cultural theorist Nikos Papastergiadis suggests the contemporary notion of home gains its identity from the oscillation between arrival and departure, integration and fragmentation.[3] 

The motif of the puzzle reflects McKinney’s interest in the experience of boredom and the repetitive activities undertaken to fill time and space. In the contemporary world, the desire for leisure is compounded by an imperative to fill the space of leisure with activity, suggesting a broader estrangement from and distrust of reflective experience. The space of not-doing is prematurely closed off to possibility. Such compulsive busyness facilitates avoidance of the anxiety and fear of not-doing, of doing nothing.  Yet, periods of reflection and not-doing are essential elements of the creative process.  In his work on transitional phenomena, the child psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott describes a ‘potential’ space, between the inner personal psychic reality and the actual external world in which the individual lives, which he suggests is the location of play and, by extension, all cultural experience.[4]  He argues that this is a space of ambiguity, of playing, reverie, daydreaming and doing nothing. In this space, one is neither entirely lost in inner psychic reality, such as in sleep, nor entirely present in the outer lived world of experience; one can be hidden yet be seen.  In this context, games and puzzles exist on a continuum of creative thinking and reflection, rather than as strategies of avoidance, an escape but not a retreat from reality.

Aspects of McKinney’s work play with the possibilities of the work to both reveal and conceal, such as in Elvis (2010), a small work consisting of 1000 jigsaw tags arranged on a gesso panel. Drawing comparisons with Brazilian artist Vic Muniz, the work offers a multiplicity of miniature surfaces laid out systematically, in what seems like an abstract formation. When read collectively and from a certain angle, the composite pieces conform to reveal a portrait of Elvis.  A humorous footnote, the work makes a  statement of visual ambiguity, simultaneously embracing fragmentation and the desire for resolution. 

Scale also plays an important role in McKinney’s practice, enabling the artist to choreograph the viewer’s physical engagement with the work. The capaciousness of Somewhere but here, another other place is in marked contrast to the small scale of works such as Naval oranges, pins and net or Would you Adam and Eve it. Its towering presence extends into the mezzanine space defying any reading of these spaces as separate and offering the viewer a compound experience of the work.  In contrast, the smaller works draw the viewer in offering an intimate and more private exchange.

According to research the average time a person spends viewing an art work is 27.2 seconds.[5] McKinney’s work demands more from the gallery visitor.  Like a puzzle, the works yield their meaning through contemplation and persistence, and most significantly through a resistance to completion.


Lisa Moran


[1] Sigmund Freud, ‘Remarks on the Theory and Practice of Dream-Interpretation’, The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Standard Edition, Volume XIX, (1923 – 1925), p. 117.

[2] Ben Highmore ‘Everyday Life and Cultural Theory’ in Stephen Johnstone (ed.), The Everyday: Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel: London and The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA 2008, p. 84.

[3] Nikos Papastergiadis, ‘Everything that Surrounds: Art, Politics and Theories of the Everyday’ in Stephen Johnstone (ed.), The Everyday: Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel: London and The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA 2008, p. 72.

[4] D.W. Winnicott, ‘The Location of Cultural Experience’ in Playing and Reality, London: Tavistock Publications, 1971,

[5] Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Smith ‘Spending Time on Art’ in Empirical Studies of the Arts, Vol 19, Number 2, Baywood Publishing Company, 2001, pp. 229-236. The study comprised 150 individuals looking at six works in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The mean time spent viewing a work was 27.2 seconds with a median time of 17.0 seconds. There were differences in responses to paintings suggesting different types of looking patterns may be related to the types of art work.

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