Going Galway: Part 2

July 28, 2010

Galway started to grow on me the next day. Once the nightlife had passed, I found myself in a cute seaside town with lovely cafes, medieval looking churches and buildings, and an arts festival with some intriguing events. I grabbed a lovely blueberry scone and coffee at Providence Market Kitchen followed by a traditional Irish breakfast at Ard Bia. Ard Bia was charming, decorated like your aunt's living room with lots of local food sourcing as indicated by the printed sign on the wall:

"Anyone with anything from their garden they want us to buy Irish strawberries, any fruits or vegetables please bring them in and we can give you a few bob and make lovely things with them!!!"

After touring some of the local scenery, I headed over to the Fairgreen Festival Gallery where they were showing a retrospective of video artist Bill Viola, a short film by Spike Jonze, and some paintings and drawings by an Irish artist Brian Bourke that looked intriguing. I hadn't seen any of Viola's work before and, although some of his videos can be tedious, he has a great knack for calling out corners of our world, little details that generally go unnoticed, but when recorded become these pivotal centers of human connectedness. He'll focus on a puddle on a street reflecting neon lights for several minutes with the drone of a city in the background. Or a light on a ship speeding across the ocean in darkness. Or a larger than life heart beating nakedly.

I found much of it impressive (the live installations must have been stunning), especially considering he was doing much of this in the early 80s before video was taken too seriously, but the interviews between the respective pieces revealed him to be such a pretentious windbag, it was difficult not to be put off. He loves to talk about how much eastern philosophy has influenced his work and how he focusses on timeless themes like love, death, birth, rhythm. But it seemed to me if he had understood any eastern philosophy at all his ego would have withered away long ago instead of being so wrapped up in his own "art". At one point he was discussing the dying of his mother and offhandedly remarked something to the effect of, "Well of course I'm going to record my mother dying. I'm an artist. I'm compelled to do it." Oh, the angst of being a successful artiste! Sure enough, they cut to his footage of his father sobbing on his mother's stomach in a hospital bed. It's his right to capitalize on it of course, but it seems to me that he's selling out the very sacredness of the themes he professes to uphold.

After the tedium of Viola, the short Jonze video with his usual brand of light-hearted cleverness was a welcome relief. I'm Here was about a clunky boy robot (in an LA that treats robots as second-class citizens) that falls in love with a more liberated girl robot that shows him how to live in joyful abandon. As they fall in love, ignoring society's expectations of them, her iconoclasm takes its toll on her fragile robot body. The boy robot offers up his own precious parts in sacrifice to her for the enriching perspective she's given him. It's a well told, simple story that reminded me that good art, indeed some of the best art, doesn't have to be incredibly complex or obscure (Bill Viola, take note!).

I really enjoyed Bourke's work as well. He paints himself as this impressionistic Don Quixote figure, unabashed in his ludicrousness and sometimes withering nakedness. There's a playful, dark humor to his work which often includes thieves on crosses and lovely distorted, almost cubist portraits of women somewhat past their prime with backdrops full of vibrant energy. Although the art show, like Galway itself, was unexpectedly small, it definitely made the afternoon (if not the trip) worthwhile.

Artsy's Bill Viola page