...I was particularly happy to have the opportunity to view Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s collaged digital video Emigrant III (2010), in ample space in one of the gallery’s two arched cellars. This is the third time I’ve encountered her work, the first being at the Darkness Visible show in Galway in 2008. The second, at this year’s eva, was sufficiently recent for it to be still active in my thinking. It’s intriguing stuff, one of the best engagements with the possibilities of digital video I’ve come across. The capacity for image manipulation and collage runs the risk of producing a new literalness – fantastic or hallucinatory scenes that merely reinforce ingrained, prosaic understanding by extending it out to unencountered experiences. This is the weakness of much of Dali’s painting (when it isn’t being out and out kitsch) – a floppy watch or melting body keeps the naturalistically represented watch or recognisable body firmly in place, it simply adds the diversion of the distorting mirror to its perception and raises the result to the status of the truly reimagined. Ní Bhriain’s work has more in common with pre-war De Chirico (via the closing sequence of Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia, perhaps), those paintings which justify the epithet ‘metaphysical’, and cast the viewer back on a consideration of temporality and spatiality.
As in De Chirico different experiences of space are combined in the same image, with each being given discrete zones (bordered by a curtain, screen, corner or horizon – this is clearer in eva’s Great Good Places), sometimes gently transgressed (e.g. water laps from behind a screen through which the open sea can be discerned). The addition of motion to Ní Bhriain’s images brings in another kind of zoning – layering. Drifting minutiae on the image’s surface, for instance, give the impression of underwater currents, though the objects behind belong to an indoors scene and may be disturbed from time to time by what appears to be a breeze. The juxtaposition of different spatial experiences places emphasis on the images’ temporality – a slow duration that includes motion, but not change, a kind of extended pause between acts (Virginia Woolf’s intermediating section in To the Lighthouse comes to mind). In contrast to post-Newtonian concepts, time is understood by Aristotle to be a function of the innate changeability of the various beings. Such a way of thinking raises the question whether without change there could be any time. In Ní Bhriain’s digital videos such an impossible, ‘timeless’ universe is made apparent.
Fergal Gaynor is a writer, independent scholar, member of Art / not art and co-editor of Enclave Review. His VIII Stepping Poems and Other Pieces was published by Miami University Press in 2011. Crawford 100 was on view 24 May – 23 June 2012.