Ireland beckons tourists with its near-mythic rural beauty, even in post-Celtic Tiger, previous economically robust times. To many outside the island, Ireland’s identity continues to be entrenched in the romantic vision of idyllic, rustic people and places. Tourists are fed photos of bucolic green fields, stone walls, ruins, grazing beasts and cottages that perpetuate practices of the picturesque, which pushes the real, contemporary experience of Irish life out of view. Defying the inherent natural beauty of Ireland, Irish photographers embrace the challenge of representing a new, emboldened Irish identity through quizzical, charming, daring and truthful photography.
This exhibition presents exciting new work by cutting-edge Irish artists, created with critical intelligence, a keen sense of history, compositional vigor, and lively humor still deeply embedded in place. Each artist grapples with the challenge of visually defining a landscape that retains many features of Ireland’s agrarian past, even its sectarian conflict, as well as more modern concerns of turbulent economic forces, farming methods, European Union regulations, real estate development, and lifestyle choices which effect Ireland’s rural experience and urban challenges.
Playing between the lines of picturesque and practical, Jill Quigley’s Rural Fluorescent series actively engages the abandoned, overlooked and unexciting, caught in the drama of the unexpected. Questioning the notions of beauty associated with representing landscape, Miriam O’Connor intercedes through whimsical display of the domestic, while David Farrell disrupts through digging into the dark history contained in the land. Paul Gaffney descends deep into the dark forest, entry to a hidden current of a Gothic underworld, mysterious and myopic, both beautiful and dangerous. Similarly, plunged into Paul Coyle’s painterly Lovely Water series, the viewer bounces on the waves, there in the same spot, Dublin’s famous Forty Foot cove, witness to change in light and form. Anthony Haughey and Martin Cregg explore the sublime and beautiful potential of abandoned relics of Celtic Tiger overdevelopment. Two more photographers consider the living and working potential of everyday alternatives created by women running farms in Anna Rackard’s Farmers and by new age, utopian seeking commune in the West of Ireland in Ruby Wallis’ Unfixed Landscape. The Irish picturesque, under the postcolonial critique, is associated with domination and control by outsiders. By contrast, this exhibition celebrates Irish artists’ experience of their own land and their inventive approaches to picturing place.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website