The Last Great Album of the Decade is a dense new exhibition in The Lab, spearheaded by curators Pádraic E. Moore and Sheena Barrett. Through the work of four different artists, it underscores the myriad social connections and creative expressions that are made possible by music.
“Ultimately I think it’s really more of a celebration of the fact that music is still allowed in these multiple forms of cultural communication and exchange”
Inspired by the writings of cultural theorist Mark Fisher and the experimental music documentaries of Dan Graham, The Last Great Album of the Decade aims to explore the resonances between different art forms. “The starting point was really just looking at how musical culture can be this kind of catalyst for other art,” says Moore.
“The four artists are very different. Anne Maree Barry and Declan Clarke are taking a much more sociological approach. They’re looking at the behavioural aspects of going to a gig or a rave and presenting material from those things, whereas Alan Phelan and Cliodhna Timoney are inhabiting music in a much more abstract way. They’re using colour and form to respond to ideas of musical communication or notation. They’re trying to create analogues versus objects.”
The title of the exhibit could be perceived as pessimistic. It’s the last great album of the decade after all, implying an end to worthy music. But Moore argues that it contains a more romantic meaning.
“The title of the show is kind of ironic in the sense that it’s the type of superlative language that often gets used among music nerds – of which I am one – to retrospectively attach great meaning to a piece of art.”
“I don’t think there’s necessarily pessimism in any of the artists’ work,” he continues. “Maybe more of a sense of nostalgia. But ultimately I think it’s really more of a celebration of the fact that music is still allowed in these multiple forms of cultural communication and exchange.”
And what a wide arrange of forms they are. On the top floor of the exhibit, Declan Clarke displays a collection of ticket stubs, t-shirts and albums that he amassed over his younger years. Encased in a black glass cabinet, they take on an almost religious importance, akin to a historical relic you would find in a natural history museum.
Accompanying these objects is a series of paragraphs that describe each gig. These passages not only provide a snapshot of the musical landscape in the early nineties, but re-contextualize the ticket stubs as treasures for the ultimate underground music fan. You’ll never look at an old Fugazi ticket with such reverence.
Nearby lies a collection of punk zines from the late seventies, similarly contained in a black cabinet. Supplied by Brand New Retro, they capture the youthful energy and irreverence that defined the punk movement. One cover sports Lon Chaney grimacing as The Phantom of the Opera, the headline proclaiming that the zine is “a bubbling cocktail of trash and style.”
What makes the exhibition so fascinating is the way in which the artists’ works frequently interact with and inform one another. Encompassing the whole ground floor is Alan Phelan’s A Joly Screen, the background. Made of lastolite strips that are typically used as backdrops in photo shoots, the RGB curtain redefines the gallery as the set of a music video. A mattress and a potted plant lie in front of the backdrop, adding the tiniest hint of narrative to a music video that both the audience and the other artworks are participating in.
Taken in 2003, Anne Maree Barry’s poignant photography depicts a huge rave on the shores of Sutton as the sun rises. Perched on rocks with a surprising lack of alcohol on display, the crowd seem to be waiting for something that’s yet to arrive. That sensation is compounded by her accompanying text; “I remember someone asking me that night what I was doing with my life. When I said I was in my first year of my Masters programme, he was shocked. I had a purpose in life after all.”
And then there are Cliodhna Timoney’s sculptures, inspired by her experiences in dilapidated and defunct clubs in her hometown of Letterkenny. Using cigarettes, plastic shot glasses and matches in addition to more fanciful materials like glitter and painted ceramics, her work finds joyful expression in the refuse of music venues. If her sculptures were music, they would be lo-fi electro-indie songs that use everything around them to make beautiful sound.
Moore says that The Last Great Album of the Decade will most likely only be the first iteration of the conversation that this exhibition initiates. He anticipates another exhibition or perhaps a publication in the next two years. So why does he find himself returning to music when developing projects?
He pauses to consider the question. “I suppose it’s something that you’re exposed to from an early stage in life. You develop your own musical tastes and then those tastes become the ways you forge meaningful connections. And through those connections, you discover your own sense of self identity.”
The Last Great Album of the Decade is on in The Lab on Foley Street until May 12.
Words: Jack O’Higgins