Artsdesk: In The Shadows – Shadowplay at the Kerlin Gallery

Posted August 21, 2019 in Arts and Culture


The new group exhibition in the Kerlin brings together works by a prestigious roster of artists on the theme of shadows.

As its title might suggest, Shadowplay, the new group exhibition by the Kerlin Gallery, travels to some murky places. Featuring the work of Liam Gillick, Siobhán Hapaska and Sean Scully amongst others, it plays with notions of shadow, both literally and figuratively.

On first glance, one might think that this was a very deliberately designed show. In keeping with the show’s title, many of the works deal with loss and the passage of time. Take Willie Doherty’s diptych Dreams of Security, Dreams of Infiltration, two startling photographs taken in the rust belt of the United States. One photograph shows a car hidden under a plastic cover beneath the grey winter sky. The other is a picture of a wall in utter disrepair being overrun by vegetation.

It’s one of many works that feel like its meditating on modern fears. But if you ask David Fitzgerald, one of the Kerlin’s creative directors, he denies any overarching theme.

“What happens is myself and [my fellow directors] Darragh Hogan and John Kennedy will know what we have in our inventory and have an idea of how we can weave that into a show, that makes sense for the viewer, and also makes it interesting for us as well as the artist.”

The idea to base a show around shadow came from Liam Gillick’s Denominator Platform, a colourful frame made of plexiglass that hangs above the gallery. Despite its vibrant palette, it creates vertical shadows along the gallery floor. At the same time, Fitzgerald had been revisiting Joy Division’s seminal work Unknown Pleasures and became rather taken by the title of track seven.

“Shadowplay was the first song I ever saw Joy Division perform live on TV. It was 1979 and I was an art student at the time. You can imagine the power and impact of that event. So that’s the word I used, but it’s a re-appropriation from that song, because it actually works and relates to a lot of the work in the show.”

Fitzgerald says that this is the nearest Shadowplay comes to being a curated experience. Throughout our conversation, he emphasises that the title is only a gentle way of linking the diverse pieces that populate the show. “All we were trying to do was join the dots between the pieces. To connect the works in some way – some looser than others – and allow them to talk to one another.”

More recent works like Gillick’s Denominator Platform, or Siobhán Hapaska’s Snake and Apple were always going to be a part of the exhibition. Other pieces, like Sean Scully’s Inisheer which dates back to 1996, were added once the starting point for the exhibition had been established. “We had to talk to Sean and see what he thought of the idea,” says Fitzgerald. “He was happy with it, but only when he understood the context. You always have to think about the artists and the artists concerns.”

Some of the pieces seem like curious bedfellows. Siobhán Hapaska’s Snake and Apple immediately draws the eye of the viewer when they walk into the gallery: stainless steel girders clad in snake skin crush red fiberglass “apples”, squeezing them and distorting their shape. It’s a stunning piece that invites religious, ecological and abstract interpretations. Though it may not deal directly with shadow, it is an incredible addition to the show.

Hapaska’s other piece, Untitled is much more obviously related to the other works. Created with carbonized oak, white marble powder and an acrylic twinwall channel, Untitled depicts a haunting shadowy cityscape that captures the anxieties of living in a towering metropolis. Next to Untitled is Callum Innes’ Exposed Painting Blue Violet Red Oxide, which uses turpentine to strip away sections of the painted space before it has settled. This removal creates a shadow of the making of the painting.

These are just some of the works that populate Shadowplay. Other pieces include Aleana Egan’s Outside Material, a stark metal sculpture that recalls diving rods, or Daniel Rios Rodriguez’ Terco, an oil painting on terra cotta which is heavily inspired by his own Hispanic heritage. There’s no immediate through line between the different artists, something Fitzgerald says is by design. “We work with filmmakers, photographers, painters, because I think it’s important to be quite broad,” he says. “It makes things very stimulating.”

“If you think about contemporary art practice, certainly in this period of time, a lot of artists wouldn’t be concerned with just being a painter or being a photographer. There’s a lot of multi-discipline work coming out, particularly in the last five years. I think that says a lot about contemporary art practice, and that’s how we’ve always felt about it.”

While the Kerlin is committed to supporting Irish work, its roster includes artists from across the globe. “It was very important that we didn’t just focus on Ireland and the UK, which would have been quite easy for us to do because we already knew a lot of artists,” Fitzgerald says. “But we’ve always been very clear about expanding into the international market through art fairs. Those fairs give you the opportunity to talk to artists or curators, and if something interests you, there’s normally an idea that you’d ask someone if they’d like to do something.”

When asked what the future holds for The Kerlin, Fitzgerald says they will simply keep doing what they’ve been doing. Their next exhibition will feature works by Dorothy Cross, an artist that the Kerlin has been collaborating with for 30 years.

“You’re only really ever as good as your last show. And we have to never stop looking or trying to learn more about the business that we’re in as well,” Fitzgerald says. “But the main thing is to keep it exciting for everyone – the artists first and foremost. Because at the end of the day, it’s about the artist.”

Shadowplay runs at the Kerlin until Wednesday August 28

Dorothy Cross’s I dreamt I dwelt runs from September 6 to October 19

Words: Jack O’Higgins


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