Where There Are People

Eamon O'Kane uses a derelict greenhouse in Denmark as a metaphor for man's desire to tame nature

The current exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Derry~Londonderry – Where There Are People There Are Things by Eamon O’Kane – is a video and still image installation of pictures taken at an abandoned and derelict plant nursery near the artist’s home in Denmark.

The photographs are held in lightboxes constructed from material taken from the greenhouses at the nursery, which are positioned within a simple wooden structure. The video projection features Samuel Beckett’s Text for Nothing 8, voiced by actor Jack MacGowran.

The intonation is slow and heavy, the language strange and rhythmical, the voice disembodied. It is an exhibition typical of CCA – fascinating, enthralling, thought-provoking, challenging and touched by serious humour; positive, too.

The images show the leavings of human activity, structures that were built to contain and manipulate nature, now regained by wildness. Taken throughout the course of a year, we see the evidence of the seasons – snow has fallen through the broken windows and drifted through the glasshouses, which were once intended as an unnatural environment for directed growth.

 

The heat and light which the greenhouses were meant to hold are now contained only within the lightboxes hanging in the gallery. There are images of abandoned controls, given up on by the humans who installed them. We see the remorseless strength of nature, ominous and looming, and we sense the futility of human efforts to trap, contain and manipulate.

This futility is articulated in Beckett’s words, treading heavily through the gallery. But those words and the images in the lightboxes also tell of the need to keep striving. There is bravery and hope here, or maybe just a grimly humorous acknowledgement that there is no alternative.

And there is also rhythm and time and routine. The seasons keep rolling round, the plants grow, flower and die away; the structures that humans build might collapse, but others will build more, and when they go, more will follow. There isn’t an end, just stations on the process. The same essentials go on happening.

Architecture – a forceful manistestation of human needs and beliefs – is referenced in the exhibition, particularly modernist architecture, in its typical materials, and the stress on form, function and transparency.

Architecture, along with the themes of time, cycles and rhythm, feature in the films accompanying the exhibition, to be screened at the CCA starting at 7pm on July 17. The first is My Summer 77 with Gordon Matta-Clark, made by Cherica Convents using footage of Matta-Clark as he worked on one of his final pieces, 'Office Baroque'.

Matta-Clark trained as an architect, and explored architecture through his art work, deconstructing buildings in an exploration of their values, meaning and presence, just as O’Kane shows a structure deconstructed by nature and time.

The second film, screened on the same day, is Robinson in Ruins, a documentary by Patrick Keillor. In this, we see Robinson, a modern-day flaneur, exploring the scapes of England – out of town shopping centres, industrial estates, buildings that have been adapted from their original uses. Robinson steps through a post-financial crisis world, but he steps through it lightly, even jauntily. He picks at the margins, studying the overlooked.

His approach follows a tradition of looking at the familiar from a different angle, just as Betjeman celebrated the dismissed, or Sebald used the familiar as a launchpad, or countless stories use an alien to expose things too obvious to see properly. And the subjects considered are placed in the context of time and its rhythms, rather than just the present – part of history, not the end of it.

Where There Are People There Are Things and its companion films have that sense of a visitor from elsewhere exploring and revealing. They offer a journey through the domestic and ordinary, dislocated and made strange – but still naggingly reminiscent – by departure, drift, reorganisation, reclamation, and all done with the flicker of a smile.

Where There Are People There Are Things runs in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry until July 19.