The Air They Capture is Different

Sculptural exhibition in The MAC is 'subtle to the point of obfuscation', but Lothar Götz's mural saves the day

The latest exhibition in the gorgeously generous exhibition spaces at The MAC – rather enigmatically titled, The Air They Capture is Different, by Maud Cotter and Karl Burke – explores the intersection of lines, the relationship between form and space, and our perceptions of the functionality of objects.

Both Irish sculptors use a pared-back, minimalist approach to expression in their artistic practice here – Burke presenting steel structures or rectangular frames that are arranged to respond to the shape of the space they are exhibited in, and Cotter giving us structures that are more difficult to categorise.

Some, like oversized sieves, globular shapes inside steel baskets, plastic pouches inside strange hanging basket shapes or steel supports, seem as though they should have a practical function or application, but obviously do not.

Burke’s 'Taking a Line' and 'Poetics of Space', for example, seem to be about geometry and the way lines cut through space and air to produce shapes and forms. These pieces muse on the beauty of Euclidean geometry and point to the eloquence of line, here steel, straight, cutting through the air, suspended, to make graceful rectangles.

Karl Burke


In some cases the lines are allowed to break from their rectangular format so that pieces of the structure are set apart or form a curve and the effect is to make you more aware of the fact that you are situated in space and between lines, part of this immense three-dimensional tapestry of shapes and forms.

The structures become immersive and seem in conversation with the walls, windows and ceilings. These are quiet, subtle ruminations on space – the air between the lines and shapes here seems as important to the whole as the points at which lines cut through and impose matter on weightless atmosphere.

Cotter’s structures, meanwhile, can seem bizarre and alienating. 'Measure' features a structure in steel with neon pink circular shapes around the top like a defamiliarised, weird kitchen utensil, while 'Bin' is a wierd steel mass set within a conical steel frame. 'Capture' features a pouch of water in plastic set within a similar suspending structure, and 'A Solution Is In the Room/One' is like a deformed, outsized sieve, the head like an emptied steel coconut.

These strange objects – contortions of line and reworkings of recognisable forms, surreal revisions of familiar structures and utensils – come together to make a discombobulating whole. You look at these pieces imagining what their use could be, and since they are devoid of practical application you are thrown back on aesthetic appraisal.

It seems Cotter wants to frustrate our need to immediately categorise objects and structures, so that we are forced to think about the object-ness of the object, to see it anew, to consider form, shape, colour and mass for their own sake.

Quiet ruminations on space and its relationship to matter or form in Burke’s work, and the distortions of functional objects that are to the fore in Cotter’s pieces, ultimately offer little in the way of aesthetic enjoyment. This is art that seems more about conceptual engagement and will therefore not be to everyone’s taste.

Yes, there are some interesting ideas here about space, line, geometry, the objecthood of objects, but finally, for me, this exhibition all seems finally quite drearily post-modern and understated, and subtle to the point of obfuscation.

For all the weighty subtextual musings on line and space – compelling as these can be – this is a dull exhibition to view, a slight collection that feels especially so after the heights and hype of The MAC's wonderful recent Warhol retrospective.



Far more colourful is German artist Lothar Götz’s immersive mural piece in the venue’s Sunken Gallery,  entitled Double-take, which I stop into on my way out, hoping for some kind of reward. Three walls of this deep rectangular space are painted into a riot of zigzagging lines and bright swathes of colour, all of this space made a riot of hot pinks, blues, greys, greens – a dizzying colour pop.

Standing in the Sunken Gallery, you become immersed in the experience of colour, geometrical shapes and pattern, even dazed by it, as though you’ve stepped right inside a mural or vivid maze of graffiti. More work like this would have saved the sculptural ruminations upstairs from pretentious tedium.

The Air They Capture is Different runs in The MAC, Belfast until October 13, and Double-take runs until August 18.