Disconnected Everyday Tension

The poses and Sartean emptiness appeal to Joanne Savage, but she still isn't sure what to make of the woodlice

There are certain things you would rather not see in forensic detail on video, like close-ups of slaters crawling over each other, between pieces of food, along skirting boards, to a soundtrack of operatic arias alternating with dance tracks.

This is the grotesque substance of 'A Film About Slaters' by Nicholas Keogh, which leaves me feeling more than vaguely nauseous – both existentially and physically. I appreciate that art’s function is not always to please us with beauty and perfection of craft, but is there anything to be gleaned from microscopic consideration of woodlice?

Alongside this questionable video is 'Terminal', an installation by Colm Clarke featuring a white Nissan car with a large suspended branch in front of it, presumably illustrating the confrontation of industry and technology with the natural world. In the boot of the car light shines on a drawing that seems to show a human body merging into a mechanical structure, the natural slowly being subsumed and colonised by the industrial.

Not far off are two religious posters, one hung upside down, their neon texts urging trust in the Lord ('Confidence' and 'Believe' by Brendan O’Neill). So, woodlice proliferating to music, a car and a branch, empty religious imperatives – in the first room of this exhibition at the Golden Thread Gallery are notions of everyday alienation, waves of Sartrean nausea before the emptiness of existence, ugly sentience, technology, the empty sense that God is dead.

In the next room of the ample exhibition space is a rather clever video piece, 'Waiting' by Maurice Doherty. Five waitresses stare straight at the camera, each holding a tray with flutes of what looked like champagne. They stand rigid, holding the pose, faces blank, the trays beginning to wobble slightly as their arms strain to hold the weight aloft. Slowly, one by one they drop their trays, sending shattered glass and liquid over the floor.

This piece is thoughtfully done, an eloquent underlining of the way poses are a prerequisite of daily living. The waitress holds her trays, plays their part. Here, self is subsumed in the role, a mannered representation.

Poses are demanded of us all the time. Perhaps it is only in isolation or with those closest to us that we can be ourselves. For the most part we must hold that tray in place, keep our shoulders back at the till, perfect a corporate smile. As a witty commentary on self-as-performance this piece is wonderful.

Posturing is also the theme of Lorraine Burrell’s 'Pose-off', a video piece showing a parade of muscle men at a contest. All are grotesquely, comically ripped, each muscle in their oiled arms, torsos and legs violently protruding as they flaunt themselves before an excited audience.

To me this piece points to the emptiness of body-worship. What kind of victory is it to be as pneumatically defined and tanned as an action hero, to have spent months and years worrying over six-packs, biceps and protein shakes, snatched steroids and performance thongs as life slips by?

One other work in the collection deserve a mention, 'Plug' by Lorraine Burrell. Another video piece, it shows a woman covered from the waist up with a kind of giant leatherette plug, her legs looking bare and pitiful beneath. The figure struggles to get her prongs into the socket on the wall, straining at all kinds of comical angles before finally jamming into the correct grooves. Hardly profound, but it is very funny.

This exhibition probes the themes of disconnection, alienation and everyday tension in surprising ways. Just don’t spend too long peering at those busy woodlice.

Disconnected: Everyday Tension runs at the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast until April 16.