Dorothy Hunter and Neil Clements explore the hinterland between conflict and resolution at the Centre for Contemporary Art
In Britain, Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square isn’t just a tourist attraction, it’s a symbol of and magnet for national pride, built in honour of a hero who died destroying Napoleon’s chances of invading the country.
In 1966, Irish republicans blew up Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street in Dublin, no longer able to stand being lorded over by a monument of imperialist repression. No-one was killed, the debris was cleaned up, and the admiral’s head made a series of public appearances before finding its way into a museum.
Same statue, different fates.
Dorothy Hunter uses a photograph of the O’Connell Street scene in her section of the Production:CCA show at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Derry-Londonderry. Shortly after the bombing, long before the monument was replaced, normal life has returned to the street: cars and vans in 1960s reds and greens trundle around.
A uniformed garda has been caught poking into the corner of the frame, comical and accidental. In the centre of the scene is what remains of the pillar – jagged, truncated, ugly, but in its new state creating a new normality.
At the far end of the frame on which this photograph stands is another photograph, of the Washington Monument. It is unfinished, not yet fully formed. Around it are crude huts, a shanty suburb, where the construction workers live and sleep. The photograph – like that of O’Connell Street, found by Hunter – has been doctored, an image added to the top of the pillar, giving a false sense of neatness, as if to show the column before it was completed would be immodest.
On the floor near the frame bearing the two photographs is a stone plaque, laid flat, resting on a rough wooden palette. It could be there to mark the site of an historic incident, or the final resting place of an important poet, or maybe even to hold the handprints of a Hollywood star. A palimpsest is a surface from which the original text has been wiped, ready to be re-used. This looks like a palimpsest.
Girders lie against one wall. Against another is a picture of the perimeter wall of Armagh Women’s Prison. Rusting iron struts push at the crumbling concrete, a temporary measure, holding it in place pending a final decision. On either side of the photograph, against the wall of the gallery itself, two further struts have been placed, but they’re structurally weak due to elbow joints, and won’t hold anything for long.
Dorothy Hunter’s subject is the moment in time between things – conflicts, fashions, eras – when feelings are gauged and new directions sought. Off to the side is an empty stone square, and leaning casually in the corner is a silver spike, of model of the spire that replaced Nelson in O’Connell Street. A couple of minutes walk from the gallery, on the city walls, is the empty pedestal on which once stood the statue of Governor Walker, which was blown up in 1973.
Neil Clements is also concerned with the moments and the matters in between. ' Bennington High' is a large steel and aluminium structure. A beautiful Aldiss machine projects an image onto a screen at the far end of the frame. The structure itself has been painted grey to match the colour of the projector.
At a midway point are attached a seat and work surface, suggestive of the lecture theatre. The image projected is of blocked lines of colour, curved to shape a vase. The image is a manipulation of Kenneth Noland’s 'Tropical Zone'; the structure draws from Anthony Caro’s brilliant red sculpture, 'Early One Morning'.
A photograph on the wall shows students in the process of constructing a sculpture in the workshop of Central St Martin’s Art College, while another shows a work in progress from sculptor, Brian Wall. Wall was a contemporary of Caro. While Caro achieved greater fame and recognition, he was seen by some as merely following Wall.
A transformation of Robyn Denny’s 'Remember' is shown also, Kodak strips down the side, suggesting development. This work emerged as Clements realised that a reproduction he had seen of 'Remember' in a textbook was not, in fact, the same as the original.
Transformation, change, exchange, mediation, process, consultation: these are all explored by Clements, and Hunter too, in her own way. What comes next, and how. This is a quiet, engaging, thoughtful exhibition, which obliquely and absorbingly explores urgent themes.
Production:CCA runs in the Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry until January 18.