Damaged Goods

PRENUDE is a collaborative piece made between artist Xnthony Keigher, and architect Ronan Gallagher. In the short blurb for the show, we are told of the merging of the sensibilities of art and architecture, whereby “the artist expedites the architectural process, fostering a fluidity of construction and expression, while the architecture tempers the artist promoting minimalism and rigour.”

The relative minimalism of the work does not quell the multiple and disparate visual references in the piece. The stage construction itself is reminiscent of a sauna, a temple or an alter, with masonic undertones in the shapes. The nod in the facial make-up is to mime and perhaps Japanese Noh Theatre. The costume made with Olwyn Kelly and in the shape of an X recalls wrestling costumes and - constructed from bed linen - is both virginal and loaded. Indeed even the minimalism itself can be seen as a visual reference or appropriation, be it a more overarching one.

One wonders how ironic, how self conscious, and indeed how camp the Minimalist modes here adopted are. Camp is characterised by Susan Sontag (1) as “a variant of sophistication, but hardly identical with it”, which - rather more treacherously - “converts the serious into the frivolous”, privileging style and thus undermining content. Are these Minimalist invocations here summoned to be undone?  Such a process - converting the serious into the throwaway and vice versa - can have the possibility and intention of creating ruptures in judgement, taste and discrimination. 

The presence (2) or objecthood of the object - as revered in Minimalist and other practices - has appeared thusfar in Keigher’s work to be a notion both upheld and abused. In performances such as IdioticaThe Melting Ice-cream, and You do know I have no friends?, the constructed stages - following the performances - have been placed within an exhibition context as used and imbued art objects. Up to this point, the objects have been manufactured with the intention of being destroyed: impregnated by the performance act and then exhibited as fetishised damaged goods or relics. In PRENUDE, with an anthropomorphous stage ostensibly constructed and displayed to have a pre-existing presence - to be revered and preserved rather than destroyed - can Keigher bring himself to grant this structure autonomy, or is there a battle for centre stage? 

First encounters with Keigher’s work prompted me to coin the term positive failure - referring to the intentional element of public embarrassment and vulnerability in his performance practice. As the artist points out, the ambition to fail is always a risky one. To begin, or intend, to fail is always in danger of being a success.

Oisin Byrne


1. Notes on Camp, Susan Sontag

2. Micheal Fried refers to both the “stage presence” and “theatricality” of the minimalist object.

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