Review of The What-ifs: Fiona Ni Mhaoilir, Platform Arts, Belfast

The What-Ifs exhibition at Platform Arts in Belfast examines the interconnectivity of art in society and it’s relationship with the built environment. In addition the artist Fiona Ni Mhaoilir employs humour to parody the preconceptions associated with the reverence accorded to academic theory. The exhibition runs until 27 October.

Illustrating the function of a gallery as a loaded environment in relation to the works exhibited Ni Mhaoilr has meticulously prepared every aspect of the space; from the carefully selected lighting, to the white mesh shades on the windows. The plinths displaying a series of small-scale sculptural works are neatly organized so that they sit in balanced conjunction. This arrangement creates a linear formation enabling each of the works sufficient room to breathe and connect cohesively with each other. One becomes aware of the artist’s intention to communicate a sense of order. There is also an underlying thematic approach inherent here as the construction of the pieces seems emergent from the deconstruction of the materials employed. Death by Titanium White serves as an introduction to the exhibition presenting the viewer with a glimpse of this order/disorder. A pot of white paint has been upturned and spilt across the top of the plinth; four wooden clothes pegs lie in the spillage, coated in the excess of the aftermath. This deliberate accident appears to play upon the female painter’s frustration at the limitations of a career in a traditionally male dominated practice. Removed from it’s domestic context, the common clothes peg features throughout most of the works and it is the artist’s appropriation of this readymade that metaphorically underpins the narratives explored in the exhibition.

With the recent proliferation of poor quality public art sculptures afflicting the Northern Irish landscape and townscapes Ni Mhaoilir offers an alternative perspective to this predicament in the ten collective works entitled The Minumentals: Portable Public Art Proposals. The small scale presents the viewer with an opportunity to relate to the miniature constructs in a tangible way compared to a towering shrine erected in the public domain, usually as a testament to a locale’s history. Although assembled from inexpensive materials each Minumental is rendered precious and alluring by the artist’s careful attention to detail and the competent execution of the selected media. Resembling delicate white porcelain leaves layers of dried white paint adorns the conical structures of Player 1, Player 2 and Culturevator. One of the most fascinating pieces in the exhibition entitled The Burghers of Belfast presents a contemplation on Rodin’s monumental bronze commission Les Bourgeois de Calais (1889). The thick skin of the white paint drapes, slumps and folds across the backbone of the signature peg, each crease adhering to elements of Rodin’s original memorial. Stripped of its precious materiality the artist wishes to convey the fundamental aspects of the heroic Burghers’ self-sacrifice.

The socio-political affiliations of commerce are questioned by Ni Mhaoilir in the works Culturevator and Main Street. A torn Dollar bill encased in a plastic vending machine ball sits on top of a circular structure constructed from pegs, a golden thread attached to a piece of lead weighs down the decommissioned money. Main Street perhaps represents an economy and a cultural identity that is dependant on America and a foreign power that dictates our successes and failures.

In Manicfesto the artist constructs a conceptual pillar from the language of art theory; its classical structure belying the philosophical underpinning of modern academia. Appearing elitist and dependent on pseudo-intellectual pronouncements using obscure language the neo-classical edifice seems built on Ni Mhaoilir ironic columns. Through her direct engagement with issues of power within the field of art Ni Mhaoilir has created a collection of works that engage larger concerns than their scale would indicate.

The What-Ifs, Fiona Ni Mhaoilir, runs until October 27th Platform Arts, 1 Queen St Belfast.

Angela Darby

Photographs by Catherine Devlin
1. Main Street (2012) courtesy the artist