Upcoming Workshops

I will be running an architectural drawing workshop in the Glucksman Gallery beginning this Wednesday and running weekly four four consecutive weeks. This will coincide with the current exhibition Close Encounter: Meetings with Remarkable Buildings.

You can book a place here on the Glucksman Website: http://www.glucksman.org/events/lunchtime-course

Hand- Me -Downs

I was invited around Christmas time by curator, Ana Ospina to express interest in an upcoming group exhibition in the Blue House Gallery in Schull for May 2019. Her curatorial vision for the exhibition was for the selection of works to incapsulate an alternative view of West Cork as seen by the locals, not the usual bucolic, pretty landscapes.

Last Summer I had a brief foray with photographing disused hotels in the West Cork area and ended up taking my research down another path instead. After hearing from Ana, just having finished my Masters studies, this miniscule bit of research in its infant stages popped back into my mind and I felt in my gut it could bring me some fresh ideas for making work in 2019. I wrote a proposal and Ana accepted.

I dug up the photos of a recently closed down (10 years approx) hotel in Bantry Bay from the previous summer and got to some online research of disused hotels in the areas near the bays of west Cork. I honed in on Owenahincha, finding an interesting article about the history of the place as a very popular holiday destination in the 1970’s and 80’s, tantalisingly titled: “Bedraggled Owenahincha- What happened our Vegas?” by Tommy Baker from the Irish Examiner February 2013. I needed to take a trip there next.

The place was a little desolate. The hotel had been refurbished however and it wasn’t even Spring yet, not quite as hopeless a scene as I had imagined. I saw neat rows of empty mobile homes and an interesting but decaying blocky, modernist hotel on a hill overlooking the sand dunes from the main strip. A walk down to the beach also yielded some interesting architecture as I came across some Modernist – style beach houses and a curious bricked-up toilet block with an antennae that still had its LADIES sign in relief on the bricks.

Back in the studios, I began to make drawings from this photographic research with a view to make a full series. A few nice drawings emerged but I needed more field research, an important element of my practice that I often take for granted. Things emerge so naturally out of regular drives around remote areas of the county for me.

Taking more road trips on the brightest days in Early Spring to gather research for this series of works led me to hone in on the run-down structures at the edges of the many rural towns that I passed through. These structures are either shut down and disused or closed for the season during the Spring months. They were no longer serving a function for the locals and struck a contrast to the new architectures that were full of life and the shiny signage in the areas.

These obsolete elements, hand-me-downs from recent pasts are expressed through my charcoal drawings and polaroid photography in Alternative Views. Remote vistas that are devoid of current human activity but nonetheless can claim a presence of their own. Grey, isolated, mundane spaces and structures becoming ravaged by nature serve as a reminder to me of the temporality of my own existence evoking an uncanny sense of past human activity which hangs quietly in the air. More about the instant analogue narratives and drawings in a future post..

Alternative Views opens at 6pm on Friday 17th May 2019 in the Blue House Gallery Schull and runs until the 29th May 2019.

Getting some thoughts in order

After an intensive taught studio masters, I am now now in research stages for my next body of work. Some reflective writing on the work made for Memories of a Nervous System is helpful to continue my art practice effectively.

On Juncture II:
This work was made for my MA final exhibition “Memories of a Nervous System” Research for this drawing, part of the “Juncture” series involved the brutalist architecture style and philosophy. My studio had a view of the demolition of the former tax office building which until recently housed many of the city’s art students(including myself), artist studios and a gallery.

On Pre Fabricate:
I am interested in the process of construction-demolition- reconstruction. Brutalist architecture often used precast concrete elements in order to build up a structure. This work was made to unravel,reconstruct and abstract the idea of defunct structures and objects.

On Leg Work series:
This series of instant analogue photographs were taken during field research and constructed spaces in my studio. The photographs were then edited into curious narratives of non descript times or places.

I like to think of my work as a blurring of reality and fiction and positive and negative space through drawings, collage and instant analogue photographs.
Truthful utilitarian concrete structures from a recent Utopian thinking Era are set into ambiguous vistas through my charcoal drawing and instant analogue constructed narratives. Uncanny dimensions where time and space are blurred, and the familiar becomes increasingly alienlike with the addition of candy colored pigment to plaster sculptural forms.

I am driven to make my work as an act of witness to the built environments which disappear or become crime-ridden, dilapidated and defunct. My research of honest but unnoticed liminal architecture challenges for me an increasingly less truthful and physical experience of the postmodern world during this time of increasing political and moral polarization.

Ciara Rodgers



MEMORIES OF A NERVOUS SYSTEM, MA: ART AND PROCESS DEGREE SHOW, CIT CCAD, 29/11/18-14/12/18

Catalogue Statement for Memories of a Nervous System:

My practice investigates uncanny vistas and defunct, disappearing buildings and technologies. I research theories surrounding the modern ruin, such as the contradiction between the utopic ideals of Modernity and its current tendency to evoke ideas of alienation, crime and dystopia. Forme, the solid aesthetics and materials of Modernist and Brutalist architecture challenge an increasingly less physical and less truthful relationship with the world.

My multi-disciplinary approach includes taking polaroid photographs of anomalies such as brutalist water towers on the edges of urban areas and cast solid forms from broken or defunct and disposable items are a proposal to transform them into peculiar artifacts. I intend to indicate the off-beat quality of architectural or obsolete elements from recent pasts through large-scale charcoal drawing spaces.

Instant photography assists me to physically represent a singular moment (as a silent witness) and using timeless materials like charcoal and plaster, where the process begins and ends with dust aims to reflect the fluctuating horizon line of the landscape.

Ciara Rodgers, 2018

Studio Visit and the New Artist’s Manifesto

This week I visited my colleague Rae’s studio as part of a curatorial project. We read from  Manifesto: A New Role for the Artist by JOHN FOX. MBE. Below is a text that I wrote about Rae’s practice after a great studio chat:

Raphael Llewelyn’s current practice investigates the area of landscape occupied by the Dept of Defence Kilworth Camp located north of Fermoy in Co. Cork. The reason I refer to it as an occupied land is that her historical research has revealed evidence of past communities that previously dwelled or sheltered here. In particular, the community of 102 Irish- speaking tenant families who lived on the Kilworth mountain until 1895 when the land was sold to the British army as their summer training grounds.

In my interview with the artist, she mentions that the physical landscape in this area has not changed at all apart for some forestry. She seems to be taking an existential approach to these past cultures; time and place can move on without human inhabitants.

Using anachronistic methods of research, this work is focused on an Ariel map of the 7000-acre site. Responding in painting, collage and etching, scratching or pinpricking the surface, Llewelyn adds layers above the paper plane and exposes the layers beneath. She is treating the paper as an archaeologist would a plot of land, digging to reveal the past dwellings and lives long forgotten. The landscape itself has varying ways of layering several histories

Also considering the cyclic resurgence and loss of the Irish language, there is an absence and presence/ life and death continuum here. The work is also referencing a constellation; by the time we see them, the stars are already dead. Time is not as linear as we sometimes think it to be

Through Ariel maps the artist is plotting out areas that once existed, singling out areas of dwelling within the map to develop and map out for herself a psychic geography and history of the landscape. The connections I have made between Llewelyn’s work and the reading of Manifesto: A new role for the artist is that Llewelyn acts as our catalyst and connects us through her visual engagements with the history of this site and its past languages and cultures.

De Stijl manifesto, 1918
De Stijl manifesto, 1918

Manifesto: A New Role for the Artist

Population growth, global warming, scarcity, religious and cyber wars, famine, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation and refugees, signal EMERGENCY.  As our financial and religious frameworks are also collapsing, and our media drives anxiety, DEPRESSION looms. So how do we celebrate what is worthwhile and gives us peace of mind? Traditionally some artists have offered inspiration. In our consumer culture however, many of us, including artists, are hi-jacked by spectacle, novelty and celebrity, and encouraged to create investment product.

In this unsettling time we must look to process to find the ground rules of a culture, which may be less materially based, but where more people will actively participate and rejoice in moments that are wonderful. A culture where more of us grow and cook our own food, build our own houses, name our children, bury our dead, mark anniversaries, create new ceremonies for rites of passage and devise whatever drama, stories, songs, music, pageants and jokes that enable people to live more creatively.

Dominant fashionable so-called art, currently perpetuated by a small number of cultural gate-keepers, their institutions and their manipulative dealing, needs to be re-colonised as a mode of intuitive knowledge with a vernacular root. (vernacular – any value that is homebred, homemade, neither bought nor sold  on the market).

A new role for the artist as catalyst, hands on facilitator and celebrant who recognises the artist in us all and liberates the innate creativity of every age through participation and collaboration. A society where re-generation is of the soul and not of economics.

JOHN FOX. MBE.  22 January 2018

The Ghosts of Tower Blocks

I see buildings falling in Glasgow. I see rubble. I ask myself where that rubble goes. I discover that it’s crushed and then used to build new pedestrian streets- so people are walking on the ghosts of tower blocks[1](Cyprien Galliard)

My most recent art practice revolves around the mysterious vista, ambiguous built structures and the alienating effects of precast brutalist structures. I am interested in how Modernist architecture felt too unhomely and inhuman for many of its occupants.

Polaroid format is my preferred form of documentation for recent field research. The ability to produce an instant small, physical, framed memento during the on-site experience of an uncanny urban moment feels almost magical in this increasingly digital age of screens. The unabashed truth and representation of dreams of concrete utopia are what attracts me to the image of this fading form of architecture. It strikes a contrast to what can feel like an increasingly less physical and less truthful experience with the world.

Through the manipulation of 2D imagery and drawing in charcoal from built concrete spaces where I have encountered a sensation of the uncanny, I am attempting to create a heterotopic alternative dimension that is familiar yet unfamiliar. The summer studio period also involved experimentation with plaster casting and the layering of print and drawing to recreate an alienating effect.

[1] GALLIARD, Cyprien., New Romantic: In Conversation with Johnathan Griffin, 2010, frieze.com, accessed 22/08/18

 

Brutalism’s uncanny existence

Ruined modern spaces interrupt the flow of capitalism’s escalated sense of the present tense by creating somewhere a little more desolate, existing outside of one’s everyday city experience. As author and philosophy researcher Dylan Trigg writes, these spaces are haunting in that they insist upon the integration of the past into the present by troubling the citizen with an uncanny effect, evoking a primal sense of “return” to an earlier period. At such “explicitly uncanny” borders “located in the discrepancy between place and time”, there occurs “a creation of a new place from the ruins of the old”. [2] The current city site becomes a temporal hinterland haunted by relics of a previous era as the hybrid of the old and the new combine and change regularly.

While visiting some European cities, one can see that this is exactly what has happened with the architectural style of Brutalism. These buildings suffered the same fate as the Victorian architecture they were built to replace. Standing now as the ghosts of a vanished and failed Modernism, they haunt the city with a memory that many would like to forget, a totalitarian, regimented and collectivist memory, these structures stand on the edge of ruination, in an eerie solitude.haworth-tompkins-robin-hood-gardens-brutalist-estate-london-uk_dezeen_1568_2-1024x731

By the early nineteen-seventies, significant swathes of cities were transformed into either a futuristic Metropolis (according to the architectural elite) or an oppressive, alienating Ballardian dystopia, (according to almost everybody else). As structures, these complexes did not look remotely like any domestic buildings that had come before, even compared to the Bauhaus’s Modernist designs. Brutalists took the Modernist ideal of merging the aesthetics of the industrial and domestic worlds to a new level. There is no single characteristic that one can use to define the style but in general, they shared a bold, sculptural, concrete materiality and a left-leaning Utopian intent in their spatial organisation. Each unique building dominated the landscape they occupied.

Brutalist architects were heavily influenced by Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, a vast concrete housing complex, linked by elevated walkways (or “streets in the sky”), in which shops, leisure facilities, and flats were all contained on-site and within easy access of one another. Completed in 1952 in Marseille, the building took Le Corbusier’s most famous quote – that a house is “a machine for living in” – and applied it to an entire community. The result was a self-contained concrete vessel that is structured like an ocean liner.[3]

This was how the brutalists saw the future, with the city comprised of a continuous series of these sites which looked as if they had been beamed in from an alien planet, positioned on semi-rural urban edge lands or amid urban centres. In the pursuit of an “honesty” about a machine-dependent society they consequentially presented their buildings as almost pathologically repetitive, standardized and automated in their appearance.c7db7195609c74b919e43de37b56b66d

Ideas of symmetry and duplication were now taken to bold new extremes, raw, reinforced concrete, without render, without façade, allowed to stay rough.  “A material both futuristic and primal”[4]. So, if one wishes to know why these buildings seem quite so relentlessly and purposefully ugly, it is because they were meant to be. Brutalists wished to keep architecture functional, striking and honest about both its intent for the public and the nature of the world in which it resided.

Many estates eventually fell into a state of crime-ridden disrepair with underfunding and a poor public unhomely image. Architects and planners moved away from the idea of a uniformed urban grid, and gradually began to drift back towards the disingenuous, labyrinthine and disorientating juxtaposition of myriad styles and vernaculars that the Modernists had once sought to replace.

The Robin Hood Gardens housing complex in London, 1972 was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson and is currently in the demolition stage. A fragment salvaged from the site by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London is to be transported to Italy and displayed at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale titled, Robin Hood Gardens: A Ruin in Reverse.[5]The transformation of a once familiar homely space into something repressed and unhomely accentuates an unnerving truth the metropolis: that all structural “connectedness” is merely an illusion. All built structures, at their heart, will engage with an empty void despite an overwhelming desire for proximity and connection, humans remain fundamentally and irretrievably isolated.

This modern unhomely or unheimlich in the Freudian sense is described as such in his essay, The Uncanny:

It seems obvious that something should be frightening precisely because it is unknown and unfamiliar. But of course, the converse is not true: not everything new and unfamiliar is frightening. All one can say is that what is novel may well prove frightening and uncanny; some things that are novel are indeed frightening, but by no means at all. Something must be added to the novel and the unfamiliar if it is to become uncanny.[6]

These gigantic forms often featured continuous block-like and sometimes disorienting geometrical patterns and elevated walkways with the functional frameworks of the buildings, such as elevator shafts, left exposed as though they were simply mechanical components of the structure shown bare.

In his text, Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopia, which formed originally from a lecture he gave in 1967, Michel Foucault (1926-1984) argues that “structuralism does not entail denial of time; it does involve a certain manner of dealing with what we call time and what we call history”[7]  Brutalist architecture then seemed to exist within two worlds simultaneously which  can be described as a Heterotopia, a concept elaborated on by the philosopher.   On the one hand the bold, utopic ideas within the minds of the architects, and on the other the often bleak, post-war reality of the world. There was a large jump between an imagined utopia and the subsequent failure of its realisation. The ruins of brutalism reveal that hidden memory of a utopian modernism which was at one time familiar to the city, creating an uncanny effect.  Freud’s findings tell us that “Heimlich thus becomes increasingly ambivalent until it finally merges with its antonym unheimlich. The uncanny (das Unheimliche ‘the unhomely’) is in some way a species of the familiar (das Heimliche, ‘the homely’).”[8]p0182g89

While most members of the public are vaguely aware that such buildings were once intended as a force of good and intended to house displaced people in post-war times, these ideas now seem very distant. The architectures of the brutalist style were too unhomely for the population at the time. As Modernism fades from our favor, the effect is uncanny, projects that were once considered exciting, shiny and utopian are now decaying, graffiti-covered backdrops in Netflix shows or music videos. Freud’s term “uncanny (unheimlich) applies to everything that was intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come to the open”[9]

I have found the uncanny to arise most frequently in areas of cities which have remained hidden, denied or left to abandonment and decay. In Berlin for example, on a visit to the few remains of the Berlin wall, one experiences the feeling of uncanniness realising how quickly society moves on from major political events.

These ruins exist barely below the surface of the contemporary city’s life. A common example are the brutalist water towers of Europe (fig.6) placed starkly on the horizon of the city’s most liminal spaces which I am currently photographing in Polaroid format for my studio research. The ability to produce an instant small, physical, framed memento during the on-site experience of an uncanny urban moment feels almost magical in this increasingly digital age of screens. The unabashed truth and representation of dreams of concrete utopia are what attracts some artists to the image of this fading form of architecture as a contrast to what can feel like an increasingly less physical and less truthful experience with the world.

[2] TRIGG, Dylan. The Aesthetics of Decay: nothingness, nostalgia and the absence of reason, New York: Peter Lang, 2006, p.123[3] FREARSON, Amy, Brutalist buildings: Unité d’Habitation, Marseille by Le Corbusier, 2014, dezeen.com, accessed 22/8/18[4] HATHERLY, Owen, Militant Modernism. UK: Zero Books, 2008, p.29[5]MAIRS, Jessica, V&A to recreate Robin Hood Gardens’ streets in the sky at Venice Architecture Biennaledezeen.com, accessed 19/07/18[6] FREUD, Sigmund, The Uncanny, translated by David McLintock, London: Penguin Classics, 2003, p.124[7] FOUCAULT, Michel, Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité Journal, October 1984 p.1[8] FREUD, Sigmund, The Uncanny, translated by David McLintock, London: Penguin Classics, 2003, p.134[9] [9] FREUD, Sigmund, The Uncanny, translated by David McLintock, London: Penguin Classics, 2003, p.132

The Fastnet Rock

Fastnet Rock,  Carraig Aonair, meaning “lonely rock”, in Irish is a small clay-slate islet in the Atlantic Ocean and is the most southerly point of Ireland. It lies 6.5 kilometres southwest of Cape Clear Island and 13 kilometres from County Cork on the Irish mainland. Fastnet is known as “Ireland’s Teardrop as it was the last part of Ireland that 19th century Irish emigrants escaping the Great Famine saw as they sailed to North America.

 

The current lighthouse is the second to be built on the rock and is the highest in Ireland.

The first lighthouse was constructed in 1853 of cast iron with an inner lining of brick and was designed by George Halpin. (see above image taken circa 1900)

In 1891, however, the Commissioners of Irish Lights had resolved that the light was not sufficiently powerful, particularly for the first landfall for many ships crossing the Atlantic. The replacement was constructed of stone, cast iron now being considered unsatisfactory – the whole of the nearby Calf tower above its strengthening casing had been carried away during a gale on 27 November 1881, although without loss of life. On the same day, the sea had broken the glass of the Fastnet Rock lantern.

The new lighthouse was designed by William Douglass and built under the supervision of James Kavanagh. Construction started in 1897 and it entered service on 27 June 1904.  The first floor of the original tower remains, on the highest part of the rock, having been left when it was demolished and converted into an oil store.

I was recently commissioned to create a painting of the Fastnet Rock for a Wedding gift and have tracked the progress in the images below:

 

The finished painting:

IMG_3804

Liminal Space

You can define liminal space in several different ways. It comes from the Latin root word “limen,” which means threshold. Liminal spaces are transitional or transformative spaces. They are the waiting areas between one point in time and space and the next.

Often, when we are in liminal spaces, we have the feeling of just being on the verge of something. Liminal space is, of course, a literal space but there are also spaces of liminality in our mental states. This, too, is a type of liminal space. In some cases, the same place may be at one time liminal and at other times not. Other places may feel like a liminal space regardless of the time of day or year you visit them.

A recent visit to the doctor’s office, which was a two-hour wait had me thinking about liminal space. I read for the first hour but the second hour waiting in that space of people sitting in silence bar a few coughs or chatter from the front desk was very uncomfortable. Self-awareness is heightened as people are getting impatient, shifting in their seats, eyeballing whoever they think may be called next in the unformed “queue” of other patients. There was an uncanny strangeness when I looked up from my book to see the same faces from an hour before with one or two newbies dispersed through the seats which were typically fixed around the perimeter of the room.

Whenever we are at a place during a time that’s not usual for that space, it can feel unsettling. Or if we’re in a liminal space for longer than necessary to pass through to our actual destination, we may experience that same feeling of something being “off” that we can’t quite pinpoint.