Here Comes the Night

Here Comes the Night at Graphic Studio Gallery, Temple Bar, 8-29th September 2018

  I was delighted to be invited to take part in this exhibition of nocturnes alongside fellow Graphic Studio members Vaida Varnagiene, Julie Ann Haines, Dermot Ryan, Mary Grey and Rebecca Phelan.

With Vaida Varnagiene at the opening of Here Comes the Night (left), a visitor to Graphic Studio Gallery (right)

  Over the last year I have been working on a series of new etchings entitled Fractures. This series developed out of my near-obsession with google street view. For years I had drawn, assembled and etched from the photographs I took. I would walk around cities, compulsively capturing their streets, buildings and shadows. It was only when I was asked to do album art for an Italian musician that I found myself without my source material. I knew exactly which streets I wanted to etch and yet I was no longer in Italy to photograph them. I wanted to retrace the world I knew he occupied, the places he played, lived and wrote in. 


Recognition: A Re-enactment, copper plate etching (album artwork for Francesco Guarino’s debut album) (left), (I fell in love) By Starlight, copper plate etching (right)

  I turned to google street view. I sat at my desk in Dublin, mouse in hand, revisiting the streets of Bologna, searching out the locations I so instinctively felt I needed, screen grabbing as I went. What started out as a seemingly inadequate substitute for really being there, soon turned into an entirely new way of seeing spaces I knew. What struck me most was the visceral affect that revisiting remembered spaces had on me. These places were rendered uncanny. They were places I had been and yet they weren’t. Some had been documented years before or after I had been there, others in seasons I was yet to experience them in. None were captured by night. Some had hoarding round them, roadworks closing them off, others had undergone renovation and were barely recognisable. And yet they transported me. I recognised the piazzas, the architecture, the way the light played among the porticoes; I knew by heart each route I had walked. I felt an aching nostalgia for this place, a place that was now digital, that was confined to the screen of my laptop. Space that is forever in flux, people moving through it, interacting with it, was now fixed, dated, catalogued. 

Dark Matter, copper plate etching

  It was while I wandered and gathered imagery this way that I stumbled upon the fractures. These glitches, visible breaks and broken perspectives litter street view. Sewn together as street view is, from millions of still images, it is no surprise that these occur. What surprised me was how interesting, disorienting and often stunning they are. No doubt in the future, google will iron out every kink, making our views of every city and town seamless, but for now I collect these fractures. Fragmented panes of glass, street lighting that cannot meet,  bridges that appear to break apart, lamp posts that bend and waver, all that seems solid in the real world made brittle through this interface. Of course my street view wanderings were not confined to Italy for long. I began virtually navigating and capturing the locations of an array of places that meant something to me. I drew from these images, etching them in all their perfect imperfection, turning day into night, image into mirror image. 


Wounded Gantry, copper plate etching

  In a way these images are collaborative, not entirely my own, and yet who am I collaborating with? The camera atop that google van (whose shadow I delight in) clicks at record speed; when a van cannot gain access trekkers, tricycles, boats and even snowmobiles are employed to gather data. While every film still can be seen as an art work, I’m not sure the same can be said of these documentary images. There is no human director, no carefully arranged mise-en-scene. Each vantage point is methodically collected and yet random. Perhaps all I’m doing is stealing glimpses, snapshots where the everyday is made strange, labouring over images that may otherwise be lost among the almost infinite bank of imagery captured, making precious what could be purely functional. I want to take the viewer back with me to all those places, but equally I am aware that those places were changed the moment I stopped inhabiting them. Our memories of space are not to be trusted. Neither is the virtual world, for just below the surface we catch sight of the mechanisms upon which it hangs, pieced together as best as it currently can be. The feelings awakened by the illusion are however, real. They are real because for a mere moment I can forget that I am looking at this screen. I can look around, losing myself in my surroundings, willing this suspension of disbelief to last just a little longer.  Etched upon my plates, printed and hung in the physical world are virtual spaces you and I will never visit. I would struggle to find them online once more were it not for their URL. These places exist between digital permanence and ephemera, their subjects captured in a split second, now available for all to see, the world over. Skewed and fractured, much like memory itself, they highlight the inherent inconsistencies we’re faced with when attempting to preserve and document the spaces we occupy.

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