Mac Athlaoich’s flags at Weber&Weber Gallery in Turin
“I write to traverse myself” – says Henri Michaux. Georges Perec, on the other hand, will inhabit the beloved blank page of potential, glimpsing in it the territory of a void/full, where each artist ‘extrapolates’ the expressions of their own vision. Can the ‘neutral wall’ of an art gallery advocate for a lived-in space, ready to welcome the work?
The solo show Percept/Ethos by the Irish artist Colm Mac Athlaoich, which opened in November 2021 at the Weber & Weber Gallery in Turin curated by Valeria Ceregini, is a valid example of spontaneous and vital dialogue between art and the architectural space used for it.
The poetry of observation: reflections on a ‘framed reality’
Reality implies much more than what we see. What is outlined, through perception, is the existence of a territory impossible to enclose within predefined boundaries. For a long time, in fact, we focused on a cultural attitude aimed at classifying, bringing to light, organizing, disciplining the strength of a unique, almost totalizing reality. As it is well explained by Francesca Alfano Miglietti, today Art suggests:
A way of seeing through a ‘half-breed’ gaze, a look beyond that border line […] a knowledge capable of becoming a mobile point of view, a collection of stories, places, trends. An alteration that changes the gaze and establishes new ways of relating and contact.
The question of images and looks becomes a real poetic question.
A new way of approaching the images of the press and of mass media in general is that offered by the artist of Irish origin and currently residing in Brussels, Colm Mac Athlaoich. As emotionally described by Els Opsomer, in conversation with the artist:
Your paintings abstract the rawness of reality. On the one hand, the image of reality becomes darker, on the other it makes it more palpable. Your visual attitude is one of hesitation and persistence combined. […] It is an invitation to look and review the painting and to imagine the mother source. Only a small hint of what might be the premises of the original image is provided.
[…] You and your paintings seem to question humanity as a whole.
Mac Athlaoich, starting and drawing inspiration from the chaotic media universe, with four series of international exhibitions entitled Percept, Percept/Pathos, Percept/Logos, Percept/Ethos, confronts and outlines an alternative vision of extremely hot topics, such as conflict, migrations, the relationship of the individual with the media and the press.
Percept: an emotional response to seeing
As Deleuze suggests: «to take off perception from the perceptions of objects.»
[…] The work does not exist as what we see, but as what we feel.
In Mac Athlaoich, ‘percept’ illustrates how observation is articulated, when we come in contact with an image that attracts our attention.
The artist’s design methodology originates from the encounter with images and photographs. We proceed with a careful work of re-elaboration: drawings, cutouts, recompositions, digital editing. The fundamental feature of the process seems to be condensed in the continuous dialogue between the figuration of the sources and the reworking that aims at abstraction:
Maybe the reason I’m drawn to abstraction is that I like to leave the image unresolved; I like to think that the viewers find ‘something else’ in the image, something that concerns them personally, allowing the image to continue to exist without a ‘fixed point’. There is always a friction between the making of the image: it is almost recognizable, and then it isn’t anymore. And this is always a challenge with yourself: you are struggling to solve an image for yourself, and then you have to back off and stop.
In regards to the encounter with the pictorial surface and the relationship with matter, Mac Athlaoich adds:
Scraping, drawing, collage, project, modification, coloring, modeling and inverting. We are drawn to familiar but unknown places. We try to recognize figures and landscapes but we always return to the pictorial fact, to the matter itself. The tactile gaze trains us to fall into a place of harmony and musicality through the use of its soft colors and elaborate compositions. Everything is above and below the surface
The shades of matter and color that the artist imprints on the canvas are the expression of a sensorial layering work that continually appeals to vital palpability, as well as to self-sabotage:
[…] Drawing is just something to bounce off from […] it’s a control point. Once the pieces begin to come together on the canvas, you can take liberties and make decisions. In reality, with painting I try to run into difficult situations […] Part of my practice is aware that sometimes I will deliberately self-sabotage the work to get out of the comfort zone and the linearity of working in a certain way.
Perhaps what has been said derives from having been led to embrace happy accidents as a child?
Colm Mac Athlaoich’s layered paintings invite the viewer to a free, liquid and dynamic gaze, where every “fragment of vision, every excerpt, every fold”, becomes an opportunity for a linguistic investigation that aims to open a different way to perceive everyday life and its visual landscape.
The look of otherness: R.flag
Percept / Ethos investigates the materiality of the flag photographed first as an object and secondly as the embodiment of a multitude of narratives. The assortment of flags selected for the job comes from the Internet and from my personal documentation […]
Positioning, design, color, symbol, context, text, message – all these possibilities coexist with the flag. The painting process reflects these elements in the construction. […] The flag subject in this series questions its purpose, its meaning.
Above all, the refugee flag, created for the Tokyo Olympics, represents an identity without a nation, it overturns our notion of semiotics, symbolism, nationalism, it is ultimately counter-colonial. Much of our perception of flags is tied to color and pattern, so reversing these signals means playing with our idea of identity or at least questioning our relationship with it
The artist, through the reworking of the flag element, outlines a mental landscape where the continuous mutation of the gaze, as well as the meeting/clash of multiple points of view, open up to the possibility of conceiving the world through an opening in front of the other.
As pointed out once again by Els Opsomer:
Your image appropriation process adds a huge part to its meaning. Display a subtle attitude towards the documents you come across. This appropriation is one of kindness, reluctance and respect. It emphasizes and it invites to watch carefully. Your paintings are layered.
The moment they appear, they question themselves.
Openings of encounter: sharing spaces and multiple visions
In the exhibition path created in November and December 2021 at the Weber&Weber Gallery in Turin, the different variants of the R.Flag, as well as Clean Beach and Safe Swimming, moved in a ‘room trajectory’ that with the presence of doors and passages, even if only traced in the strong wall and from the high ceiling, has given further keys to understanding the artist’s project.
If, in fact, we stopped and reflected on the condition of the refugee, we would immediately realize that this is the sad and complex condition of people who see, symbolically and dramatically, closing the door of their house behind them. These people, hopeful and with nothing left to lose, move their gaze and their body towards a new and unknown door opening. The refugee epic has to do with a large labyrinth of openings and doors: generously open or closed. So the door becomes a symbol of salvation or condemnation, hope or delusion.
Colm’s flags, in a treasure chest in the Turin quadrilateral, advocate for the need to see beyond a given reality. With respectful, dutiful spirit of reflection, to be applied always and in any case.
The door: escapes of the imagination
Georges Perec talks about the door, between physical presence and evocative symbolism in his Species of spaces:
We protect ourselves, we barricade ourselves. Doors block and separate. Doors break the space, split it, they prohibit osmosis, they impose compartmentalization. […]
We must cross the threshold, we must communicate […]
In architecture, the door emphasizes a passage, the connection between one space and another, aesthetics and consistency with a design idea. In this regard, the great Carlo Scarpa gave a profound reflection on the relationship between the width of architectural spaces, including interstitial ones, and the materials to be used for design.
The door element in Love architecture by Giò Ponti to Amate “is an invitation”. On the subject, Luisa Gusberti wrote:
[…] through it one enters the home, the new world, intimate, personal, harbor, hospitality, comfort, shelter and refuge, out of the miseries and wickedness of the world (for this reason law prohibits entering someone’s property: it is a violation of a dream or a desperation)
In Bachelard the door, the ‘geometric homeland’, meets the being and its intimacy. In fact, addressing the dialectic of the outside and the inside, he affirms:
The door is a whole cosmos […] One would tell one’s whole life, if one were to say of all the doors that have closed, open, of all the doors that one would like to reopen
The photographic and documentary repertoire accompanying the text is shown here with the kind permission of the artist.
G. Bachelard, La poetica dello spazio, Edizioni Dedalo, Bari 2006.
F. Alfano Miglietti, A perdita d’occhio. Visibilità e invisibilità nell’arte contemporanea, Skira, Milano 2018.
G. Perec, Specie di spazi, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1996.
G. Ponti, Amate l’architettura. L’architettura è un cristallo, Rizzoli, Milano 2015.
Texts of the exhibitions
Percept/Ethos, edited by V.Ceregini, Galleria Weber&Weber, Torino 2021.
Percept/Logos, edited by E. Opsomer, HangTough Contemporary, Dublin 2021.
Percept/Pathos, Colm Mac Athlaoich in conversation with Erik Bergrin, Grove Collective, London 2021.
Percept, Colm Mac Athlaoich in conversation with Antoine Langenieux-Villard and Amelia Bowles, Luan Gallery, Athlone 2021.