Jaki Irvine: This thing echoes
Frith Street Gallery, London
17 January - 1 March 2014
Review by Yvette Greslé
The condition of inhabiting worlds beyond the familiar has the capacity to transform us - how it is we see, and hear. As artists move and migrate across the globe living and working in different places, for many reasons, how do they experience and articulate difference’ Visual images always run the risk of perpetuating, even inadvertently, sedimented prejudices and ways of seeing. Visual archives and legacies produced by colonialism provide innumerable examples of how histories of images, visual languages and modes of representation, in continuous circulation, haunt the present.
Jaki Irvine lives and works both in Mexico City and Dublin. Irvine was born in Dublin in 1966. The video ‘Se compra: Sin é’ fills the gallery space with its soundtrack. Composed by Irvine, this soundtrack brings the sounds of Mexico City into a dialogue with Irish sean-nós or ‘old-style’ singing. The definition of sean-nós is contested but is usually described as solo a capella singing. It is also a form of music passed down through generations of families, and songs are often hundreds of years old. The sung aspect of Irvine’s soundtrack was developed with the Limerick-born singer Louise Phelan who also lives and works in Mexico City. Irvine brings a piano, violin and cello into this experiment with sound, and recordings of city life present sources for voice and instrument. Images oscillate from the interior world of studio recording to traffic-jammed streets, and pavements that function as sites of trade and social interaction. Irvine overlays the ephemeral, intangible experiences of everyday life in Mexico City with sounds that invoke memories and associations of Ireland. The work imagines place, and the transformations brought into being by travel and migration, via a weaving together of documentary style recording; the imagined and felt sensations of memory and the subjectivity of the artist.
Irvine does not set out to speak on behalf of an imagined ‘Other’. Her empathetic camera work and sound recordings refuse to assume an authoritative, linear narrative from an entrenched perspective. Everyday events and human subjects are brought into view, and made visible. ‘Se compra: Sin é’ suggests possibilities for how urban life, cities, and encounters brought about by travel and migration might be theorised.
A photographic installation of 21 photographs on a wallpapered background is titled ‘On the Impossibility of Imagining the Numbers of Dead and Disappeared’. Politically motivated deaths and disappearances are imagined via butterflies photographed in the mountains outside of Angangueo. Colonies of Monarch butterflies cling to forest trees camouflaged in the leaves. Butterflies are associated with the human soul and the installation suggests a shrine to voiceless and invisible subjects, lost in the tumult of violent events. The strength of the exhibition as a whole is precisely Irvine’s harnessing of the poetic; a way of working that avoids the reduction of assuming to speak on behalf of others, or of over-determining our relationship to place, and conditions of travel and migration.