The ground level of John Hansard Gallery plays host to the recent productions of Irish artist Siobhán Hapaska. Four large sculptures zigzag the length of the room, while the world outside becomes part of the exhibition, like a film projected through the gallery’s giant windows. The artist’s work prompts a wake-up slap as it translates Greek tragedy-scale despair into our current day goings on.
Beginning with ‘Snake and Apple’ (2018), the artist introduces us to a bunch of so-called ‘apples’, ready to burst within the tight grip of an industrial-style steel structure, which is covered in a snakeskin pattern. It echoes the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and the origin of evil. The glossy red of the apples also points to the poison fed to Snow White. In both stories it is women – Eve and the wicked stepmother – who are villains. Yet Hapaska implies that, far from fault being with the female gender, responsibility lies with the whole of humanity. Ingrained in us all and the way we build our societies is a compulsion to self-harm in the name of progress.
Nearby are the two carbon powder-coated sculptures that make up ‘Candlewick’ (2018). Like burnt flowers plucked from Dr Seuss’s garden, the sculptures add to the sense of gloominess that is bound to our fate. Standing tall, their blackened surfaces flatten the curved shape of each work into a long-necked silhouette. Hapaska is possibly describing the finite quality of nature itself with these flower figures. This is only accentuated by the title of the piece referring to a wick, which is created specifically to emit light as it destroys itself.
‘Love’ (2016) presents two contenders – Adam and Eve perhaps - writhing in near connectivity. Whether they are midway to joining or trapped in a permanent stalemate, like matching magnet ends repelling one another, is unclear. As one figure dominates the other, the warm glow between them conjures up a sense of heat, both cloaked in what looks similar to a horse’s blanket after the race when the animal is sweaty and still panting from the speedy chase. In reality, it is cold, concrete cloth, frozen mid-movement.
At the end of the room, ‘Earthed’ (2018) lures us towards its flashy light which, on closer view, is less disco and more alarm or siren warning. The lighting fixture, housed in a chic, minimalist chandelier, illuminates its own long, dangling cord, which disappears into the floor. Obviously underneath is its power source, though the reptile metaphor worming itself into the underworld is inescapable. Here it appears the wayward danger of the outside world has seeped into the gallery.
It seems the more we advance, the closer we move towards our inevitable obsolescence. Yet Hapaska also describes something of a little humour in the process. The sculptures shrink the viewer like Alice on her cake-eating adventures. We find ourselves in a similar Wonderland, forced to wander and question our own insatiable hunger for the next big thing. When it comes to temptation and taking a bite of the apple, we just can’t resist and, if Siobhán Hapaska is right, there’s little hope the story will end well.