Totems is dense.
As a piece that has been created to “confront and collaborate” with the newly renovated National Gallery of Ireland, my experience of Totems (and then attempting to write about it) was essentially like experiencing a gallery – deeply personal, with certain images sparking associations, others not so much, the fog of over stimulation hitting at a certain point and eventually that full sense of satisfaction that comes from consuming a lot of art.
The images created are sculptural and ephemeral, classical but “pure abstract movement”.
The music was hazy, and darkly emotional and resonated with me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on, but had something to do with an odd primal concept of tradition.
The costumes reminded me of wren boys, clans of rugby playing school boys, and the Madonna.
I saw a lot of Jesus in Totems.
Possibly because it’s impossible to avoid religious symbolism in a piece collaborating with a historical art space.
Possibly because I was born into a devoutly religious family and now cannot help having certain visual associations.
Possibly because there’s a painter called El Greco, and one of the dancers is an elegant, long fingered, sinewy El Greco Jesus.
Does it matter if anyone else saw it? Not particularly. What matters is that Liz Roche has created a piece of work that not only allows space for an audience’s own set of personal references, but asks for it, to imbue the (very beautiful) images created.
Which plays into the ideas of what it is to be a viewer, and then, what it is to be viewed.
John Berger’s “Ways of Seeing” is introduced half way through the piece, while we watch a woman dress – one of classical paintings favourite voyeuristic subjects.
Traditionally, women are “an object of vision; a sight” in gallery spaces, and so there’s a satisfaction to be had from a female dancer’s voice being heard in a room filled with paintings by mostly male artists. It’s a challenge to the space– an acknowledgement of the lack of active female presence in these rooms.
Writing about Totems feels vaguely inappropriate, because it’s a piece that seeks to engage on a deeper, less verbal, more symbolic level. I have no other words to describe it.
Aine for DRAFF
Totems by Liz Roche Company runs at the National Gallery of Ireland until July 9th. Image: Luca Truffarelli
Posted: 8 July 2017