Siobhan Hapaska: Downfall

Liam Kelly

    Research output: Non-textual formExhibition


    Siobhan Hapaska, The Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, September/November, 2010, curated by Liam Kelly. (This exhibition formed part of the visual arts programme of the Belfast Festival at Queens which runs from the 15th-30th October 2010).The Ormeau Baths Gallery (OBG) hosted a major exhibition of the Belfast born artist Siobhan Hapaska which opened on September 2010.The exhibition was the first in her native city and included a combination of new and recent works. It was curated by Liam Kelly.Siobhan Hapaska is a graduate of Goldsmith’s College, London (1992) and has consistently exhibited in major exhibitions internationally including Documenta X, Germany, Venice Biennale 2001 and Magasin 3, Stockholm. She also shows regularly in Dublin at the Kerlin Gallery and in New York at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Her works are in a number of private and public collections including The Tate Gallery, London.Hapaska is renowned for her inventive and challenging mixed media sculptures and installations and recently exhibited ‘The Nose that Lost its Dog’ (2010) at he Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York (2010). Throughout her career, the artist has received critical acclaim for her work including the esteemed IMMA Glen Dimplex award (1998) and the Paul Hamlyn award for visual art (2003). Her art practice is multilayered and feelings of uncertainty, restlessness and change have marked her work and certain binary conditions such as nature and artifice; presence and absence; life and death have preoccupied the artist in the past.This exhibition ,inter alia, will engage with the lingering theme of dislocation and loss of instinct in recent work.She has said of her practice ‘Uncertainty in my work is very important to me. I’m really not interested in definitive explanations of things – I find certainty so claustrophobic’. Ambivalence is a also a recurring feature of her practice which always resists easy classification. Earlier in her career she moved between forms of aberrant naturalism (e.g. St. Christopher (1995) and Delirious (1996) and a wayward abstraction.Works like Want (1997), Hanker (1997) and Mule (1997) made of highly polished fibreglass recalled the more baroque forms of modernist architecture, aerodynamic modelling of car design and perhaps also a Brancusi-like striving after a certain purity of form. But there was always a subversion and irony at work – most unlike Brancusi. This subversive tendency was further extended by purposefully setting up questioning ensembles of the apparently abstract fragments with more figurative and neo-surreal works. The artist has said of this dichotomy within her work,‘The forms in themselves are meant to embody some possible better world, but there is this persistent entropy which pulls them back’With Hapaska mutations and cross-fertilisation of forms and life systems evolved more and more into hybrid manifestations. Organic life forces would emerge from fabricated objects. And not without humour as in Safe (2003) where a coconut ‘face’ peeps out from a shell/egg-like form.Engagements with conflict, tension and violence underwrite generally much of her work and at times more overtly. Island ( 2003) has palm tree trunks bolstered by sand bags rather than naturally surrounded by sand: paradise seriously interfered with, if not lost. In Sunlight (2004) a yellow structure spurts a cluster of spent bullet cartridges topped with wheat sheaves. That metaphor of persistent sustenance/denial and conflict is further developed in ‘Downfall’ (2009) which will form a centre piece in her exhibition at the OBG.Trees have always featured in a number of Hapaska’s works such as Perpetual (2001) and Holding (2002). In Downfall an uprooted olive tree with root ball is suspended horizontally above two trays: one containing the trees leaves; the other with soil (unproductive and in support of nothing).There is an elegant simplicity in Downfall’s concept and display related to territory and the denial of sustenance. The olive tree is natural to Mediterranean countries and also cultivated in Israel, Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. The olive leaf is symbolic of abundance and peace and has many references as such in The Bible and The Koran. The root system of the olive tree is robust but in Downfall (a multi-layered title) it is subverted and dislocated.The work relates to The Palestinian/Israeli problem which, like N.Ireland, is essentially about cultural identity and territory. The death of the tree in Hapaska’s work is underpinned by two states/ two conditions – one abundant; one denied vitality.Downfall was recently exhibited in New York with The Dog that Lost its Nose( 2009). This work is made up of eleven stainless steel spheres suspended in line from the gallery ceiling, with each sphere increasing in size and coiled with a roll of animal skin (a favourite motif). Each sphere can rotate on a different axis. As such it continues an ongoing interest of the artist in movement, collision, travel and change and the importance of a state of in-betweeness.Siobhan Hapaska’s work depth charges a number of cultural and socio-political issues. The Belfast exhibition opened up for assessment the extent to which biography/identity have been underpinning its development.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2010
    EventSiobhan Hapaska: Downfall - Ormeau Baths Gallery / Belfast
    Duration: 24 Sept 20106 Nov 2010

    Bibliographical note

    Outputmediatype: Mixed media, installation


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