On the 9th of April we opened Sean Lynch’s new show Adventure: Capital. On the day of the grand opening, Sean Lynch was kind enough to take the staff on a tour of his ambitious exhibition. The following note is comprised from a number of sources: the written materials from the exhibitions, notes from the tour and answers from the succession of questions we barraged Sean with at the end of his address. This note was originally written for the staff here at The Model, who could not attend the tour but on further examination we thought that some of the details cultivated were too good not to share. This note will take you through each of the gallery spaces that the exhibition is situated. Since Adventure: Capital is individually configured for each venue it is displayed in, this note is exclusively for its residence in The Model. Sean Lynch’s Adventure: Capital is coming to a close on the 12th of June so be sure to drop by before it’s too late.
In 2011, Sean Lynch began making artwork celebrating the oeuvre of stone-carving Irish brothers James and John O’Shea. Little is known of the brothers’ background. Villages in both Kilkenny and Cork claim them, but no formal evidence exists to verify these claims. Whether or not they were formally trained is another mystery surrounding the brothers. Sometime during the 1850’s they arrived in Dublin as fully formed virtuoso carvers, where they completed ostentatious sculptures on the new building at Trinity College.
The brothers were also commissioned to carve the building of the Alliance Francaise, Kildare Street, Dublin. The image of the stone carving depicts three monkeys, and is documented in the slideshow. Sean Lynch found these characters to be of particular significance in examining the otherness of the brother’s work: “the monkeys are amazing characters, untainted by Victorian culture.”
The brothers then travelled to Oxford where they were commissioned to work on the New Museum of Natural History. It was said that the O’Sheas were the most economically aware carvers in Britain as they did not carry out preparatory sketches or models of their work before commencement. Therefore, establishments that hired the brothers did not have to compensate them for their prep-work. Instead, the O’Sheas carved from sight, fetching plants from the botanic gardens, which they brought to their scaffold to copy directly from life.
Surprisingly, stone-carving was not considered to be an art form, but a working class tradition. In Oxford the brothers were paid the equivalent of 18 euro a day, but they did have complete freedom to do as they pleased. Their early work illustrated in the slideshow, which depicts monkeys, birds, owls, snakes, squirrels and foxes. As the old classical world was abandoned for the principles of Gothic revival which favoured artisan freedom, the brothers turned to playful innovation.
Unfortunately, in 1859 the brothers’ innovation caused a stir in Oxford when they carved monkeys on a window on a building façade. Darwin’s theory of evolution was considered a radical idea and the monkeys could be viewed as Oxford’s endorsement of the theory. They were pressured to change the carvings and the brothers did, changing the roughly blocked monkeys into cats. According to local legend, the O’Sheas were dismissed from the project and returned the following day and changed the carving again, changing the cats into wise old owls and parrots, direct caricatures of the officials that censored their work at Oxford university.
When the brothers were dismissed from Oxford they roamed to find work in Manchester and Dublin, where they were well revered. The O’Sheas’ carvings are still visible in Oxford today but they are neglected from the discourse on the public realm and the role of the individual within it.
As for the significance of the monkeys being replaced by cats due to censorship, there may be a link worth noting. In the legend of the Keshcorran, king cats are monstrous animals that are found at caves in Co. Sligo and Roscommon. They are said to be the guardians of ‘The Hellmouth gates of Ireland’. Considering this context, by carving cats onto the buildings at Oxford University, the O’Sheas were communicating that this place was truly hell on earth.
During the tour, Lynch remarked of the brothers’ work: “At what point is something so far removed from what you were trying to represent that it becomes grotesque?”
The O’Sheas hold great significance for Lynch, who admires both their humour and their style, which became less restricted at they developed their oeuvre. They were lower-class carvers whom were never recognized as artists. The common thread that weaves together Adventure: Capital is the remedying of this invisibility.
The installation of bricks in gallery B tells a twin narrative. A similar pile of brinks was acquired by the Tate from an artist’s studio posthumously. The Tate paid seven thousand pounds for the bricks, and was highly criticized for misuse of taxpayer money by The Daily Mail. Local legend tells the story of the night of March 5th, 2008 in Waterford where a local, stumbling on his way from the pub happened across a roundabout. The individual, who has never been identified, took the bricks from the roundabout and piled them into the tower shape we see gallery A. A backpacker who happened across the scene took a picture of the pile and sent it to the local paper, who believed it was an interesting public art piece. The pile of bricks was soon hailed as a ground-breaking public art piece by newspapers across the world – including The Daily Mail that was full of praise for the mystery artist.
Sean Lynch remarked that he found this a particularly humorous example of how the lineage of art history can change. What was once criticized as an abuse of taxpayer funding was considered to be a seminal piece of art, in the span of about thirty years.
This installation is a combination of sculptures and prints. Remarking on the mix of sculptures, plastic fruit and print Sean lynch said “imagine that these guys are in a flat share. Some of them are friends and others aren’t. There is a certain amount of friction between them.” On view are the sculptures of the river gods symbolic of abundance, flow, the horns of plenty, and wealth. The plastic fruit also adds to this the idea of abundance, but plastic fruit does not decay, it is forever lasting. Remarking on the presence of the fruit, Lynch told us of families in both Italy and London that are the world’s foremost plastic fruit producers. The fact that the fruit is hand painted and is highly realistic made the artist question again, what constitutes fine art? Who decides what narrative will be told in the lineage of fine art? The fruits are works of art but realistically they will never be thought of fine art. “They’re never going to make it into ‘The Irish Times’ are they?”
He also remarked that during the Venice Biennale where he represented Ireland he consciously choose to exclude potatoes from the plume of plastic fruit. This is an artist who does not pander to stereotypes!
The reproduction of the prints (1927) located in the middle of the gallery C also have an interesting tale to tell. Boris Artzybasheff, a Ukrainian immigrant that worked as an illustrator in the United States, was commissioned to illustrate Irish mystic Ella Young’s accounts of the Goban Soar. The prints may seem unusual, but that could be due to Artzybasheff having never been to Ireland. He simply read Young’s account from The wonder-smith and his son: A tale from the golden childhood of the world and drew from the story. Artzybasheff went on to achieve success as an illustrator, securing commissions from Pan Am and Shell. He also frequently illustrated the cover of Time Magazine. Today he is largely forgotten and his estate has become what’s known as an ‘orphan estate’.
The cursing stone is also a replication used to echo the story of the controversial removal of cursing stones from their island home in Inishmurray, Co. Sligo by the office of public works. The cursing stone were later replaced by replications against public opposition. The island was said to be home to a ‘treasure trove of history and folklore.’
A small model of John Burke’s modernist sculpture Uniflow (1988) is also on display. The original sculpture was commissioned as a piece of public art by Cork city council but was soon removed from its original location (on the corner of a housing estate in Cork city) due to complaints by local residents. Apparently, locals protested the piece as it had become a meeting spot for underage drinkers and had too many sharp edges. Uniflow was moved to a council depot where it lay abandoned. When John Burke passed away it is said that his final wish was granted. He was buried standing up with his arse facing Cork.
A seventeen minute video plays in gallery D. Sean Lynch said that he often fools people into believing that it is only ten minutes in length, ‘just to get them in the door.’ This film navigates the limits of allegory, weaving together the unsung heroes exhibited in the Adventure: Capital to render the boundaries between fact and fiction, history and folklore.