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Orla Barry at IMMA

An exhibition by the highly-regarded Irish artist Orla Barry, including a major new film work, Portable Stones, 2005, being shown for the first time in Ireland, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 8 March 2006. The show, entitled Orla Barry: Portable Stones and Other Works, also presents a number of the artist’s other well known works, alongside some less familiar pieces. A performance piece, Wideawake, 2003, will be presented in the Great Hall at IMMA during the private view at 7.15pm on Tuesday 7 March. The exhibition brings together the most wide-ranging selection of Barry’s work ever shown in Ireland.

Orla Barry’s work cannot be classified under a single medium or approach. She sees art as a way of shaping a view of reality, which she does in the first instance in writing and only later in the spoken word, in photographs and films and in performance. Barry sees her visual work as adding an extra layer of meaning to her writing, and the interaction between the two as enhancing, and creating a tension between, both media. Her works begin with the composition of poetic prose – textual fragments that bring together philosophical meditations, casual thoughts and biographical facts, as well as fictional and associative elements. The resulting publications, films and performances explore themes such as linguistic intoxication, proximity and distance, melancholy and frivolity, friendship and family relationships. 

In common with all of her work, Barry’s films are rooted in language and symbols. Her new 63-minute film work, Portable Stones, begins with a girl leaving home to live in a tent in an old cemetery. Here voices waft to her across the sea, carrying her, in her thoughts, to an island where she hears the story of a young man who lived there, presented as an anonymous, disembodied monologue. The use of the monologue has a special importance in Barry’s work. She has explained that she is particularly drawn to its uninterrupted quality and the fact that “with monologue and voice-over you can give anything a voice, even a stone or a piece of seaweed”.  She sees the work “as a fragmented, associative story dealing with two characters who live in a kind of linguistic isolation and who explore different forms of indirect communication”.

Another major work The Barmaid’s Notebook, 1991-2001, comprises a collection of different elements – notes, photographs and found objects. Originally spreading out and filling an entire gallery it is being shown here as a slide projection, with each object being given its own moment on screen  thus creating a distance in the work – a memory of a memory – and also investing each tiny detail the same importance. The “barmaid” of the title is the artist herself, emphasising the semi-autobiographical nature of the work, while the plethora of objects reflects the manner in which she has constantly to adapt her persona to the ever-changing environment of the public bar; in the artist’s words: “A rich gravy. A pauper’s soup….A reproduction of the merciless image of life, all unrelated and all piled up”.

Another landmark piece on which Barry has worked for over a decade is Year X, 2004, in which she took phrases from her notes over the last 13 years and used them to create an expandable calendar, which could be shown in numerous different ways – a text project for which Barry thought up a phrase or word for every day of the year. The panels making up this “reusable year, acrobatic in its possible formations and interpretations” are displayed variously in cases and on the walls.

In the performance work Wideawake, we encounter a stressed-out young woman tripping up and down on a platform in high heels. Clearly abandoned to her fate, she repeatedly begs for someone to book her a hotel for the night. But no one is there. As an abyss of existential anxiety and mental and physical collapse opens up in front of her, a continuous stream of words, “I am acrobatic with words, but my actions cannot always follow my tongue”, provides a touching interior monologue, in which the conscious and the subconscious come together in a hellish downward spiral.

The exhibition also includes Blue Volumes, an ongoing series of spiral-bound notebooks, begun in 1991, which Barry frequently presents within her installations, and new works extending the ongoing Stoney Scrabble at Bastardstown series, first time shown as Story Holders in 1996.

Born in Wexford in 1969, Orla Barry has lived in Belgium for the past 11 years, but still gets the inspiration for and creates most of her work in Ireland. She has exhibited extensively internationally, including solo shows in Brussels, Antwerp, Milan, London and Amsterdam. Her work has been included in prestigious group exhibitions, such as Manifesta 2, Luxembourg, and Prix de la Jeune Peinture Belge, Brussels.  She was short-listed for the IMMA Glen Dimplex Artist’s Award in 1999 and is currently participating on IMMA’s Artists’ Residency Programme.

The exhibition, curated by Seán Kissane, Curator: Exhibitions, IMMA, is a collaboration with Stedelijik Museum Voor Actuele Kunst, (S.M.A.K), Gent. It has also toured to the Camden Arts Centre, London.

A catalogue, with essays by Enrique Juncosa, Director, IMMA, and Eva Wittocx, Curator, S.M.A.K., and an interview between Orla Barry and Bruce Haines, Exhibitions Organiser, Camden Arts Centre, London, accompanies the exhibition (price €20.00). An exhibition guide is also being produced.

In addition to the performance at the private view (Tuesday 7 March), Wideawake will also be performed at 6.30pm on Wednesday 22 March, followed at 7.30pm by a lecture by the celebrated American artist Matt Mullican, who employs a wide variety of media and whose work has long been a source of inspiration to Orla Barry.

Portable Stones continues until 21 May 2006 and Other Works continues until 11 June 2006.

For further information and images please contact Monica Cullinane or Patrice Molloy at Tel: +353 1 612 9900; Email: [email protected].  

28 February 2006