For my essay I visited Sabina Mac Mahon’s exhibition ‘An Ulaid; South Down Society of Modern Art’, on at the Belfast Expose gallery. Please Read PDF: Sabina Mac Mahon
Does the fact Sabina Mac Mahon uses fictional and non-fiction pieces to produce the series ‘An Ulaid: A south down society of modern art’ (presented at Belfast Expose), effect believability for the viewer?
By Chloe Parker Word count; 1028
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-Belfast Exposed (2015) An Ulaid- South Down Society of Art
[online] http://www.belfastexposed.org/exhibition/An_Ulaid_- _South_Down_Society_of_Modern_Art [visited on 12.03.15]
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Sabina Mac Mahon is known for her work that pushes the idea of alteration and appropriation within imagery, as well as the relationship between truth and photography. Within these controversial topics that Mahon explores, her images show history, lifestyles and the work of different artists that have influenced her own work.
Within this essay I will be exploring why Mahon chooses to use fact and fictional artefacts, and I want to see how this affects the impact on the viewer, and, once finding out some are not original items, if they believe it less or more. I will be looking into the importance or need of truth within photography.
The South Down Society of Modern Art was established in 1927 by seven artists. Their aim was to encourage art and creativity, but also to show appreciation for the increasing development in art, and more specifically with painting. This modernistic way of creating work originally started in Europe and more specifically in cities like Paris. The society focused on Irish themes but was constantly taking in the work by post-impressionists. There were very few artistic groups in the 1920’s that took on this contemporary way of creating art in Ireland, so, particularly in southern Ireland, it was hard to have inspirations, but there were a few in northern Ireland such as Mary Swanzy and Letitia and Eva Hamilton. This meant that the work created by the society has a slight amateurish feel that lacks in individualism, but it does show a future modernistic way that the society felt was so important. Mahon decided to name her work, ‘An Ulaid’, which is after the Society’s only exhibition.
Mahon’s exhibition uses a range of artefacts, from paint pallets to photographs to rough sketches, and these are either real items from the Society but also items that are Mahon’s herself. She also uses text to guide the viewer through her museum like set up, whilst creating and enforcing this recollection of the Society’s history. So why did Mahon decide to use a mixture of real and fictional items, ‘Increasingly the objects that I use in my work hold some kind of personal meaning for me and have real histories that are known, for the most part, only to me’. Is she suggesting that because these objects are her own and they all have narratives to her, they add something more to her, creating a connection with her and this project?
The importance that Mahon has created by producing this body of work is a great one. She has opened our eyes up too an important society which is undeniable. It is similar to the work of Emma Powell, ‘A Life Reviewed: George Eastman through the Viewfinder’, who created digital images of her Kodak camera viewfinder. When talking about the work Powell says, ‘I also wanted to produce the effect of peering into the past, so the viewer would be unsure if the scenes are old or new.’ This is exactly what Mahon does with ‘An Ulaid’; she makes us think about the objects themselves, whether or not that paint pallet has been used by these seven artists or by someone completely different. Powell goes on to say, ‘Through this process I turn the technology that made Eastman famous back on his legacy’, and this is the predominant reason why both Powell and Mahon have created their work; to create a remembrance to these artists who have change art.
Similarly, Joshua Lutz also created a thought provoking body of work, ‘Hesitating Beauty’, which questions the importance of combining fact and fiction. He uses a mixture of documents and real images of his mother during the
last stages of her life with recollections from Lutz’s own memory of growing up with a mother who has a mental illness. If we didn’t have these two different sides to this project then I doubt it would be as effected. We see this imaginative, fun and wild side of him growing up not realizing there was anything different with his mother, but then suddenly you’re hit with these images of reality, of his mother in hospital and images screaming death. This is a very powerful technique.
However, the exhibition, ‘A Family Portrayed’, is a true photographic collection showing the role of photography within the Van Loon family. Everything within the Van Loon home, which is now a museum, is completely theirs, so there can be no doubt or questions of believability. But I do beg the question can photographs be 100% objective? I argue that they cannot. The curators producing this exhibition will have had an influence in what is shown and where it is shown. ‘Family albums to a more personal atmosphere’, perhaps this is why Mahon chose to use her actual family images, to create a really close- knit group that you expect this society to be. Although, Susan Sontag’s theory of ‘Bemused Awareness’ can be argued with these works. We accept the completely factual images but yet Mahon’s work challenges our brains further to imagine what we think was there and what we think wasn’t there.
On the other hand we have the complete opposite. The body of work, ‘Histories/(Hi)stories’, created by Gerard Mermoz shows two figures within one frame that look towards each other as if they are battling. The images present you with lots to think about, such as if history was rewritten what would it be like? This work is completely fictional, and it begs the question of ‘what if?’, the same as Mahon’s but yet not the same as the Van Loon family.
Overall, Mohan’s work will be viewed in two ways; Consequentialists who believe it should be only the work created and used by the Society that is shown to us, and the Categorical, who believe that Mohan adding in artefacts, and most importantly providing us with photographs that originally had no connection to the society, is of high benefit to the viewer. Looking at Mahon’s work I can safely say that I am a Categorical viewer. I believe that by using fact and fiction, reality and myth, Mahon gives us an overall experience and insight into this art society.