The Isabel Hurley gallery presents the first solo show in our country by Aideen Barry (Cork, Ireland, 1979), featuring a multidisciplinary approach in which video, animation, sculpture, drawing and diorama shape a project developed over the course of three years during which the artist explored the normal and extraordinary aspects of everyday life. The artwork demonstrates how anxiety, humour, horror, banality and tedium converge in daily routines of toilsome tasks and endlessly repeated chores, in addition to what has now become the habitual cognitive and emotional incorporation, through the media, of terrible remote events or absurd and ungraspable models, which one often tries to emulate.
Theorizing about and discussing anxiety and the multiple forms and circumstances in which it is manifested constitutes the discursive core of her work, for which she undertakes on-going investigations of the realms of performance and reality. She makes use of contortions and ridiculous situations, which she records on video and later develops in other media, such as sculpture, drawing or dioramas, always based on sketchbook studies that hold the key to her practice. The tone is both hilarious and pathetic, and the narrative involves strictly personal and everyday domesticity in feminine code. The artist plays with the concept of cognitive dissonance in an attempt to establish an interactive dynamic in that her work is perceived in a paradoxical way, simultaneously attracting and repelling spectators. She aims to draw them in with a pattern in which a single thing may seem familiar, and yet strange and threatening at the same time. Her poetics denote an interest in Irish gothic and das unheimlich (the uncanny), the mysterious and peculiar, with frequent direct or indirect references. All this is a tool for expressing human behaviour in the singular space between fun and awkwardness, creating balance and tension in between. As an Irishwoman she recognizes that she has been significantly influenced by Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, and by the author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, who was less well known, although he was the precursor of the genre and the character. Extrapolating the theme to our time, her line of investigation has nothing to do with haunted houses or diabolic possessions but with revealing to us what contemporary gothic is and how to detect it in its most obvious and familiar day-to-day places: the supermarket, the kitchen, residential areas…etc., where unexplainable things happen nevertheless…! The globalized mood about economic and socio-political instability and the disorders caused by negative alterations in moral values-compulsive consumption, bulimia, a species of “vigorexia” applied to housework, etc…give rise to a situation that evidently connects with Victorian horror stories.
In Possession, a video that embodies the discursive focus of the show, the leading character is a product of the environment in which she is immersed, identifiable with the Irish suburbs. A detonator of that cognitive dissonance, it pertains to the idea of a certain possession or enchantment, as a housewife who succumbs to her circumstances, trapped, crushed by a contemporary Usher in the middle of abandoned and incomplete housing developments from which she is incapable of fleeing. The character responds to an extremely alienating and unhealthy domestic situation. A set of electrical appliances, symbolic instruments of her obligations by which she is possessed, round off the grotesque setting surrounding the chores that at one time were considered “proper for the feminine sex”. The setting chosen by the artist to challenge reality arises from the empathy stemming from her feminine condition. The woman who Aideen Barry incarnates in this performance lives in a continuous present of routine and anxiety in which she lets herself go, in a free fall to nowhere, once she has reached the denial of her own existence. Lacking will, knowledge and freedom; the conscience abolished, unviable without imagination, sensation or memory, she becomes an object or, even more, the extension of others to whom she gives the life and autonomy she has renounced. With these elements she sketches a phenomenological reasoning of enigmatic dark humour.
To expand the vision and complete the video’s meaning, the artist has produced a series of drawings and dioramas, structured in sections that are distributed throughout the gallery and that facilitate visibly recreating human, objectual and animal hybrids to create a catalogue of new beings that are part science fiction and part nightmare. They are peopling our world; they are us, recreated by the artist’s imagination and critical spirit.