Tadhg McSweeney: Pictures from the Surface

9 July - 7 August 2015

All’s well that begins well and will have no end.


With an airy lightness, seemingly brittle but with underlying strength and resilience, Tadhg McSweeney’s assemblages document an exploration of the world around us – it’s various landscapes and built environments. He explores boundaries between painting, sculpture and installation with a broad and experienced understanding of how things work. McSweeney’s process involves combining off-cuts, fragments and found objects to investigate the properties of materials and how they behave. They are maquettes of abstract forms that disregard responsibility towards practical function, structures that spring forth as manifestations of ideas that take place intuitively-plans are not drawn up, leaving space open for unpredictability and imagination. Some structures are built using older works that have been taken apart, sundering various assemblages from previous exhibitions and allowing them to become part of a new piece. This process of construction and deconstruction is one of the defining factors of McSweeney’s practice as fragments within the work are granted a cyclical function. His recent work, often becoming a museum for previously articulated ideas as the history of the artists practice is contained within each piece, like a set of matryoshka dolls. Lighting is also important. It shines through the assemblages illuminating various reflective surfaces and casting an array of shadows across the floor. Ripples of light permeate a frosted window onto the wall behind and silhouettes shudder. These shadows and silhouettes are very much a part of the work as they create other surfaces and images. The purpose of shadows is to deceive the senses and present us with a phantom world. McSweeney’s assemblages reveal, simultaneously, their interior and exterior and there is a feeling of being presented with several perspectives at once. In many ways McSweeney’s work is concerned with how we produce our environment and subsequently how we interact with that production. The dialectic of inside and outside is ubiquitous and thus evokes Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, in which he writes extensively on the matter. Bachelard highlights as a poetic example, the work of Henri Michause and his tendency to “aggravate the line of demarcation between outside and inside” in his struggle to resolve his inner understanding of the world with his outer participation in it. We can observe a similar preoccupation between the dichotomy of inside and outside in the work of McSweeney who brings his knowledge and skill of building to bear on these precise and idiosyncratic structures that simultaneously evoke carpentry and architecture. The work spurs reflection on such dichotomies as interior and exterior, absence and presence, fragment and whole. In a series of three-dimensional collages that often relate to each other, there is a development of terrains, landscapes, cityscapes and archipelagoes as well as structures that evoke an anti-monumental and transient kind of architecture that is characteristic of shantytowns. Fractured and segregated, sectioned, bordered and self contained, the work alludes to the closing gap between nature and culture that is associated with modernity. Embedded in Tadhg Mcsweeney’s practice is his admiration for sculptors of the Russian avant-garde like Vladimir Tatlin and Kazimir Malevich. Consequentley the work is given an art historical context that relates to developments in the medium of sculpture at a time when such artists were coming to terms with the rapidly chainging landscape of modernity as well as the role of art in society and revolution. Malevich’s futurist opera Victory Over the Sun tells a story of capturing the sun and thus establishes a new viewpoint amidst the continuities of time and space. The first scene of the opera begins with two strongmen surging through the curtain onto a black and white set to declare “All’s well that begins well and will have no end”. A poster dating from 1913 proclaims that the performances, which took place in Luna Park Theatre in St Petersburg, were the first productions of Futurist theatre in the world. The Strongmen close the opera much as it began calling out again “All’s well that begins well and has no end. The world will die but for us there is no end”. The opera was an expression of both revolution and cyclicality. Similarly Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1919-1925) contained compartments inside the tower that revolved at different speeds. Svetlana Boym, in her essay entitled Ruins of the Avant-Garde has argued that the significance of Tatlin’s tower lay in its emblematic stance; as a symbol for revolution, “Tatlin’s tower embodied many explicit and implicit meanings of the word ‘revolution’. Originally from a scientific discourse, the word first meant repetition and rotation. Only in the seventeenth century did it begin to signify its opposite: a breakthrough, an unrepeatable event”. In essence these are artistic productions that champion unfinalizeability, a sentiment echoed in Tadhg McSweeney’s work whose assemblages conjure a structurally evolving world that is perpetually constructed and reconstructed, manifesting in a surface topography that acts simultaneously as a vessel for past values and utopian projections of the future.


Ingrid Lyons is an artist and writer based in Dublin