Art review: Mother Tongue

Art review: Mother Tongue

If you want a snapshot of what contemporary artists are up to right now, head to The MAC for its new exhibition ‘mother tongue’. Here 21 Northern Irish artists are demonstrating skill, preoccupations with a glance at past newish masters. For the show isn’t just about now. 

There is no unmade bed but there is a beautiful and startling portrait of motherhood by Janie Doherty. In Matrescence she shows us an intimate self-portrait with her daughter in the bath next to a large, colourful shot of the placenta that nourished her. The hangings are almost ceremonial.

It is a mixed media show. Here visual art shades into many other genres, including film with Jacqueline Holt’s very personal look at ageing and relationships, and a pet dog named Porsche. It’s called Nothing much happening here, self-deprecatingly, yet everything important in life is depicted. The woman hugs the dog as if needing reassurance, there is a sense of time passing and as the artist-narrator introduces us to her library, not all of it read, we sense the limitations of life. Although she hasn’t got round to Ted Hughes’ Crow, she has read about hip osteoarthritis, and the naturalistic style is oddly compelling.

In our post-Romantic age, which is the era of the self as subject and indeed the selfie, artists often examine the ego. There is some humour in between the contemporary analysis, something not easy to bring off in art. Julie Lovett’s Drawing Abroad shows her prat falling off a low table while attempting to draw on a sketchbook on the floor and in Homesick, she is seen bound in barbed wire with cows in the background. There are images which could almost have migrated from the opening shots of the TV series Miranda. In a sense, Lovett is guying the whole artist shtick and process, cleverly, and the title of one sequence Studio Imposter Continued makes the point. Her self-portrait is naturally titled The Self-obsessed Artist.

There is pain and emotion too and in Sorrow had a baby, a kind of superbly compressed but real, and affecting, slice of autobiography, Myrid Carten examines the long shadow of mental illness in her mother and goes back in time. It’s well edited, and told.

Nearby a sequence of limestone shards climbs the walls to the ceiling. Dorothy Hunter’s as much as one can do actually refers to a Fermanagh and Cavan cave network, a geopark, and the threat of mining but recalls sculptor Richard Long’s attractive stone patterns.

The urban landscape is nailed by artist Michael Hanna via his photographs of Belfast and Milan, the latter with superimposed hands and feet. Images were temporarily beamed to people’s devices within  0.1km, the title of this project. The element of surprise and reinvention is also captured by Jane Butler in Sensing the City, her image of the top of a bus next to a long MAC window customised with yellow film so the view outside is changed.

But there is some familiarity too in Thomas Wells’ tribute to strong women, Neve getting much use out of a chair, referring to strong English and Irish working class grandmothers, with the hand with painted nails about to throw a dart and details of the inside of shoes.

This is a show to revisit.

Jane Hardy

Mother tongue continues at The MAC until July 21.

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