Sounds of the city: Artist explains Crawford Art Gallery's latest installation piece

Andrew Kearney Photographed at Crawford Art Gallery at the preview of Mary Swanzy : Voyages and Andrew Kearney : Mechanism. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Limerick-born artist Andrew Kearney is allowing Cork gallery-goers to eavesdrop on what he calls the “oozing activity of the city” with Mechanism, his latest installation in the Crawford art gallery.

Microphones secreted outside the building project the sounds of Cork into the gallery, where they are played as part of Kearney’s light and sound installation, an eight-metre-long suspended cylinder built from modified stage rigging.

“I like that the microphone listens to fragments of things: you hear bits of music or you hear a fragment of a conversation,” the artist says. “It’s like switching the dial on an old radio and getting snippets of all these

activities.

You get birdsong, you can hear what the weather is doing. Once it’s set up, it listens and doesn’t judge: a baby in a pram crying, or an ambulance going by.

Kearney, whose studio is now in London, is a mixed media installation artist whose work often has site-specific elements: he has worked on commissions for Heathrow’s Terminal one, Westminster Council’s Millennium Project and at the Boiler House in Ballymun.

This is the third outing for Mechanism; earlier iterations of the work have been on display at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris and at The Dock Arts Centre in Leitrim. While some of the installations are a moveable feast, some have been created for a specific location, which, in the case of the Crawford outing, meant the creation of three new elements to fit alongside the large gallery space.

“This was the first time I got to use a contemporary space designed by an architect to be a gallery,” Kearney says.

“I quite like the way the pieces sit together. I don’t get an opportunity to see them like that usually, because my studio isn’t big enough. That’s why the gallery becomes my studio while I’m installing the work.”

A giant metallic orb, a lighting scheme that gradually plunges the gallery space into magenta light over the course of the day, and a huge foil mandala suspended on the outside of the building are some of the other

elements that make up Mechanism.

Twenty black ceramic urns, standing atop a blank white wall, are tantalisingly out of reach despite the presence of a swimming pool ladder Kearney describes as “Duchamp-like.”

These are, he says, a personal response to a visit he made to Nazi camps in Poland, where many gay men were killed. But Kearney is not keen to impose a narrative on his audience, preferring to allow visitors to interact with the installations in their own way.

“I haven’t put any text on the walls so initially you go into the space and make your own decisions about the feelings and emotions and responses and baggage you take into the space,” he says.

“The relationship between the ladder and the ceramics at the top is set up so you know the only way you’d see this is if you were at the bottom of a pool. I set up a set of ideas or reactions, but it’s up to the audience how they negotiate those different elements within the work.”

Similarly, the presence of a large, black, astroturf-clad tree, in endless slow, repetitive motion across the floor of the gallery, one of the three installations in Mechanism that are Cork-specific, may be relatable to the loss of trees in the second city to storms, but Kearney infers a broader ecological message.

“I’m aware of things like acid rain issues in trees and I garden a lot, but I don’t always carry that aspect of my private life into the work,” he says. “This is puppet-like, amorphic; it could also be an animal from the deep, or oneself.”

“The tree is a sort of metaphor for one’s own life-cycle, but also how we as humans treat those organic entities that we live with in the world.”

Andrew Kearney’s Mechanism is at the Crawford Art Gallery, Emmet Place, Cork, until May 26

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