Marianne Keating @ Rampa, Porto
Emoji summary: 🇮🇪🌊🇯🇲
this is my last review of the year (and the decade, ah) before the white pube goes on annual december break. i wanna tie up some thoughts because this has been a really funny and like, an outlier year for us as critics i think. when we began writing, each text was very much an impression. it was this is how it felt to go to this exhibition, ah, this is what shape the art left on my body; like a fingernail crescent dug into a bar of soap. sometimes it was a love bite, and sometimes I didn’t feel anything at all. As time went on, we got fidget-y and woke, and wrote not just about the exhibition but the gallery it was sitting inside. then, not just about the gallery but the art scene it was a part of: the locality, histories, politics, and responsibilities of the wider cultural strategy. This god-tier art criticism is obviously best exercised when i am writing in the place that I live and know best, liverpool, n tbh it’s the writing i appreciate most as a reader too - when it’s opinion made by someone who sees all the changes in seasons and shows. but as much as i have wanted to operate at constant galaxy-brain levels, i haven’t really been able to stay writing there bc in 2019 we have travelled so much - too much, sorry Greta. consensually kidnapped by the art world and taken everywhere from india 2 aberdeen, madly keeping up our weekly writing schedule and day jobs and relationships somehow. it’s been a lot. so p necessarily, naturally, my writing has gone back to impressions and somatic currents. wavy wavy days. This isn’t a bad thing but i can’t shake the weird guilt I have when i roll up to the gallery as an art-tourist to write, cause there must be so much I’m not addressing; like, it’s hard to figure out what people were saying before you walked into the room.
not being familiar with artist, gallery or city THIS was the roadblock thinking inside me like a lump 2 weekends ago when i flew solo to see irish and london-based artist Marianne Keating’s exhibition at Rampa in Porto. if you don’t think the review has started yet, u might think it starts here: The space itself is like an empty, dusty carpark shape thing, down a slope n next to a mechanics. the show had one giant projection playing out loud, a double projection at the back, 2 tv screens mounted and a slide carousel projector clicking through images / alongside a few artefacts. lots of floorspace; lots of telly,,, it was everywhere. and one big still would have punctuated the constant movement; the space was dying for a billboard-size pasted image u’ll just have to trust me. the subject of all the videos was something I didn’t know about until i plopped myself down to watch. After the abolition of the slave trade, the white powers that be wanted to make up for loss of labour in Jamaica and brought a lot of people over from Ireland (who, importantly, were at a point of desperation during the famine) under the conditions of indentured servitude, meaning they would farm coffee, ginger, cane and so on in exchange for housing and food < instead > of pay, until they’d served their contract. the double projection piece Landlessness tells this story through text on screen of conversations between white nightmares, pulled from different archives inc. The Limerick Reporter Archive and National Archives Jamaica. Text like ‘An increased white population will be productive in Jamaica’ and ‘The improvement of the moral and religious conduct of the black population will be achieved by a proper selection of emigrants.’ real, shocking, clinical. an education i’m glad for, and also glad to see coming through in the work of a white artist bc i think white artists should meet the burden of decolonisation like this. i appreciated filling in the gap in my history but i wish alongside the facts was an update, a where are they now if u will. ye there was a hint of this but i wanted to know what it actually meant to be part of the irish diaspora in jamaica for this generation. it felt like the tape ran out before we got there, which is a shame bc dominant voices in this show were colonisers and not the colonised AND this exhibition was aba 65% archive and 35% art, so an update could have balanced the scales. that’s it for me. i was glad for the exhibition but i wanted nowness n newness n a bit more energy i could identify as the artist’s alone beyond composited archive footage + appropriated material which, here, blurred out and away of the artist’s reach and into the history it came from (i mean, see arthur jafa’s Love is the message, the message is Death or jenn nkiru’s REBIRTH IS NECESSARY or Mark Leckey’s oeuvre - these artists brought something to the table, then sat down to eat, and that manifested an atmosphere).
& so what did it mean for this exhibition to happen now at Rampa in Porto? i had to reach out. artists in portugal i spoke to said no one ever puts on political exhibitions, that the conversation doesn’t go there so they were glad Keating’s show brought it to the foreground. this is only Rampa’s 3rd show and all have been external curators, so ppl aren’t sure what they are about yet n neither am I from looking at install shots and press releases but i hope they solidify into something more coherent because from speaking to em they have good politics and I think they could go on to do some good programming that comes from them: both exhibition and show were missing that innateness i guess, outsourcing too much which left me floating as a visitor. it will be good to see what both go on to do next.
* a small p.s. this review was a commission which u may or may not care to know: the curator of this exhibition, Miguel Amado, invited me to Porto to write about the show, which i am super grateful for. Amado was the curator at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art when i was critic-in-residence there and has been super supportive and intent on facilitating paid writing opportunities for us on the white pube before our patreon was where it’s at now. this being a commission doesn’t make me write nice things if that isn’t already obvious, it just pays for my attention and time to reflect on art (and here, covers me physically getting to Portugal woooo). a v good and generous thing imo / see the accounts page on this website for all jobs we do if u wanna have a nose.