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"Bathers: Gary Coyle, A K Dolven, Justine Pearsall, Michael John Whelan"
2005-06-28 until 2005-07-23
Temple Bar Gallery and Studios
Dublin, , IE Ireland

The summer show at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios strikes a seasonal note. The title intentionally calls to mind a genre beloved of numerous European artists throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. While the seductive, corpulent, figures depicted by Courbet, Cézanne and a plethora of others may have provided the vehicle for formal and technical innovation, the typical depiction of subject (most often the  female nude)  as ‘object’ (usually of the male gaze) fell out of fashion  with modernism.

Nonetheless, the trope has become a well established point of reference for contemporary artists many of whom have produced memorable variations on the theme as for instance the staged photographic portraits by Rineke  Dijkstra,  whose adolescent bathers gaze out so directly at the viewer  that they deflect us back to ourselves,  or,  the crowded beach scenes of Italian photographer Massimo Vitali where the masses at leisure may almost be taken as a present day reworking of Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres.

The perspective taken by each of the four artists in this group exhibition further subverts the traditional stereotype, either by stretching it to the point of irony, as with the  hybrid,  static but beautifully sculptural form that is the focus of  London-based Norwegian artist A K Dolven’s  film Between the Morning and the handbag (Courtesy - Wilkinson Gallery, London, carlier/gebauer, Berlin) or, quite literally turning it on its head; UK-based artist Justine Pearsall’s Clip Test  presents the body upside down and in multiples as an active and playful presence capable of its own artistry with complex configurations drawn by the synchronised swimmers under and over water.

The bathers are a subtle but animating element in Dublin artist, now living in Berlin, MJ Whelan’s  New Day which references landscape as well as local knowledge in a video piece where sea, sky and rock dominate. The gradual appearance of the bather into and out of a fixed frame is intermittent but essential.  Their movements are slow, deliberate, even ungainly. One figure raises his arms, in shock maybe, as his midriff meets the water, a clue that this piece has been shot in cool northern climes and quite close to home; Dubiners and Joyceans  will recognise the location as the famous 40 foot ‘a glorious place  in the morning’.  

The bather is evident only by his absence in the photograph Lovely Water no 1534, September 26th 2002  by Dublin artist Gary Coyle. In this case the artist is the bather and the daily log that will accompany the image for the duration of the show  gives some idea of  the scope and continuity  of his project. Since 1999 this has involved him documenting in photographs & words his daily swim in the sea at the 40 foot in Sandycove, Co. Dublin.  To date he has swum over 1500 times & has taken some 4,200 photographs. Coyle’s practice, active and ever-expanding, is at some remove from those early inert  figures of which the Impressionists and their successors were so fond but his work has precedence in the philosophy of Beuys and the walks and photographs of Richard Long.

As a parallel event to this exhibition Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, in partnership with Temple Bar Properties, will screen the Irish Premiere of Watermarks a new documentary directed and produced by Yaron Zilberman.  Watermarks uncovers the story of  the Women Swimmers of the Jewish sports club Hakoah, Vienna in the 1930’s.  Zilberman’s carefully crafted film is a celebration of achievement and resilience. It takes the form of conversations with the remarkable women of the Hakoah club intercut with archive footage, newsreels and images raided from dusty family albums.


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