Big Catch Series, 2015
On entering Aoife Powers’ installation in this years Crawford College of Art and Design degree show, it's hard for your eyes to not first be drawn to the floor which is fitted with a hot pink carpet. Against the walls are leaning four large photographs mounted on board, showing bronzed sports fishermen and women against aquamarine seas and azure blue skies, displaying their iridescent catch for the camera. The walls are punctuated by a series of five small, hand sized, images of Persian carpets on dibond. These smaller images have been overlayed with screen printed flecks of gold. The intricate patterns on these pace your passage through the space, drawing the viewer in to examine their complexity, while the larger works demand a distance. Powers' appropriated sports fishing photographs have been selected from stock image websites. In an accompanying vinyl wall text, titled “WE WILL DEFINITELY NEED A BIGGER BOAT…”, she raises the competitive and trophy hunting nature of collecting art. While recognizing her occupation as a collector and recycler of images, Power is ambivalent about who gets to play the arbiter of value.
Whilst the large sports fishing photographs are numbered “The Big Catch Series” one through four, the photographic images of carpets are variously titled “Rugs for the Vogels’ Dorothy” or “Rugs for the Vogels’ Herb”. This act of naming implicates the seminal New York collectors Dorothy and Herb Vogel who became famous for the modest means through which they, from 1962 to 2009, accumulated one of the most important collections of contemporary art in the United States. Dorothy, a librarian, paid the couples living expenses, while Herbs’ income as a postal employee was used to buy art. Herb and Dorothy were able to build their collection on a shoestring by negotiating with hungry artists directly, bypassing galleries, and arriving at studios with cash in hand. The artist Lucio Pozzi described how Herb searched for art “like a truffle hound”.1 In Pairidaeza, one of the publications from the Douglas Hyde Gallery “Leaves and Papers” series, John Hutchinson remarks how Freud’s sofa, draped with a Persian carpet and embellished with cushions, has become “emblematic of the original psychoanalytical practice”. The patterns on these carpets can be argued to represent a walled paradise garden - perhaps a parallel to the perfect collection. Yet the screen printed gold flecks on the surface of the photographic carpets disrupt their harmony, scale and symmetry. These flecks have a noticeable texture and thickness which add a sculptural quality that defines them from the photographic surface. Their seemingly random patterns are reminiscent of the ragged remains of the silver coating on a scratch card. Power investigates the psychology, and perhaps insecurities, of collectors who gather around them what they wish to be associated with.
Powers’ enquiry mirrors that of Lizzie Homershams’ in her feature article Artists Must Eat for Art Monthlys’ March 2015 issue when Homersham asks “What is it that is specific to post-internet art that makes its authors not only more accepting of political compromise on the grounds of their personal struggle but also more comfortable with an art-market integration that is proceeding at a pace...?” In Powers’ images the act of fishing amounts to trophy hunting, to Homersham hunger and hunting seem to permeate the language surrounding collecting. In discussing the call for artists to boycott the London based Zabludowicz Collection, for suspected complicity in the affairs of the Israeli state, Homersham comments “In the art world, the hunger of collectors and institutions and their role in directly (by means, for example, by artist dinners) or indirectly feeding artists is an issue too. The appetite of Anna Zabludowicz for the work of young artists is considerable: in an interview published by Apollo Magazine in October 2008 she describes her approach to collecting emerging art as being ‘a thirst, a lovely feeling of “we shall go hunt and seek”’. Power’s confident degree show displays an astute concern of the politics of contemporary practice through a considered and intelligent body of work. Through quietly utilizing methods of appropriation and appraisal Power questions when and by whom value, economic and otherwise, enters an artwork, and the hunger of both the artist and the collector which this structure feeds.