Elizabeth Caffrey

Ulster University

By Hugh Mulholland

Necrotic State 2, 2015

It will be a very long time before we will see a graduate show at the University of Ulster like Elizabeth Caffrey’s or any of the countless other graduates who have been drawn to the fabric and architecture of the soon to be demolished Orpheus Building. Next semester Fine Art will move into a new building without any of the emotional attachment associated with the Orpheus and crucially devoid of the marks of time and history so central to Caffrey’s work.

Caffrey, who has just completed her MFA in Fine Art, occupies two generous spaces in what was known as the plaster room during my time at the Art School in the mid 1980s. Within this context, she performs an archaeological-like examination, revealing and adding to the existing patina of the building’s pre-demolition state, a state which straddles a time between the building’s construction and current decay.

In the first of the two rooms, is an installation entitled, “Necrotic State 2”. In it we find a table on which sits materials compatible both with the building’s construction and its fall into decay. Skim coat and gypsum are piled carefully onto the table top, creating a landscape formation silhouetted by sunlight from a nearby window, bringing together the buildings physical state and the natural world outside its walls.

This referencing both of the materials of the building, with the landscape beyond, is reminiscent of Caffrey’s earlier concerns, which drew heavily on the botanical and biological. Caffrey draws comparisons between her understanding of the importance of the natural world, and her appreciation of the building’s biological state of living and dying, which in its decay and ruin, she exposes as a viral ingestion eating away at its very fabric.

A shift in focus is anticipated just before one enters the second space, with a photograph entitled, “Beyond Skin Towards Otherness”, signifying a much more forensic investigation taking place in the room that follows. In this space, “Necrotic State 1”, the artist’s interventions into the existing, decaying infrastructure, encourages the viewer to question the authenticity of this necrosis, to seek out that which has authentic depth and that which appeals to our post-modern obsession with surface.

Lengths of polythene hang like a skin in the space, curtaining it off around it the remnants of a carefully executed excavation.  In one corner, an area of wall has been carved and chipped away, its mass taking on human proportions referencing the hand and the presence of the artist to reveal the labour involved in her considered intervention.

Caffrey’s work draws attention to the visible and non-visible to successfully explore the historical continuum that links us in a raw, physical way, to a building’s history.