On and Around NEUTRAL

Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, Galway

By Michaƫle Cutaya


In the introduction to his lecture course on The Neutral (given at the College de France in 1978), Roland Barthes states that he will describe the Neutral through a series of thirty figures to ‘unthread its nuances’. He is quick to point out however that this is no ‘intellectual sophistication’:

“What I am looking for is an introduction to living, a guide to life (ethical project): I want to live according to nuance.”

Barthes insists the Neutral isn’t a form of ‘neither-norism’ (‘ninism’ in french):

“the Neutral doesn’t refer to impressions of grayness, of neutrality, of indifference. The Neutral – my Neutral – can refer to intense, strong, unprecedented states. ‘to outplay the paradigm’ is an ardent, burning activity.”


In his essay for the Tulca catalogue, Pádraic E. Moore weaves stories and thoughts around the motif of the cabin in the wood, beginning with Henry Thoreau’s Walden or Life in the Woods. The cabin in the wood for Thoreau, Ted Kaczynski and Moore’s friend E, is a deliberate life choice.

Cabins and woods recur throughout Tulca. The Project Twins Dwelling in 126 Gallery, present a secluded cabin-like space that we can only peep at, with two figures painted inside. Perhaps as two ways to imagine retreat: a flourishing of the imagination with a multiplication of colourful heads, or morbid self-absorption with a body staring at its own severed head.

Cecilia Danell has often explored the constructed nature of the romanticised retreat in the woods. With Build Your Own Scandinavian Loneliness she was offering a flatpack version of this fantasy. In the paintings presented for Tulca, the dense Scandinavian forest dissolves in dripping paint in Suddenly Exposed, and a would-be-smug ‘cabin’ is teetering on the edge of an advancing cliff in All the Change is in me. Authenticity is unlikely to be waiting for us in the deep of the woods.


Matter in its sheer physical presence dominates the Tulca Gallery. It is a troubled presence though, seeking the natural through the artificial or the other way around. There are Lucy Andrews’ subtle interplays of mineral and chemical materials: a concrete block with hydrophobic coating and drop of water in Without Contact, a rock suspended by transparent packaging tape seemingly defies gravity in Stay. There are Brendan Earley’s use of precious materials (bronze, crystal glass) to disguise them as low-end polystyrene packaging in A Million Years Later and Pilgrim. Or Keef Winter juxtaposing natural and artificial materials, playing their texture and density against each other: concrete, crystacal casts, granite, artificial turf and sand in the aptly titled Mixed Feeling Matter. Cheap or precious, natural or artificial these materials seem to posit the irreducibility of a matter that will not be digitised.

Keef Winter - Mixed Feeling matter


In Moore’s essay, Thoreau, Kaczynski and E defied modernity and its technologies – communication technologies in particular – in retiring from it. Moore quotes Kaczynski’s manifesto about how new technologies are first introduced as a choice before becoming an obligation. x

Conor McGarrigle illustrates the encroachment of social media upon our lives rather literally in 24h Social with a wall composed of multiple 6s long Vine videos that keep going over 24 hours. The saturation of space by flickering colourful individualities does have a fragmenting effect. An effect more compellingly visualised however in Jeannette Doyle’s I crossed a line. Four screens, each with letters flashing one at the time, spelling a text of which we can only occasionally grasp a passing word. Hinting at a totality, a meaning that is forever eluding us. A wall panel giving us what we seek, starts with:

“I crossed a line and entered freshly into a world of signs and symbols. Language became increasingly mutable.”

As the colours of the screens, black, red, blue and yellow, suggest the  fragmentation of the colour spectrum by the printing process, the words and sentences are pulverised in flashing letters; conjuring up a schizoid world.

Mark Wallinger - Sleeper


In 24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Jonathan Crary writes of sleep as the last frontier, one always under attack:

“Sleep is a ubiquitous but unseen reminder of a premodernity that has never been fully exceeded, of the agricultural universe which began vanishing 400 years ago. The scandal of sleep is the embeddedness in our lives of the rhythmic oscillations of solar light and darkness, activity and rest, of work and recuperation, that have been eradicated or neutralized elsewhere.”

New drugs are constantly being developed to reduce our need for sleep and enable a state of sleeplessness, the 24/7 zone:

“sleeplessness is the state in which producing, consuming, and discarding occur without pause […] 24/7 steadily undermines distinctions between day and night, between light and dark, and between action and repose. It is a zone of insensibility, of amnesia, of what defeats the possibility of experience.”

There are two works in Neutral with ‘sleep’ in their title, Mark Wallinger’s Sleeper and YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES’s The Art of Sleep. Intriguingly both are sleepless. Sleeper documents moments from the ten nights Wallinger spent in the empty building of the Neue Natioanalgalerie in Berlin, dressed as a bear. The accompanying text refers ‘sleeper’ to double agents that were buried during the cold war awaiting activation. The artist as a bear wanders in the transparent building, sometime hiding and sometimes playing with passers by, but does not sleep.

Young-Hae Chang - The Art of Sleep

The Art of Sleep is an electronic text that follows the manic train of thoughts of an insomniac brain. Sometimes absurd sometimes brilliant, oscillating between epiphany and despair, between the sublime and the mundane we follow in this rhythmically generated text the wayward thoughts of the sleepless. In a constant state of flux, we go from a whining dog to Jorge Luis Borges’ story about a boy that fell and could not forget anything, to a great EUREKA  moment: EVERYTHING IS ART  - soon forgotten through various digressions on cinema before returning to the whining dog and the need for sleep. One can’t help thinking of recent studies identifying sleep as a cleansing process for the brain, a de-cluttering of sorts for ‘unnecessary’ memories.

There was also room for discursivity in this year’s Tulca, quite literally so as two Galway collectives, Branch and Itsa, took over rooms in the Galway Arts Centre for the stir project. Offering an open space for research, presentations, discussions and debates over the two weeks, it was a lively counterpoint to the meditative tone of the exhibition. Well presented, this year’s Tulca exhibition was, perhaps fittingly, restrained in its effects. The somewhat loose curatorial framework allowed the visitors to pick their own path amongst the artworks. Many more deserved attention but fell outside my own train of thoughts.


Roland Barthes, The Neutral, Columbia University Press, 2005.
Jonathan Crary, 24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Verso 2013