Selected Early Works
Tina O'Connell by Alex Farquharson. Mappin Open 2002.
Entering a publicly funded contemporary art space in Britain in the mid 1990s typically meant encountering a room of decaying organic or industrial material, often overlaid with earnest, didactic allusions to the social, economic or environmental conditions of the locality as exemplified by the venue in which the work was cited.
Tina O'Connell's sculptural interventions are in marked contrast to most site-specific practices of the last ten years or so. Instead of harking back to something known, her additiom to spaces look like they belong to the future, which is odd, since O'Connell's materials are ubiquitous in cities today: concrete, plastic, bitumen, glass. Despite their undeniable physicality, her works often have the uncanny quality of mirages, as if the spaces she has worked in had undergone a transformation, immanently, overnight: the foyer-gallery of the Dublin based Project Arts Space suddenly appears studded withlarge, smooth hemispheres made from concrete exactly matching the existing floor [Absolutely No Stilletoes 1996]. The cool darkness of a large warehouse in Marseille is pierced by numerous incandescent, sharply focused beams of sun light, made by drilling holes through two sets of ceilings [in-Visible Space 1996J. We often feel compelled to interact physically with these strange looking phenomena as if to verify their materiality.
In part, the alien, futuristic quality that many of O'Connell's installations evoke can be attributed to their geometric purity. Typically, her work takes the form of spheres, hemispheres, cubes and cuboids, a minimalist vocabulary that is both timeless an resistant to organic and anthropomorphic readings. The dearth of available symbolism lends these forms an enigmatic, slightly eerie, and sometimes comic air: they seem like visitations from another world. Some put one in mind of the bizarre appearances of Rover, the large, white, intlatable, self-propelled sphere, in the cult 196os series The Prisoner.
Also related to this sd-fi sense of inscrutability is the artist's preference for smooth, gleaming materials that remind one of the fetishistic allure of commodities. The red plastic vacuummoulded ceiling tiles that covered the entire ceiling of a large room at the Arnolfini- Cardinal Red -for instance resemble Californian 'finish fetish' minimalism, enlarged to an architectural scale, or alternatively, retro-minima!ist interiors of certain fashion stores. In Fire Bricks 09991 commodity fetishism is taken to a parodic degree in a series of deluxe, Louis Vuittonstyle, factory-fabricated vinyl zipper cases designed to hold bricks and building blocks. In her PSI version of the piece, each bag contained a single firebrick, of the kind used by Carl Andre in his seminal Equivalent VIII series of brick sculptures. It seemed as if the Andre was coming out in high society drag. The cases were arranged in the exact configuration of the Tate's infamous Equivalent VIII, parodying, perhaps, Equialent's trajectory from radical avant-gardc gesture to precious commodity, while perhaps also having a dig at the wppressed issue of genderspecificity in Andre's choice of materials.
O'Connell's recent series of poured sculptures using thick liquid bitumen- the soft material used for the foundations of roads -look especially fetishistic. In their early incarnations in a traditional pub in Dublin and at PSI in New York, a massive block of shiny black bitumen, weighing a tonne, was left to seep through a tiny aperture, making an obscene shiny column from ceiling to floor, which eventually turned into a thick bubbly mass on the tloor. In the version at the Barley Mow 1999, a closed-circuit television relayed images of the equally suggestive orifice in the centre of the block formed by the flow of bitumen through a small hole made in the floor above the pub.
O'Connell often takes a feature of a space as the initial cue for a new piece of work: the shiny black of the bitumen echoed the shiny dark brown of the buttoned leather banquettes in the Barley Mow; red ceiling tiles echoed the form of the Arnolfini's brutalist concrete ceiling and the red carpet on the stairs leading to the space; the menacing curved and counter-curwd walls that seemed to cut through gallery walls in Do Touch, Do Not Touch 1998! mirrored the glossy black floor of Spacex. The relational aesthetic these installations have with the host space differ from most applications of the term 'site-;pecific', which tend to focus on the historical identities of a space. By focusing on the formal features of a ;pace, O'Connell creates a kind of anti-architecture, or an 'architectural uncanny', as if the building is taking a strange turn, or has taken on a deviant identity.
O'Connell herself prefers the term 'site-reflective' to the more dogmatic 'site-specific'. 'Site-reflective' suggests the work acts in relation to a space, rather than being dependent or constrained by it. The term helps explain why the artist re-uses a certain motif, such as the hemisphere or a block of bitumen, exploring its formal permutations, and revealing how different versions are viewed differently when the location shifts, like Daniel Buren's stripes, for example, or indeed The Prisoner's Rover.
This text was taken frm the Mappin Open Catalogues 2002.
Absolutely No Stilettos - concrete on floor. Project Arts Centre, Dublin, Ireland, 1995.
Absolutely No Stilettos - wall punctured to main stage set.
Tina O'Connell at Spacex. Spacex Gallery, Exter, UK, 1996.
Wall details at Spacex.
Wall details at Spacex.
Cardinal Red. Arnolfini, Bristol, 1993
Cardinal Red. Detail.
Cardinal Red. Detail.
Jelly. TempleBar, Dublin, Ireland, 1992