Opening: Thursday 4 October 2018 6-8pm
“Couched looks at the way in which objects in my parents house have transformed and changed as they have been lived with and moved around. Fabricated by setdesigners, the couch was designed by my father after an armchair he picked up second hand and, through the process of casting an imprint of an original sculpture, my mother’s works are duplicates and inherently mask-like. Both the couch and the sculptures thus originated as copies or stand-ins, lending them a performative quality. As they were never really ‘real’ in the first place, there is no need for them to be considered ruined when they get smashed or overused. They only ever become expanded versions of themselves. Couched presents another iteration of this ongoing work process. In late December, the couch will go back to my parents’ house where other sculptures will inevitably sit on top of it, transforming it once again.” (Christopher Mahon)
In his new performative commission, Christopher Mahon further develops his most recent sculptural experiments using his family’s couch. This object has always occupied central stage in his parents’ living room, surrounded by a changing disarray of objects, antiques, works of art and memorabilia. The pattern for its silkscreen-printed cotton blends together two pieces from the late 1970s when his mother Susanne McKenna studied at Dún Laoghaire College of Art: a textile design; and a re-assembled fiberglass cast that has long been lying in pieces, chipped, broken and trailed through the family house. A third quoted work consists of some small silicone moulds from which Mahon has re-cast numerous masks. In his practice, Mahon has been exploring the dichotomy of various surface textures, investigating how hard, solid materials can transform into pliable, soft substances. He finds working on Couched in many ways similar to a process of sculpting that translates stone carving: working on a hard surface that is then transformed into a soft cover sheet of upholstery, imprinted with an image of the hard shards of a shattered sculpture.(1)
The work is informed by his most recent sculptural experiments: the treatment of folds and dressing that hide and reveal the human figure; the body as an imprint; and the memory of gestures, intimacy and physicality that a garment or series of crumpled sheets can represent and portray. However, Couched is more of an assemblage, choreographed by Mahon as a changeable environment that hosts various ‘performative’ acts. The arrangement in the gallery also draws inspiration from various experiences, including Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellation (2), an alternative therapeutic approach that works with a changing structure of systemic constellations and aims to unstick old patterns and stressors that may impact relationships for generations. The idea of ‘perceptive intuition’ at the heart of Hellinger’s project is reflected in the opening performance which activates the sofa, choreographed by Mahon with actors who specialize in the Meisner Technique, a process built on structured improvisations that promote the ‘reality of doing’.(3)
Couched weaves together various art and intimate histories, spaces conducive to confiding, sensuality, and the act of lounging. Within the ongoing ‘Active Archive – Slow Institution’ project, the couch proposes to present itself as a complex item: a changing sculptural constellation, a conversational corner and a performative platform. After its launch, the sofa will become an integral part of the archive space. People may sit or even lie on it – to read, to rest, to converse. It at times may become a central seating area for talks, shifting from art object to a useful piece of furniture, from being observed to being a place from which to observe. As Mahon’s puts it: “the very fact that the sofa will be in a space from which people come and go, and a space where works are added and shown and moved around, lends nicely to the idea of the work being encountered, being activated, being made use of, being literally pushed around and sat on.”
Lívia Páldi, Curator of Visual Arts
(1) Based on e-mail conversations with the artist.
(2) Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellation, a three-dimensional group process evolved from Hellinger’s engagement during the 1990s with all major forms of psychotherapy, including: Psychoanalysis; Gestalt therapy; Primal therapy; Transactional Analysis and Family Systems Therapy. With the help of other group participants who create an artificial constellation of the client’s family, the process helps patterns to surface for the client,
(3) The Meisner technique is an approach to acting which was developed by the American theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner. The focus of the Meisner approach is for the actor to “get out of their head”, such that the actor is behaving instinctively to the surrounding environment. There is a greater focus on the other actor as opposed to one’s internal thoughts or feelings associated to the character. Source: wikipedia
Christopher Mahon: Couched, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 2018
Opening performance by Conor Hackett, Janet Little and Virginie Naudillon.
Photo: Senija Topcic
Couched was kindly supported by the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam and Momentum Acting Studio, Dublin.
Project Arts Centre is proud to be supported by the Arts Council of Ireland and Dublin City Council.
Kind Words Spoken
Special thanks to Liza Michael and Robbie Byrne at Momentum Acting Studio and actors Virginie Naudillon, Conor Hackett and Janet Little; Kathtrina Furlong and her team at Yours Personally; Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, Amsterdam; Susanne McKenna and Roland Mahon; Kate Heffernan; Peter Maybury; Eimear O’Reilly and the production team at Project Arts Centre.
Christopher Mahon is a sculptor and choreographer. Upcoming exhibitions and performances include From the White Cube to the Netflix at Arko Arts Centre, Seoul and a solo show at Townhouse Gallery, Cairo. Mahon has started a two-year residency at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam.