Curators Notes: Ruth Carroll, RHA Curator
Joseph Heffernan’s first solo exhibition, There were Strange Gatherings, opened in the RHA Ashford Gallery on the evening of March 15th and was subsequently closed the following day following the gallery’s shuttering due to the ongoing Covis-19 crisis and remains closed.
I first came across his work in 2016 as part of his NCAD MFA graduate exhibition in the space on James’ Street, as functions in term time as studios and then given over to exhibition for a short period in June.
Whilst remembering Heffernan’s work within these confines of this temporal space of the annex, I re-read the exhibition texts in particular his reference to Foucault’s concept of the heterotopic space and the description of the social, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘different’ such as ships, psychiatric hospitals, Turkish baths or Gardens. The annex seemed to fit into these rationale, the ex-brewery of office that became a working studio and then exhibition space, parallel functions of the heterotopic.
I own a small piece by this artist. It sits in my apartment on the outskirts of the city and I’m regularly intrigued by its presence, the figure, a lone knight in the shadow of a red sun, driven by some knowledge and adventure, poignant in the current world and calling me to a distant place. Ruth Carroll, Curator, March 2020.
Heffernan’s work deals with created spaces as they relate to the environment of the studio and is influenced by Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopic space as outlined in his 1967 talk Of other space. Heterotopic spaces he suggests are spaces that create an imaginary order and reason, which serve to stress their inexistence elsewhere. These Heterotopia’s include certain social, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘different’ such as ships, psychiatric hospitals, Turkish baths or Gardens. He further argues that space, unlike time, has not yet completed its process of secularization and that there is still a degree of sanctity to the way in which we divide space.
The work explores this idea through the lens of the studio as a sort of Heterotopia, creating a cryptic narrative, which incorporates elements of science fiction, commedia dell’arte and classical mythology in a deceptively simple visual world. There is a theatrical dimension to this world, which is purposefully staged and ambiguous.
The characters in this world appear to be obsessed with a strange compulsion towards repetition that is playful yet also sinister, melancholic and contradictory. They seem to be driven by a sort of esoteric knowledge, which is used to explore themes of identity, alienation and absurdity while also being a meditation on the ritualistic nature of painting. In this sense the protagonists are all involved in a sort of psychodrama or speculative journey where the central issue is their role as invented objects. His current body of work There were Strange Gatherings has begun to take a more suggestive and fragmented look at the internal mechanisms of the studio allowing the pieces to inform and gestate themselves and thus develop an order and reason of their own much like Foucault’s Heterotopias. It is then up to the viewer to constitute an imaginary world based upon these selected fragments.