I guess you could say Maeve Brennan’s work comes through a research and documentary approach, culminating – mostly – in video installations. But I’ve never really registered it in such categorical terms. It is immediately much more resonant and absorbing for its subject matter, its motifs, but most especially for the sense of what it is as a practice. It is work born out of a commitment to slowness, to unassuming curiosity and to the idea of the journey. Something significant and indeed truthful about seeking out proximity and trying to place and track experiences and understandings, to whatever degree this is possible.
It is a practice that takes her presently to the Middle East, having just finished the Home Workspace Program at Ashkal Alwan (which is now helping to fund her next film) in Beirut. This new work, in its early stages, already proposes something of a compellingly recurrent motif for her: the appearance in some way of the substance of stone or rock, as compressed history – figuring variously as oil-bearing rock, as terrain, as architectural foundation and form. The transitioning between natural, cultural and political makes a comparison with Robert Smithson’s ‘abstract geology’ tempting.
With a work that is so much about people and places, the conceptually mutable presence of rock and stone might seem to be a background subject. But, in practice, there is a resolute sense of materiality and abstraction – a desire for tangibility that must also deal with the frustration and resilience of hard matter. A question of the inert, perhaps, which reminds me of a random but telling conversation we had about explosive rock blasting. It is a practice, then, that in its humane and patient account of how something has been shaped, is trying to get close to and involved with what might yet be latent.
Born in Chicago, now based in Brooklyn, Robert Davis has been creating work that abstracts the foundation substances of artistic practice – beer, wine, coffee, cigarette ash; this following an intense period of (supernatural, representational) collaborative painting with Michael Langlois, their work shown at MCA Chicago in 2009. Selected by Rashid Johnson, artist, New York. Since graduating from Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2012, Maeve Brennan has turned her attention from her native city to the fraught borders and knotty politics of the Middle East. Her film Beit Iksa Boys (2013), which followed a Home Workspace Program residency at Ashkal Alwan in Beirut, has been shortlisted for the 2015 Alwan 3rd Awards Competition. Selected by Phillip Lai, artist, London.
This article was first published in the March 2015 issue.