A hand wagging loosely, playing on loop, signals a story. Superimposed words blink at rhythmic intervals, teasing out the catchphrase at a tantalizing tempo: ‘WHEN’. ‘IT’. ‘AIN’T’. ‘ABOUT’. ‘THE’. ‘MONEY’. Notes on Gesture (2015) by Martine Syms is the first work that greets you entering ‘Palimpsest’, an exhibition curated by Charlie Porter at Lismore Castle Arts.
In reply to Syms, Lismore Castle is about money. A seven-acre, zealously renovated medieval fortress towering the steeply rising bank of the Blackwater river in Waterford, Ireland, Lismore has been a home to the Dukes of Devonshire since 1753. In 2005, its current trustee, William Burlington, built the non-profit gallery and started commissioning international curators to put on temporary public shows – a notable lowering of the drawbridge, though a sceptic might be forgiven for thinking this is simply one rarefied display speaking inside another. The title ‘Palimpsest’ certainly suggests such continuities, evoking a curator rousing the perennial themes of ruin and resurrection in a place steeped in tradition.
Clicking noises punctuate Syms’s words and repetitions, jarring with the fleeting murmurs of her collaborator, Diamond Stingily. The dissonance reverberates with Charlotte Prodger’s Sophie with Sheets (2010): four photographs showing a set of Xeroxed images being rolled open by a woman’s hands. Originally teaching aids for animation students, the photocopies present schematic grids of a man’s fist and palm rotating. Where Prodger’s subject leafs through a set of universalized proportions, Stingily interprets title cards by way of dramatic and vernacular gestures. As they sample and reprise generic codes, the women spark new identifications, opening up one visual story to reveal another.
Hanging opposite Prodger’s series, three paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye – Camelot 2 (2019), Camelot 1 (2019) and Three Corners (2018) – similarly conjure responsive human subjects. From a patchwork of broad-brush markings, figures lean towards us with breezy nonchalance, brooding judgment and glinting intensity. Meanwhile, Zoe Leonard’s Untitled (2002) presents a snapshot of a tree’s roots tenderly growing over a curb of pavement: the usually concealed softly questioning that which lies on the surface.
In the next room, four long fabric rectangles are pegged onto mannequins. Andrea Zittel’s Personal Panels (2019) are part of the artist’s ongoing investigation into utilitarian garments. Made by the Tweed Project in Galway from merino wool woven by Molloy & Sons in Donegal, their vernacular materiality impresses itself through their universal design. Flanking the garments, archival documents prize open the history of the castle. An untitled, seemingly bucolic watercolour by Samuel Cook (c.1849), which portrays the outside of Lismore Castle around the time of Ireland’s Great Famine (1845–49), depicts a woman being held at gunpoint by two men. The lingering traces of a fourth figure, almost-erased, remains to face down her oppressors. Something is rumbling from inside this chocolate-box painting.
In the castle’s gardens, crowned within a frame of tousled topiary in the upper garden, Nicole Eisenman’s Large Pipe (2019) plumbs the murky depths of the castle’s patronage. Modelled in viscous clay and holding a mound of tobacco, it melts into phallic shapes, while its contents rouse the presence of Sir Walter Raleigh – the Elizabethan courtier and colonial explorer responsible for bringing tobacco to Britain – who acquired Lismore from the local bishopric in 1589, only to have to sell it 13 years later when he was imprisoned for high treason.
In the lower garden’s 17th-century mini tower, a part of the castle has been sliced open. Slotted into the decaying brickwork, a bar suspends a circular groundsheet, taken by Lloyd from the tower in the west wing. Textured by stains and pieces of flint, its patina resonates with a Richard Wright fresco peeling off the walls – an untitled work from the castle’s 2011 exhibition, ‘Still Life’, curated by Polly Staple. At once simple and self-aware, Lloyd’s gesture condenses the ethos of this show, coyly snipping away at illusions of cultural grandeur.
'Palimpsest' is on view at Lismore Castle until 13 October 2019.
Main image: Charlotte Prodger, Sophie with Sheets 2 (detail), 2015, inkjet print, stainless steel, glass, 90 × 124 × 3 cm. Courtesy: the artist