Tell Me Something

Tell Me Something

Carissa Farrell reports on sculptor and multi-media artist Andrew Kearney’s new installation ‘Tell Me Something’ for Limerick City of Culture, which continues Kearney’s focus on the policing of the private individual

As part of Limerick City of Culture, Andrew Kearney has been commissioned to make a new temporary public art work entitled, Tell Me Something. The work takes the form of a large white luminescent torus (ring) positioned two thirds up the height of the chimney stack at the old Cleeves Condensed Milk Factory near the Shannon. It is intended to be visible from throughout the city centre as far up and perhaps further than the Sarsfield Bridge. Kearney is a skilled practitioner and thinker in the realm of public art and this work is a continuation of his ongoing research into finding ways to interpose the human experience of the built and social environment. His enquiry often exploits architecture but his core interest side lines it as a coincidental (but important) factor in a more fascinating examination of the conventions and strictures of the current social order. His recent project Spaces Building Make, at Middlesex University, London, looks at the dynamic between the ‘everyday users’ and the architectural environment of one phase of the university, built between 1974 and 1978.

A number of Kearney’s previous works, Skylum, and Silence echo the entity of The Prisoner, at first innocuous, fragile, even pretty, but upon reflection their inexplicability becomes incongruous and perplexing

Tell Me Something is rigged with rounded LED displays that allow the public to activate the work by means of their mobile phone or other internet device. Kearney selected the chimney stack so as to ‘create a dialogue between the skyline and the people of the city’. During the day it passively reflects its surroundings by means of two way mirrors, at night the LED display is brought to life. Existing as a beacon of curiosity and intrigue it draws out from the audience exactly the questions that Kearney intends. It is an odd pairing of a digitally advanced ‘artwork’ placed on an iconic Victorian architectural feature of the city. It leads to spontaneous reflections on the history and progression of Limerick from economic and industrial stagnation to being a hub of technological research & development, mainly by the strategic positioning of the National Technological Park in Plassey, just on the edge of the city.

In the 1960s television series The Prisoner, a white orb repeatedly foiled its lead character – No. 6 (Patrick McGoohan) in his vain attempts at escape from an idyllic coastal village. The billowing sphere would bounce and chase and was capable of killing its target if necessary. A number of Kearney’s previous works, Skylum, and Silence echo the entity of The Prisoner, at first innocuous, fragile, even pretty, but upon reflection their inexplicability becomes incongruous and perplexing. Skylum and Silence are large suspended inflatables made from white parachute silk that waft and puff. Kearney fitted sensors inside the works that are activated remotely by the exterior environment and
general public so as to animate the works with light and/or sound. In contrast to Tell Me Something this activation is unbeknown to its subjects. In one installation of Silence, birds could be heard at even song but their spasmodic irregularity and mysterious origin was haunting and unnerving. Skylum and Silence have a strange and antique science fiction appearance, a kind of Orwellian peril. The juxtaposition of the torus on the red brick chimney evokes dystopian fictions where control of technology is the preserve a patrician elite. Tell Me Something is visible from far and wide in Limerick, but is the audience looking at it or is it surveying the audience? Perhaps the invitation to interact via the internet is a ploy to gain reverse access to our private digital worlds. Through these works Kearney advocates that we should take note of our surroundings and of how and by whom our environment is configured.

Andrew Kearney is an artist from Limerick who has built a substantial career internationally in both public art and gallery practice. Kearney combines meaningful human enquiry and visual spectacle with influences from popular culture. Tell Me Something will certainly focus the attention of Limerick citizens from April until October.
Carissa Farrell is a Curator and Arts Manager living in Dublin.

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