Dodge | Exhibition Review
Imagine! Festival of Ideas & Politics • An exhibition by Melissa Bailey
Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast • Runs until 26 March ’17
Review: Ciara Conway
From 21-26 March, the Open University presents Melissa Bailey’s exhibition ‘Dodge’ at the Crescent Arts Centre as part of the Belfast festival ‘Imagine: Festival of Ideas and Politics’. Inspired by a story told from the edge, Bailey’s exhibition presents a young man’s marginalisation, his societal withdrawal and alternative domestic dwellings.
Met by a blacked out room, I am taken aback by the malodour of stale cigarettes butts. On the right hand wall there is a projection of photographs that is accompanied by an audio narration of a young Northern Irish man. Situated opposite the projection is what seems to be a mock-up of the dodge bus interior where this young man lives. Makeshift newspaper walls surround three bus seats creating a small-contained space, cluttered with debris such as empty beer bottles, stubbed-out cigarettes and old pizza boxes. I approach the dodge-bus replica and as I do so, spot a note at my feet summoning me to sit and immerse myself in his subsistence.
Temporal displacement is immediate due not only to the darkness and the projected photography, but also to the effect of the looped audio commentary. Upon seating there is no concept of beginning, middle or end; narrative tenses keep us in the past impeding our realisation of his present living condition. He returns to the present in updating us to a squirrel’s whereabouts ‘in the beech tree over there’ and we are ushered into his latest locale. An approximate ten minutes is required to recognise that the audio has been recited once over; chronological unsettling is ‘somewhat’ eased and a more coherent trajectory is attained.
A ten-minute monologue reports the young man’s different domiciles and their locations – caravans and buses in scrap yards, pub car parks and Slieve Croob. He talks of his encounters with unlawful barter, a drunken confrontation, Polish infatuation, and his correlation with nature. Still-life photography includes both urban and rural shots of junk metal, peace walls and populated pubs, of trees, marshes and waterfalls. Even though he describes wildlife encounters with squirrels and kingfishers, no such photography is projected; however, when people appear in the projected photography, they are blurred and out of focus.
Depictions of poetic isolation are juxtaposed tastefully with the harshness of social integration, and underlying tones of loneliness and consolation are intertwined subtly throughout. Nuances of C.S. Lewis are suggested in the calming solitude he finds in the changing colours of the sky at dawn on Slieve Croob, while yearning companionship is suggested in his bird watching: ‘None of them take no short cuts, all of them moving together, distinct and silver against the sky’. Ambiguous notions of his seclusion and potential assimilation are realised in the closing section with his contemplating a hypothetical invitation.
Running until this Sunday, this exhibition is very accessible for lunchtime breaks or homeward bound detours. Its interrogative aspect can be as simple or as complex as one desires, beginning with ‘who is the man on the bus’?