EVA International: A Heavy Duty Show on Limerick’s Industrial History

Inti Guerrero’s show taps relentlessly at the question: what is the human cost of industry?

Hanging in the archway of Limerick’s municipal art gallery is a paean to the city’s industrial past. A painting by Seán Keating, Night Candles Are Burnt Out (1927) shows a local hydroelectric power plant as an allegory for the dawn of a new era. In the background, the gleaming white fortress of the plant straddles a river abutted by a rocky valley. Developed between 1925 and 1929 by the new government of the Irish Free State, the structure harnessed the force of the Shannon river to electrify all counties in rural Ireland through a ground-breaking national scheme. Figures in the foreground represent the ethics of this historical turning point: a corpse hangs from a pylon as a cautionary sign of the country’s poverty-stricken future without industry; a priest reads from a prayer book as a symbol of the unwavering significance of the Catholic Church; and a man watchfully points out the backdrop to a young boy, dramatizing the artist’s instruction to the viewer. See, measure, conquer. 

The Columbian-born curator Inti Guerrero positions Keating’s painting at the centre of this year’s EVA International – a 12-week contemporary art exhibition across five venues in Limerick (and the Irish Museum of Art in Dublin). Bringing this historical piece into dialogue with contemporary works by 55 artists from 27 countries, he nimbly disrupts its original meaning. The human cost of industry is continually hinted at throughout the show – from Viriya Choptpanyavisut’s video of impoverished fishermen silhouetted by a Bangkok skyline, to Uchekuwu James-Iroha’s photographs of men lining Lagos’s electricity circuits in a chain. The threat of rigidly held beliefs is another prevailing theme – from Akiq AW’s photographs of militarist propaganda in Jogja to John Duncan’s photographs of anti-Catholic bonfires in Belfast. And man’s slippery grip on technology impresses you like a knock to the head, most explicitly in Sam Keogh’s garbled performance in which he fruitlessly tries to explain the functions of a defunct starship control panel.


Sean Keating, Night Candles Are Burnt Out, 1929. Courtesy: the artists estate 

Sean Keating, Night Candles Are Burnt Out, 1929, oil on canvas, 1 x 1.3 m. Courtesy: the artist's estate 

Guerrero’s playfully subversive approach to Keating’s painting foreshadows his curation of the biennial as a whole. He has refused to give this year’s EVA a theme, describing it instead as a ‘cosmology’ of loosely related exhibitions. Such vagueness might be seen as just a stand-in for the woolly titles that so many of today’s international art biennials wear. Yet the fact he admits to it is revealing. Rather than putting on a pretence of seamless cohesion, Guerrero embraces antagonism in a way that speaks to tensions in Limerick’s social – and architectural – history. 

Ten installations haunt the dank warehouses of the Cleeve’s condensed milk factory, EVA’s largest venue on an extinct industrial site on the northern bank of the river Shannon. Broadly responding to failed narratives and ideologies of progress, the works resonate with their dilapidated surroundings. In Isabel Nolan’s 2018 installation, Section (Sun Comprehending Glass), architectural forms literally fold in on themselves. Three concentric chandelier-like sculptures diagonally overhang a factory floor. Dimly illuminated by one lightbulb and draped in undulating swathes of dip-dyed cotton, they take on the appearance of ornaments that have lost their function, affirmations of grandeur on the brink of collapse. 


Adrian Duncan and Feargal Ward, The soil became Scandinavian, 2018, mixed-media installation view at the 38th EVA International 2018.  Courtesy the artists; Photograph: Deirdre Power

Adrian Duncan and Feargal Ward, The soil became Scandinavian, 2018, mixed-media installation view at the 38th EVA International 2018. Courtesy the artists; photograph: Deirdre Power

Where Nolan deflates the vocabulary of grandiose architecture, Laurent Grasso pushes it to a dystopian extreme. An 11-minute video, Soleil Double (2014) presents a hypnotic montage of neo-classical sculptures and cityscapes filmed in Benito Mussolini’s Esposizione Universale di Roma, the district designed as the site of the 1942 World Fair as a celebration of Fascism (a plan that went unrealized). Static, unpeopled shots of austere monuments are animated by the addition of two suns glimmering in an ochre sky. Bifurcated light rays pierce the rigid arches of a colossal palace. A double shadow looms beneath a saluting sculpture. The fantasy of order is stretched to breaking point.  

Elsewhere in the factory, Beto Shwafaty’s photographic series, Remediations (2010–14), similarly appropriates historical imagery in a way that thwarts its political purpose. Concrete art motifs are superimposed on idealized representations of Brazil, spanning from military propaganda to colonial stereotypes. Presented alongside Alexander Apostol’s video of an op-art industrial interior in eastern Venezuela and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s empty gallery interpretation of Brazil’s utopian capital, Shwafaty’s series brings art historical and nationalist narratives into jarring confrontation with one another. 


John Gerrard, Solar Reserve, 2014, computer simulation. Courtesy: the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery, London, Simon Preston Gallery, NY and EVA International

Throughout the industrial site, you get the sense that the works have been cast up from a kind of shipwreck. Take Adrian Duncan and Fergal Ward’s video installation, The Soil Became Scandinavian (2018) which is based on a chronicle dating from 1946. It tells an unfinished story of an Irish forester’s quest for tree trunks in Finland to be used as electricity poles. A montage of shots interrupts the steady progress of the journey: the forester figure is captured trailing through a horizonless expanse of snow, then walking backwards over stacks of chopped wood, then hobbling in his skis through the interior of a data centre. The video’s deferred narrative is rendered literal by its surrounding installation: two abandoned electricity poles positioned at angles rhyme with the vertical supports of the factory roof. 

When considered alongside Duncan and Ward’s thwarted industrial narrative, the dam in Keating’s painting feels like a broken promise. Indeed, following the development of decentralized power networks, the dam generates a mere 3% of the nation’s electricity today. Now a museum, you can have your photo taken in its obsolete control unit with your arm around a waxwork figure of its inventor. No longer a beacon to a bright future, the dam has become a memorial to a lost past.

On a visit to the dam, a tour guide energetically explains the mechanisms of a hatchery the plant developed for protecting salmon swimming downstream, a scheme greeted with grumbling shakes of the head by local sceptics. Meanwhile, in Limerick’s art museum, the annihilation of communities by industry resounds like a warning – from Liu Xiaodong’s documentation of displaced peasant labourers in Fengjie to Steven Cohen’s video performance of himself harassing squatters outside Johannesburg. 


Uchechukwu James-Iroha, Looking Forward but Standing on the Fence, Power and Powers Series, 2012, Photograph, 80 x 100 cm. Courtesy: the artist

Uchechukwu James-Iroha, Looking Forward but Standing on the Fence, from the series Power and Powers’, 2012, photograph, 80 x 100 cm. Courtesy: the artist

Beyond the exhibition space, another confrontation is taking place. On 13 April, timed with the opening of the biennial, a group of hooded figures slowly and silently leads a drumming procession down the streets of Limerick in the style of a funeral march. Initiated by local artists campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment – the constitutional preclusion of women’s abortion rights in Ireland – the march takes EVA as a platform to challenge steadfast ideologies. 

Guerrero’s curating neither shies away from these weighty topics nor does it seamlessly assimilate them. Instead it gently taps against them in a way that makes us aware of the space from which we are tapping – the international art biennial. John Gerrard’s Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada) (2014) distils this sense of self-awareness. A live simulation of a solar power plant in Nevada, it presents a rolling satellite view of a gleaming tower encircled by a mosaic of mirrors that slowly move to catch the rays of the sun. The work is mesmerizing in its quasi-natural beauty: the mirrors are configured to the pattern of sunflower seeds bisected by narrow pathways that recall ancient sun symbols. Yet our astral awe is undercut by the synthetic quality of both the medium and subject matter. A simulation of a simulation, Gerrard’s Solar Reserve conjures nostalgia for nature and then throws it back in our face. Beauty comes from failure. The light from the screen flickers on the corrugated iron of the factory roof.

Main image: John Duncan, Glenbryn Park, Belfast 2004, 2008. Photograph, 1 x 1.2 m. Courtesy: the artist and EVA International

Mimi Chu is editorial assistant of frieze and is based in London, UK.

Issue 196

First published in Issue 196

June - August 2018

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018