In her latest solo show, ‘Ack Ro’’, Jaki Irvine materializes the endless reverberations of a single song by pulling apart its components and reassembling them into a new architecture of time and space. The gallery is lit by the pink glow of looping neon signs that jumble and splinter the title of Neil Diamond’s ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’ (1970), so that fragments of language (‘ro’ ro’ rose’, ‘near so near’, ‘clean clear cackles’) seem to hang in the air everywhere. Reflections of characters are caught in the hard glass surfaces of 13 flat screens, and more neon signs (‘rack’, ‘ack’, ‘ack’) are physically bound to the backs of monitors suspended from the ceiling. Three of the screens play synchronized videos of an improvised performance (Ack Ro’, 2019): through a dense layering of images, we see singer Louise Phelan and musicians Joe O’Farrell, Izumi Kimura and Sarah Grimes – playing flute, piano and percussion respectively – attenuating and unravelling the familiar form of ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’.
The physical space of the performance cannot be easily determined, displaced as it is by overlapping details of the musicians’ bodies and their instruments. Acoustically, however, the shared time of improvisation is amplified and enriched through the incorporation of ‘wild sound’ fragments, taken from videos (Ack Ro’, 2019) shot in Dublin and Mexico City by Irvine, who lives and works in both cities. Dispersed around the gallery on separate monitors, these looped videos – some only seconds long – produce pockets of intensified sound, especially birdsong. The sounds are both distinctly audible and difficult to locate, hovering at the edge of recognition. Many of the video loops feature objects that are precariously supported, or otherwise unstable: silvery-pink panels billow on scaffolding, alternately opaque and transparent; fuzzy orange stamens protrude from the centre of a pale pink lily and shiver at the touch of a hand, glimpsed in the lower right corner. Elsewhere, a wisp of long white hair clings to a tangle of wire, and a lump of molten glass bubbles and pops as its colour deepens. The same small bright-red plastic birdfeeder is visible on two screens. In one loop, it is the sharply defined target of hummingbirds, darting in and out of the frame. In the other, the feeder itself is slightly blurred and the camera focuses instead on a car park in the distance, as a man walks casually past a pile of blue-grey caskets, carrying a body-sized box on his shoulder, engaged in the ordinary routine of work. Considered together, the birdfeeder videos hint at the potential co-existence of multiple temporalities. The caskets serve as a reminder of the very different lifecycles of humans and fast-moving hummingbirds, opening up the possibility that quite distinct experiences of time might unfold within the same physical space.
‘Ack Ro’’ is concerned specifically with the temporal separation and dissolution that accompany dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – conditions which have become widespread amongst an ageing population and are inherently isolating. Irvine’s installation makes it possible to imagine – and experience – the co-existence of radically different temporalities, using the properties of colour and song to incite a state of half-recognition that is ultimately disorienting, taking its toll on perception. There is a consequence to time spent within the warmth of the installation; on leaving the gallery, the whole world appears queasily green until the eye adjusts. ‘Ack Ro’’ is by no means Irvine’s first exploration of vocal and musical collaboration, but the space and time of improvised performance seems especially appropriate in this instance. Dementia is a condition that requires a kind of everyday improvisation from both sufferers and carers. It both demands and rewards a heightened attention to the present moment, and to the complex architecture of time itself.
Main image: Jaki Irvine, Ack Ro', 2020, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
First published in Issue 210