DUENDE Exhibition

Walters, Dun Laoghaire, July 10th 2024

I would like to thank everyone who responded to this theme.

Selecting the works for this exhibition was quite a daunting task given the high
standard of the works. It felt like I’d called out into the wilderness and I wasn’t
sure what I was going to hear back.
The entrants where asked to respond to a title I’d chosen. I had given it some
thought and a word kept popping in to my head, that word was ‘Duende’.
I first came across the term when I was on a visit to Madrid some years ago and,
more specifically, a word I associate with the Spanish poet and playwright
Federico Garcia Lorca.

The selection criteria was dictated not necessarily by the aesthetic quality of the
individual works but more on how, as the selection process gathered
momentum, a conversation was forming between the different visual
approaches to the theme, more to the point, how they conveyed the sensation of
Duende. My selection is purely subjective, I went with my gut feeling. I
discovered what the works generally said to me when I encountered them.

The word Duende has several meanings in Spanish culture, initially there’s the
supernatural association with a sprite or goblin. A slightly maligned
interpretation, formed possibly by the impact of centuries of religious dogma.
My preference is for Lorca’s interpretation of Duende as a force of nature, an
immeasurable unconscious force that cannot be summoned like a muse or
guided by the angles. Duende does not inhabit the realm of elegant craftmanship
to convey an idea, it manifests in the moment where the intellect stands aside to
allow a channel of pure energy to flow, it cannot be controlled, it manifests
when all else fails, a revelation of sorts. It’s that nerve/note that performers hit
when they lose their inhibitions and in turn the audience feel its immediacy.
When a painter paints with their ‘other’ hand to consciously handicap/bypass
the need to display their expertise in the craft of making, when the photographer
points and shoots without the need to think of the technical implications of what
the camera may or may not record and when the sculptor forms a ‘half-formed
thing’ (Eimear McBride) only to realise its holistic qualities, there lies duende.

Essentially, for me Duende is the interior world that I often inhabit, I don’t
always like what’s there, but I have an uncanny feeling that this is where I need
to engage with those inner sounds and visions, try to interact with them, ask
them what they want. What better way to channel these impulses than to try to
dance, draw, act, paint, sculpt and/or photograph them.

“Duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a
question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins:
meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation”.
(Lorca, 1933, Theory and the play of the Duende p.5)

As we’re in Dun Laoghaire I feel impelled to also quote Samuel Beckett: “try
again, fail again, fail better”.

Now I’d like to mention some of the works from the selection, I could speak at
length about every single work, but then you’d have no time to engage with
these beautiful pieces yourself, and of course enjoy a glass of whatever you’re
having yourself.

(1)
‘Looking back’ by Maureen Carroll McCormack offers a tromp l’oeil
experience with drop-shadowed figures, fauna and insect life all encased within
an pre-digital age cathode ray television cabinet. The anthropomorphic shapes
are like shadows of shadows, portals within portals, after-images inhabiting the
retina, haunting the eye. This ‘hopeless little screen’ to quote Leonard Cohen,
was our/my generation’s go-to spot for pop culture and world events, there were
no pause buttons then, just memories.
This piece also puts me in mind of our own beloved telly, purchased back in
1994. A couple of years ago some removal men were collecting a chest of
drawers from our house and one of them eyed the telly and asked if it still
worked, I replied of course it does. Mind you it is painted a light pink and lilac
colour so it could’ve been mistaken for an ornament of sorts. Thank you for the
memory.

(2)
I love the humour in the work titled ‘Fully carpeted throughout’ by Tom
Molloy, no relation. For me it suggests the dismantling of a house’s interior after
the owners have left or died. The well-worn carpets, the stories these mundane
fixtures could tell if they could talk. On a more prescient note, it also alludes to
the current scarcity of affordable living spaces. I’m also reminded of the
descriptions of the flats and bed-sits advertised for rent in the back pages of the
newspapers, the conditions very often never lived up to the description as
advertised. In reality the spaces when viewed were not unlike the skip or should
that be kip. As I look further at this piece I’m also reminded of De Chirico’s
eerie uninhabited plazas. Aside from these humorous and surreal qualities there
is at the same time a sadness to it, as it resonates personally for me following
the recent loss of my father-in-law the painter and forester Dr. Gerhardt
Gallagher.

(3)
Penny Stuart’s charcoal drawing titled: ‘Gabriel and Greta’ exemplifies Lorca’s
description of the duende, there is a wild unbridled passion at work here in both
the execution and the resulting image. It takes a confident and strong draughting
skill to create images like this. This is a dance between the subjects depicted,
two figures melded into one entity, and the drawing method, it pops with energy
like frozen lightning.

(4)
The polyptych composition of the work titled: ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’ by
Denis Mortell lends this piece a classic filmic quality. The work places the
viewer as a sort of voyeur while at the same time there’s an eerie sense of being
watched by an entity just beyond the ancient wall.
(5)
‘Torn from the morning’ by Bonnie Kavanagh looks like it was moulded from
an oceanic polyps conjured up from the Mariana trench. When you combine its
physical presence with the title, a reference to the Leonard Cohen song ‘Take
this waltz’ the work looks like it could’ve been torn from the morning, if
mornings looked like this, and within the realm of the imagination why should it
not be a piece of the morning?. The work pulsates with energy, and measuring
only 14cm by 14cm very much holds its own against the larger pieces on
exhibit.

(6)
The work titled: ‘A Tempting Bait’ by Eugene Worrall calls to mind my own
role as a ‘cat servant’ and trying but failing to understand what these creatures
see when they suddenly stare momentarily at something beyond human vision, a
ghost, a sensation of something unseen or a more mundane explaination, given
it’s a cat, the likely prospect of being given food.

I would finally like to reinforce how high the standard was of all the works
submitted.
I feel privileged to be asked to do this, so thank you to all on the committee at
Artnet Dlr and especially Paula O’Riordan for considering me for the task of
selecting the work for this show. I’d also like to say a special thanks to Louise
Neiland for her fine work in curating the show.

It is a privilege to be involved as it serves as a reminder of what a fantastic
thriving visual art culture we live in.

I hope the audience will get as much joy from encountering and engaging these
beautiful, diverse and rich works from artists from all sorts of backgrounds as I
have in the selection process.

Now enjoy the art

Seán Molloy