What is art? Some art is used to evoke a sense of aesthetic pleasure in the viewer, whilst other pieces are created to do almost the exact opposite, perhaps to show them another side of the world.

The exhibition Seasons End: More Than Suitcases at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity’s gem of modern art, does neither of these things, at least not for me. It’s quite extraordinary how completely and utterly ambivalent one can feel towards this exhibition. The so-called art didn’t touch me in any way shape or form.

This failure doesn’t seem to be because of any lack of effort on behalf of the artist. None of the pieces on display are simple, all having a semi-unique design, with plenty of strange detailing here and there, revealing the large amounts of time that must have been spent in each piece. The artist, a Canadian by the name of Tamara Henderson, must have spent a lot of her time making these things in order to put them on display, but at the end of the day, that’s all I think they are: things – that are little more than suitcases and that lack any sort of artistic merit whatsoever. Some take the shape of weird standing blocks of material more reminiscent of megalithic standing stones, others the shape of bizarre curtains, others still strange, wall mounted machines. All have the strange quality that they seem almost lesser than the sum beauty of their constituent parts. Henderson has managed to take interesting materials from all over the world, and somehow make them into something utterly mundane and boring.


The piece that really represents this bizarre phenomenon is Body Bar. The piece is this strange, not-Rube Goldberg machine that uses a motor and a water pump to do literally nothing interesting whatsoever, apart from making a vaguely irritating noise every 30 seconds or so. Apparently, it’s supposed to represent the female human body, which hardly seems to when you consider it. It might as well be quite misogynistic. The visuals of the machine are uninteresting, with a drab design and unexciting mechanical parts consisting of a simple pulley system and bellows, along with a water pump whose only purpose is to pull water out of a tank, around the outside of the piece, and back into the tank again. If someone told me outside the gallery that a piece which consisted of multiple moving parts and mechanisms could be boring, I would have called them a liar, and yet somehow Henderson has managed to do just that with this piece, take multiple things that are plenty interesting on their own, and use them to create something utterly unremarkable.

This uninteresting exhibition is accompanied by a presentation by Liliane Lijn, who was invited to display one of her works by Henderson as part of the Gallery’s The Artist’s Eye series, in which the main artist exhibiting their works invites one of their inspirations to also display. I actually spent much more time in this section, watching a movie called Look a Doll! My Mother’s Story. Lijn is no Hitchcock, but her film is certainly watchable, and I enjoyed it much more than the main exhibit. Revolving around an interview with the Director’s mother, the film is rather plainly shot, but is carried mainly by the subject of the film and her life story. However, the exhibition itself is unfortunately hampered by a combination of a poor sound system, a lack of subtitles, and an interviewee whose first language is obviously not English, making it extremely difficult to follow the film and hard to engage with.

Overall, this is a very disappointing pair of exhibitions. The artwork is less than the sum of its individual parts (a better name for the exhibition would be Seasons End: Less Than Suitcases) and even with The Douglas Hyde Gallery describing the exhibition as “elaborate”, “spiritual” and other buzzwords, it doesn’t cover up how empty this art really is. The only saving grace I feel, is that entry was free. Had I paid to see this I would have been much less apathetic and much more angry. However, even with the free entry, there is very little reason to see this exhibition. The presentation of Lijn’s film is poor, and I can’t even justify referring to Henderson’s display as art at all. Give this one a miss.

Both ‘Seasons End: More Than Suitcases’ and ‘The Artist’s Eye: Liliane Lijn’ run from March 2nd to May 5th. Entry is free.

Peter Caddle

Posted by Peter Caddle

Peter is the Burkean's resident expert on all things popular and cultural.