Against the Day
Irish artist Eoghan Ryan’s solo exhibition Against the Day at the Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art spans moving image, installation, performance, puppetry, and collage. His new commission, the video installation Circle A (2023), premieres in the company of three installations from recent years. These works explore the intricacies of how power is communicated through media culture and language. In adapting personas, characters, and unrehearsed conversations, they expand into fable-like takes on the collective and the personal as “institutions.” Against the Day as a whole speculates on how art and its institutional structures can coexist with moments of uprising, resistance, or revolt. It asks: What is it to exist right now, in a shaky present?
Circle A departs from a heavily edited conversation between five strangers in an art bookshop. Their discussion circulates around the term “anarchy,” including its abstraction and how the word functions in both an imaginary and a real way. The video installation inserts anarchy—as a response to order and an aspirational conceit—into the language of the everyday spectator, offering a thought experiment on how to begin to undo a system.
Three distinctly designed spaces present the earlier installations Doggerel (2022), Truly Rural (2019),and A Sod State (2021). These works take up troubling questions, such as rising nationalism’s corruption of a shared idea of Europe and the countryside as an environment where disgust erupts and fascism lurks. A Sod State describes Ryan’s particular perspective on the wider world of politics, positing pre- and post-Brexit “Troubles” in Northern Ireland as repetitive political theatre. These Troubles, spatially and historically located inside the head of a rather confused Irishman, manifest an inner demagogue who performs binary contradictions of class, faith, identity, and borders—private, public, and political.
Truly Rural is a painfully actual and urgent elaboration on a topic that one of the film’s protagonist summarizes near the beginning of the work, saying: “We think people are being misguided in some way that erases responsibility but I think people kind of know what they are getting themselves into. At some point in your life, you are confronted with your own fascism … and you decide to ignore it.”
Threading the installations together is a large collage of newspaper images and articles pasted to the walls. These blown-up cutouts are selections from an ongoing archive of thousands of images, sent to Ryan by his father every other week for the last fifteen years. The artist’s father often mounts the images to paper and collages them according to an internal hierarchy and relevance decided upon through conversations with his son. These include, for example, images of recent protests, sinkholes, handbags, and eyepatches.
The service that Ryan’s father provides not only stands in for a connection that cannot be verbalized in the pair’s own relationship but also limits the artist’s field of reference to the offline materiality of the newspapers his father chooses to read. Employing repetition and editing, Ryan uses these images to explore how a single image or headline can be pulled from the newspaper up to and including the present moment, recontextualized, and made into a narrative.
Eoghan Ryan was 2023 recipient of the Media Art Grant from the Stiftung Niedersachsen at the Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art.