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Alice Maher: Godchildren of Enantios Review

Alice Maher: Godchildren of Enantios Review

While stop motion animation is a relatively new area for Alice Maher to be involved in, it should come as no surprise. “I felt the need to work in animation after my previous work “Night Garden” . I was drawn to these little quick drawings over at the side that grabbed my attention, almost daring me to bring them to life” . She hasn't shied away in the past from learning to use different media and materials, something that might challenge others. This is evident from the wide array of media she has used over the years, using meat, insects and thorns, to name but a few. Following on from last year's animated “film-drawings”, which were exhibited at the Green on Red Gallery in Dublin , Galway Arts Centre and Galway Arts Festival commissioned her to create new work. This would open as the artist's first solo show in Galway as one of the headlining Visual Artists for the festival.  

    Alice's work can easily stir up emotions in the viewer. As her work draws from myths and folklore, her work can connect with individuals' or collective past whether the memories are fully articulated or not. This ability to impact the viewer is especially clear in “Godchildren of Enantios”, her solo exhibition featuring stop motion animations and related sculptural work.
    Maher's titles came after the work themselves and she has a fondness for how words sound and connect to the space in which her work is shown. The title, “Godchildren of Enantios” arrived after she was commissioned.   Alice was briefed on the history of the old townhouse which is now Galway Arts Centre. It previously belonged to Lady Gregory and although she did not spend much time there, her godchildren did, and it was just the word ‘godchildren’ with all its associations that triggered something.

    Enantios is a Greek word for “the opposite”, which Jung adapted in his theory of Enantiodromia. Briefly put, it means that where once there is a great abundance, the abundance will turn into its opposite due to its sheer force. This idea of force changing into the opposite and constantly flowing naturally occurs in Alice's drawings, on which she creates her stop motion. The drawings that form the animation, seemingly free fall from her subconscious, to her hand and on to the page automatically. Maher contests this believing no artist can fully automatically draw in the sense of ‘pure psychic automation’ as defined by Andre Breton . Maher explains “an artist is never unconscious of what she/he is doing. I am always totally aware of what I am drawing, yet I allow my conscious self to follow the subconscious part wherever it wants to go.  Its more like a partnership of the conscious and sub-conscious mind, a complex inter-change of images and ideas, but it could never be as simple as ‘automatic’ .

    The animations may appear labour intensive but Maher sees it another way, “the way I draw is not a marathon. I work hard, I like it, especially when its belting along. But I couldn’t do that kind of concentrated drawing all the time you see, just a couple of months and then do some else. Its not an endurance though, it is something I have to do, yes, but it is also something I want to do.”  Her conscious' partnership is filled with mythical beings and organic life forms. These beings are in a constant flux of metamorphosis. The only trace of their past that remains is the graphite stain after it has been erased. It is as if Maher's abundance of story collecting collapses outwards, page after page, into a polymorphous performance.

    Some  have remarked that the stop motion animations are frightening, others try to force logic on what unfolds before them. Maher allows the journey to flow, not editing or consciously deciding where to take it. The narrative is not premeditated, but as Maher said “there is a narrative there, however it doesn’t come before the work starts as in classical animation, it comes after the drawings are done, when they are put side by side and they ‘appear’ to tell some kind of story.”  This journey through her subconscious/conscious is the summary of a life times worth of research in the areas of myth and folklore and her own experiences as an artist. Some viewers, however, expect a logical outcome. When things do not go as they plan, the viewer is left unsteady because they can not brace themselves for what they are about to witness. This is what makes Maher's animations so impacting. If you push against the flow of the animation you're affected but if you go with the flow and empty your mind of “common sense” and allow yourself to receive the unexpected you're left with a journey that you'll want to watch over and over again. Predictability is certainly not an issue here. Where else will you see a couple being swarmed by bees or a deer become part of a woman?.

    The animations are made even more successful thanks to Alice Maher's collaboration with the composer Trevor Knight. “The animation of the drawing was one thing, but the introduction of the totally new dimension of sound, was the true leap into the unknown. I had worked for years with Trevor Knight on his own pieces for theatre but this was the first time when his medium truly overlapped with mine.  We recorded a lot of the sound ourselves so that it has the kind of ‘metamorphic’ element that is also there in the drawings”,  Alice said of this partnership.  
There are no bombastic cinematic scores, instead delicately crafted sound effects and a constantly changing pulse. The scores compliment the stop motion work naturally in both execution and pace. “humble sound that mimicked the actual process of simple drawing and erasing”  is how Maher described it. The audio underlines a subversive humour in the work such is the case in the title piece when the rolling heads bicker back and forth in highly strung voices.

    Alice Maher's stop motions are a beautiful, entertaining, stimulating experience where predictability goes out the window as soon as you hear the audio. Many familiar motifs from her past works crop up; hair, insects, deer. This creates ties in the animations that anyone who is knowledgeable about her work will recognise as her own. It was clear from the talk the artist gave on the “Godchildren of Enantios”, in the Galway Arts Centre on the 15th July, that it is up to ourselves to bring our own meaning to the work. In the artists own words, “I have no idea what that story is nor do I want to know.  The viewers’ own stories and associations feed the work I believe, bringing a richness and depth to it.  I only open that door a tiny crack to begin with, the viewer throws the light in.”  Maher seems more interested in the universal than the personal so anyone hoping to analyze her through these animations will be severely disappointed. Maher's approach is to allow her conscious follow her subconscious through her drawings does not mean anything personal will be revealed.  Maher strongly disregards the idea that anyone is “peeking” into her subconscious through these automatic drawings. “Peeking” is a term that in Maher's opinion is incompatible with art and better placed in a psychoanalysis' office. Maher warned “Anyone ‘peeking’ into my subconscious through my work will quickly come up against a mirror into their own projections and prejudices.”  Instead of playing Freud, the viewer could simply enjoy the dream-like narrative and striking imagery, allowing it to flood their imagination. It might prove more fruitful and less frustrating.

Review by Emma Finn
Galway Art Centre Summer Intern.

 A Galway University graduate of Arts, Emma is currently studying at Edinburgh College of Art in the Intermedia Department.



      14 Sept - 28 October 2007, RHA Gallagher Gallery, Dublin
      Public Talk with Artist, 15th of July, 2010, Galway Art Centre
      The Music of Things, 12 November – 16 January 2009/2010
      Surrealist automatism, http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/34552
     Email conversation with Alice Maher, 27th August 2010
      Email conversation with Alice Maher, 27th August 2010
      Galway Art Centre, Guest comment book
     Email conversation with Alice Maher 27th August, 2010
     Email conversation with Alice Maher, 27th August 2010
     Email conversation with Alice Maher, 27th August 2010
     Email conversation with Alice Maher, 27th August 2010
     Email conversation with Alice Maher, 27th August 2010

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