THE GALWAY Arts Centre begins its autumn programme tomorrow evening with the opening of The Ghost In The Machine, featuring artists Aideen Doran and Marianne Keating.
The exhibition’s title comes from philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s description of Decartes’ mind/body dualism though the phrase is perhaps best known from Arthur Koestler’s book of the same name, Koestler sharing some of Ryle’s key ideas.
Keating and Doran’s work challenge Descartes’ philosophy through installations that explore the relationship between mind and body. Keating’s work uses the archive and memory of one person to explore the origins and consequences of social and political upheaval.
In Search of Trevor Owen began during Keating’s residency in Jamaica in 2013. Her residency focussed on a beach house in Montego Bay, formerly owned by 1960s Jamaican fashion designer Trevor Owen and retaining much of his personal archives and effects. The property was once part of the estate of Lord Lyle (Tate & Lyle Sugar/Tate Modern etc. ) and the West Indies Sugar Company, highlighting Jamaica’s colonial era.
In Keating’s work, the social and political climate of Jamaica intertwines with Owen’s story and those of the people connected to him. These offer a wider context to a climate of extreme financial hardship, worsened through years of sanctions by the IMF, and Jamaica’s current control by other countries - not through direct ownership but the mechanism of debt. After independence from Great Britain in 1962, Jamaica’s hopes for independent prosperity gradually turned sour.
Jamaica’s history in the slave trade and indentured labour is still evident and Ireland’s ties with the country are also evident with Irish immigration to Jamaica occurring primarily through importation of Irish slaves.
“My knowledge of Jamaica before the residency was quite limited so when I arrived it was a full-on experience,” Keating tells me. “In the house archive, there were a lot of Trevor’s drawings and patterns as well as many personal mementoes. I knew very little about him so there was a lot of information I had to set about finding out.
“There isn’t a huge amount available online so I’d have to go to Kingston and look through newspaper archives. I started to find out more about Owen as I interviewed his friends and family and a different story started to open up because people started talking about their own lives, so through Trevor’s story you learned more about society and the people who surrounded him at the time.
“I wanted to deal with Trevor Owen the person and people’s relationships with him. Other people’s perspectives and memories can’t be proved by fact because it’s someone’s opinion and one person’s memory will be very different from another’s. You try to gather enough points of view for it to become an inclusive picture.
“Trevor came from an elite family so you had his relationships with his father and mother and all these other layers. My response grew from talking to all these other people. In one way Trevor Owen becomes the centre-point of all these other conversations and through the use of text and I create a narrative within the installation that allows you into the world.”
And what kind of a person was Trevor Owen?
“He was quite interesting,” Keating replies. “There were two very different sides to him, there was a very public side; anyone from Montego Bay of a certain generation would have known him to see, but his homosexuality was hidden from the general public.
“He’d have these parties and people would gather around his swimming pool and his home was important because there he could live the life he wanted to. Even today in Jamaica homosexuality isn’t accepted. I don’t think his sexuality defined him but his personal life was something he kept away from the public. He was a social person but also quite private.
“His is the story of someone whose career took off at a certain point but after independence in 1962 the investments that had been in Jamaica previously disappeared and a lot of people’s hopes and dreams and careers died with it too. Owen’s livelihood which had been steady gradually slipped away into something that was not as glamorous. We still have a lot of work to do to find out about him so for me the show in Galway is just the beginning of the search. I want to go back and do more interviews.”
Accompanying Keating’s work is Aideen Doran’s video installation The Revolutionary Machine where mind/body dualism is examined through the lens of labour.
She presents work derived from research conducted while resident in Bangladesh in summer 2013. The Revolutionary Machine investigates the textile and garment industry in the context of Doran’s wider research on the changing value of labour in the global economy. The title derives from Karl Marx’s writings on the English textile industry in which the revolutionary machine was the sewing machine.
Doran’s work draws links between that apparatus and the computers of our own day. Aideen seeks to create dialogues around the dual role of the artist as producer and worker in an information economy
The Ghost in the Machine runs from September 5 to 27 in Galway Arts Centre, 47 Dominick Street. The gallery will open until 10pm on Culture Night, Friday September 19.