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  Fenton Gallery: John Byrne







John Byrne - From a South Facing Family
John Byrne - From a South Facing Family
Opening June 23rd 2005


'John Byrne's art deploys humour to track complex, fugitive ideas and sensations. When John turns a photograph of a British Army observation post at Crossmaglen into a tourist postcard, or sets up a Border Interpretative Centre selling sticks of pink border rock, he takes up arms by refusing them. Because his work declines to have its responses patterned by someone else's brutality, or to let the po-faced gloom of authority descend.' (Luke Clancy).

This exhibition of Byrne's work brings together most of his major pieces from the last ten years. John Byrne was born in Belfast, just in time for 'the troubles' He went to art college there before attending the Slade school in London in the mid-eighties. There he began to practice as a performance artist. After moving to Dublin in 1996, he performed 'A Border Worrier' as part of the 1997 Theatre Festival.

This apparent obsession with the Irish Border culminated in his 'Border Interpretative Centre' (2000), a visitor centre and souvenir shop right on the border. Attracting a fair amount of media attention on it's opening, this neon bedecked simple breezeblock structure was located right on the border, on the main Belfast-Dublin road. Sadly it was forced to close after less than a week.

In 2003 Byrne made a much acclaimed video piece in which he stopped random pedestrians on the streets of Dublin, Belfast and Cork to pose the question “Would you Die for Ireland?'

Perhaps the Irish nation has exchanged its political concerns for more capitalist ones. In 2004 Byrne got a brilliant opportunity from curator Cliodhna Shaffrey to create a public art work for the Dublin developer, Mick Wallce, well known for his anti war stance and also for his love of all things Italian. In a playful response to this new urban space in central Dublin, (which has echoes of both renaissance architecture and European café culture), Byrne conceived of a contemporary reinterpretation of da Vinci's 'Last Supper'.

The fact that his own artwork is so anti-classical is a quiet irony also relevant to the subject of his new video piece, 'Believers', which will be presented for the first time this June. (A commission by Cork City Council for Cork 2005.) Once again, he is himself the central protagonist, this time confessing his art beliefs to a classical female nude who in turn responds, thus playing on the traditional notion of an artist and his muse.


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