Dunhill & O’Brien’s ‘Modern Object’ (and closing talk) at postROOM, London

Shielding, 2022, blue upholstery fabric, wood, wadding, insulation material. And gallery installation view.

Reflecting on and projecting re my Blog, I came to thinking about how it was probably at its best when conforming to tight parameters, i.e., with a maximum wordcount of 750 words per week, published by noon every Sunday, using only B&W images (as a means by which to synthesise hugely diverse visual information) and featuring some kind of ‘review’ or thoughts upon art and culture, while laced with the thoughts, the persona, and in a way the diary of that ‘ONLY YOU’ who has become both myself and the reader, morphing into a persona who is not only of and for the writer, but also of and for the reader, providing a special kind of encounter where the audience or reader is carried along with the writer while also carrying the writer along.

However, I had better get around to writing about something other than writing itself.

Yesterday was frosty in London and my partner and I crossed London quickly by tube, unavoidably aware that a big football match, a national cultural event, was in the offing. We travelled to Islington, not a part of town we visit often but home to a couple of galleries run by friends of ours. I was able to show my partner the delights of Camden Passage, once an intriguing warren entirely made up of antique and bric-a-brac shops, but now significantly modernised and gentrified with trendy cafes and the like, though still retaining some of its original charm.

This is also the part of town where my mum and dad wooed each other, meeting for movie dates on Islington Green after finding each other while working at the same pipe factory (the smoking kind) called Comoy’s, not far from Angel. My mother was working there because her working class family were based around Chapel Market and the area between Kings X and Angel. My father, Seamus (James) O’Kane, had migrated from Ireland and taken any job he could find while applying for a more promising position in the lowest ranks of the British civil service. He inadvertently fell in love with local girl Evelyn Reed and the rest is (my family) history.

In Chapel Market, where my great grandmother once lived, there is now an art gallery run by a friend named Yuki Miyake and named White Conduit Projects . It has a unique, largely Japanese-art-and-culture-related agenda. But our destination on this occasion was a little further North up Essex Road to ‘postROOM’, a gallery situated in the home of gallery director Sandie Macrae “ … after 18 years’ operating as: R O O M, ROOM TOO, FOUND GALLERY, ROOM London, ROOMARTSPACE and more recently and currently as ROAMING ROOM”. We travelled to postROOM to attend a talk by artists and friends Mark Dunhill and Tamiko O’Brien  (who have also exhibited in White Conduit Projects) marking the last day of their show, Modern Object (17th Nov to 10th Dec 2022), at postROOM.

The combination and proximity of the curated work, along with a spoken introduction by the artists, opened-up the intricately enfolded cultural concepts and connections built-in to the pieces via the artists’ highly personalised research methods, that are always both playful and diligent. Dunhill & O’Brien live and work both as a couple and as artist-collaborators – a theme much discussed in this talk. Most of their work reveals a head-on negotiation, not only with each other but with the underlying concepts and context of their duality, their ‘two-ness’ and their collaboration. This includes examination of the way that idea-production, conceptual refinement, design and manufacture all take place in an especially candid and visible arena once artists choose, or are forced to work outside the more private confines of a more typical practice.

Suffice to say that the works of these collaborating artists always provoke intrigue, fascination and amusement while often delivering a special and memorable sense of bathos. Dunhill & O’Brien also demonstrate that much humour tends to derive from such collaboration. We might recall seeing it in the works of e.g., Fischli & Weiss, John Harrison & Paul Wood, or Jake & Dinos Chapman.

There is, it seems, something about the collaborative model that is likely to lead us through an unusually candid (usually more hidden or repressed) flirtation with failure to a space of relative resilience where, having perhaps inclined to resignation we rally and recall that we are strongest, and even most victorious when laughing (Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati are cited as formative influences by the artists), or that (given all artists are in some way entertainers) we are justified even in our most particular and peculiar actions as long as someone is laughing along with us.

In Dunhill & O’Brien’s substantial and impressive oeuvre (alluded to in this exhibition by the mixing of their most recent works with some slightly older pieces) meticulous manufacture is often interwoven with more messy (and massy) meditations on making, and this illustrates sculpture’s (and thereby the sculptor’s) inherent inability, or stubborn unwillingness to transcend material conditions (in comparison with painting at least), making Dunhill & O’Brien exemplary commentators on the parameters of their chosen discipline and tradition.

Unfortunately, we have already all-but run out of word count, and are thus denied the opportunity to go into the kind of detailed description and evaluation that might do justice to the conscientiously cultivated works on show in Modern Object at postROOM. Having missed my weekly deadline and busted my 750 word limit, I am forced to conclude what has become only the briefest of introductions to an unusually rich and enjoyable body of very current, carefully conjured work, more of which, however, awaits the reader (ONLY YOU) when pursuing the links duly provided above.


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