B.C. Binning and Alvin Balkind Galleries
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first North American exhibition by Dublin-based artist Sarah Browne, a survey including the artist’s entry for the 2009 Venice Biennale. Using “the economy” as the basis for her artistic practice, Browne works with small communities of people, documenting resourceful forms of exchange to reveal the hidden social relations that exist in small scale economic structures, summations of collective intention or desire typically influenced by emotional affects. Within the current context of austerity measures and failing markets, such an undertaking could not be more relevant. By processes such as filmmaking, sculpture and publishing the potential for a more radical resourcefulness is sought as a manifestation of creative opposition to prevailing systems. Vancouver with its immediate history of Vietnam draft dodgers and alternative island lifestyles provided an interesting backdrop for Browne’s work.
On February 17, 2012, in the midst of an unfolding European currency crisis, the Central Bank of France ceased to exchange French francs for euros, ending a system that has continued since the introduction of the euro and thus marking the demise of the franc altogether. Commissioned by the Contemporary Art Gallery and its partners, Browne’s film Second Burial at Le Blanc (2011–2012) follows a procession through Le Blanc, a small French town where local merchants continued to accept francs for goods and services. At the centre of this procession is Browne’s bespoke “ticker-tape countdown clock,” counting down the hours, minutes and seconds of the franc’s existence, the film completed in the days immediately following the end to the original currency.
As the film unfolds, the commemorative nature of the event seems ever more poignant, a sort of anti-monument in progress to what Le Blanc represented as a working alternative to the current state of affairs across Europe and the world. Accompanying this are two newspapers, distributed free in the town and previous presentations, visual essays that weave together historical and anthropological information related to the work.
Several of Browne’s works explore redundant technologies and leftover industries. Her Carpet for the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2009) is made from surplus wool stocks from the Donegal Carpets factory. Once renowned for its hand-knotted carpets adorning Irish embassies around the globe, Donegal now produces carpets by machine or outsourced labour. The artist’s carpet was hand-knotted by two of the factory’s previous female employees and the design, reminiscent of Irish modernist Eileen Gray, was dictated by the proportions of surplus wool remaining at the old factory, now converted into a “heritage centre.” Works such as this positions Browne’s approach as rooted in documentary, operating from a principle of “critical proximity” and using certain methods from the social sciences, particularly ethnography.
A Model Society (2007) stems from research in which Iceland was declared the happiest nation on earth. Browne advertised for knitwear models in Reykjavik newspapers and then surveyed respondents about the quality of life in Iceland. The models are presented within iconic Icelandic landscapes, wearing traditional Lopi sweaters in which selected phrases from their comments, such as “no war'' and “rotten politics,” have been knitted. In works like these, the artist taps into the personal, emotional underpinnings of both national identity and macroeconomic forces, the traditions of such knitting practice shared globally with other Indigenous coastal communities, seen here on the West Coast in Cowichan sweaters.
The film commission Second Burial at Le Blanc and the exhibition catalogue are co-produced by the Contemporary Art Gallery with Project Arts Centre, Dublin and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.
The exhibition is generously supported by Culture Ireland and The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.
Sarah Browne was born in 1981. Her practice includes exhibitions, public projects, publishing, and critical writing, and she also works collaboratively with Gareth Kennedy as Kennedy Browne. Browne has participated in residencies and artist exchanges in Finland, Thailand, Japa, and the UK and is currently resident at Firestation Artist Studios, Dublin. Recent exhibitions include Second Burial at Le Blanc, Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2011); To Have/To Own, Kunsti Art Museum, Vaasa, Finland (2011); Lebensreform in Leitrim, Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Ireland (2011); Minimalism and Applied II, Daimler Contemporary, Berlin (2010); Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast (2010); and Unto This Last, Raven Row, London (2010). In 2009 she co-represented Ireland at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Forthcoming exhibitions include Higher Lanes Gallery, Drogheda and Galway Arts Centre, Ireland (2012).