The Douglas Hyde is delighted to present the first institutional exhibition in Ireland by renowned artist Uri Aran. Through his work, Aran explores the basics of language, behaviour, perception, and the rules and conditions of social interactions. Why are certain meanings ascribed to certain things? Titled Take This Dog for Example, Aran’s exhibition presents new and ongoing works layered throughout the gallery space.
Uri Aran has a decidedly unfixed relationship to media and materials, combining aspects of sculpture, video, painting, drawing, and installation, while challenging the traditional formal constraints of each. Aran’s visual language ranges from text and time-based work to the assembly of familiar everyday objects, which he processes, combines and unites to create ensembles that hover over the boundary of the familiar and the unexpected.
Central to Take This Dog for Example, is the sculptural work Bread Library (2020 – 2023), which reproduces the Latin alphabet in bread letters. This expansive work invades the senses as visitors descend into the gallery space and brings forth ideas of bread as a vehicle for the transference of memory and knowledge, and the foundation of language. Untitled (2020 – 2023), another ongoing work, uses unique cast bronze forms to create sentence-like compositions across the gallery walls. Bronze, a material often associated with authority’s permanence, here becomes fluid.
While the “dog” in the exhibition’s title, and appearing throughout the exhibition, is a recurring device in Aran’s work. As he states “animals function as an icon of sentimentality, vessels for the full spectrum of human emotion through the projection of language onto them, they’re blameless…located in an idolized primordial domain from the perspective of society.” Throughout his practice, Aran constructs a language of indeterminate signifiers in an ongoing pursuit of graphic and linguistic systems, pushing these systems to the point of disintegration. “The discord of meaning in language is something I’m interested in”, he has explained. “I don’t know if it’s because English is not my mother tongue; I see a delay of meaning. I see things as mediated—almost everything is quoted.” As a result, new contexts of meaning emerge, reconstructing, extending, manipulating and subverting existing genres and hierarchies. He suggests that an object or word’s legibility is not inherent, but rather conditional: its comprehensibility reliant on context.
This exploration evolves around the use of familiar objects, signs, forms, images and gestures, which he relates to one another by superimposing a multitude of linguistic structures, material categories and temporal axes. In the exhibition at The Douglas Hyde, located on the campus of Trinity College Dublin, materials and the language of learning trace through multi-faceted works, from Sesame Street’s Ernie to study desks, from blackboards to slide projectors. These ensembles are familiar and disconcerting at the same time, resulting in encounters that are simultaneously playful and deeply sombre.
Aran’s works on paper and paintings, such as The Fastest Boy In The World, Fossil & Slide (2022) also employ diverse materials, ranging from oil pastel, graphite, coloured pencil and newsprint. They oscillate between abstraction and representation, with clearly readable portraits or scenes alternating with gestural or coloured compositions. Originating as an everyday practice in the artist’s studio, the drawings and paintings are made of intuitive markings, human and anthropomorphic forms, and handwritten notations that interwove elements of memory and mapping of thought.
Whether, film, painting, drawing or installation, Aran’s work explores the humour, poetics and manipulations of everyday objects and popularly held beliefs. He calls attention to the nuances within a world of givens. Rather than mediating our perception of meaning, he opens things up, allowing language to breathe, to bleed; the pictorial becomes material becomes linguistic, and then cycles back again.