Martin Healy uses our re­la­tion­ship to and sym­bolic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of rap­tors as a metaphor for a fun­da­men­tally flawed view of na­ture

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE CRITICS’ CHOICE - AIDANDUNNE


The Augurs I, II and III, pho­to­graphic prints from Martin Healy’s mul­ti­me­dia body of work The Augury.


Healy works mostly in pho­tog­ra­phy and video in the con­text of in­stal­la­tions. Of­ten he bases a project on a source text. Here he cites JA Baker’s clas­sic of na­ture writ­ing, The Pere­grine, first pub­lished in 1967, as a ref­er­ence. His show’s ti­tle, The Augury, refers to the prac­tice of pre­dict­ing the fu­ture by in­ter­pret­ing the flight of a bird. His Augurs are dis­dain­ful pere­grines who turn away from us or are, quot­ing Baker: “a tremor at the edge of vi­sion.” Or, omi­nously, in sculp­tural form, an evo­ca­tion of the pere­grine/au­gur as an Ozy­man­dian head (“Half Sunk, a shat­tered vis­age lies…”). A mon­u­ment to the hu­man de­struc­tion of the nat­u­ral world? And per­haps the self-de­struc­tion of hu­man­ity it­self.

Where can I see it?

The Augury is at the But­ler Gallery, Kilkenny Cas­tle, un­til De­cem­ber 16th, but­ler­

Is it a typ­i­cal work by the artist?

In a way it is. Healy’s work ranges far and wide, but un­der­ly­ing pat­terns and ob­ses­sions come through. Baker’s book stands apart from vol­umes that might seem like close re­la­tions, no­tably TH White’s The Goshawk and He­len Mac­Don­ald’s H Is for Hawk.

The dif­fer­ence is that Baker had no in­ter­est in fal­conry, no wish to pos­sess and train a bird of prey. In his ob­ses­sive track­ing of the bird, he wants to ap­pre­hend its con­scious­ness in all its non-hu­man strange­ness. He spends many cold, un­com­fort­able hours wait­ing in vain for a glimpse of the bird, which is else­where, un­know­able. His book records win­ter 1962-1963, when pere­grines, poi­soned by DDT and per­haps other chem­i­cals, were rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing. Pere­grine pop­u­la­tions have since re­cov­ered, but their pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tion at the time cer­tainly coloured Baker’s mind­set.

As with Baker, in his work Healy re­coils from the con­ven­tional pat­tern whereby the role of the rap­tor, or some other nat­u­ral agent, lies in com­fort­ing or heal­ing the hu­man pro­tag­o­nist, or in be­ing co-opted as sym­bolic in some way of hu­man power or strength. The root of the prob­lem as they see it is the morally con­ve­nient for­mu­la­tion that hu­mans were cre­ated in God’s image and granted do­min­ion over na­ture.

In ret­ro­spect Healy’s un­ease with this un­sat­is­fac­tory idea sur­faces in some way in al­most ev­ery­thing he has done. A gulf of in­com­pre­hen­sion, an in­abil­ity to grasp what is go­ing on in na­ture and recog­nise our po­si­tion as part of na­ture, gen­eral hubris and self-sab­o­tage, all re­cur. But Healy does not be­gin with, say, a con­ser­va­tion­ist mes­sage and fig­ure out a means of con­vey­ing it. He is drawn to sto­ries – to ur­ban myths way back in Look­ing for Jodie and Here Be Mon­sters – and mo­tifs that work as metaphors for ba­sic hu­man mis­un­der­stand­ing or fail­ure. In terms of mo­tifs, he first used rap­tors in The Sleep of Rea­son in 2006, draw­ing on Goya’s cel­e­brated etch­ing. The sleep of rea­son, to com­plete Goya’s ti­tle, pro­duces mon­sters.

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