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Tony Murtagh and Ian Poole
The stones of the title are present in thirteen of the fourteen works in this show: sandstone slab, smooth river stones, small glossy pebble-like stones, together with photographs of stones. A couple of the works are straightforward photographic prints but the bulk is constituted by assemblages-of photographs, stones, wood and other materials. In many of these, Tony Murtagh's sculptural approach is combined with lan Poole's photographic expertise in the creation of individual dioramas, the titles of which, such as Shrine and Window Box, invite us to view them as gardens or shrines, or both.
The relationship between the photographs and the stones fluctuates from one work to the next. The strategy employed by Poole and Murtagh reminds me of a childhood game: paper, scissors, stone. The game sets up a constantly shifting hierarchy between these three elements-with each round any can emerge as dominant. In Small Boxes, glossy black and white photographs of stones have been folded into boxes which in turn act as containers for actual stones. Paper covers stone. Elsewhere, a large-scale photograph has been segmented into a grid, one square of which has been displaced forwards. Scissors cut paper. In the work Rebirth 1, the stone is sliced through with two parallel cuts which create internal planes onto which photographs of stones have been exposed. The viewer is left to ponder whether the stone or the photograph has triumphed.
The title of the show originates from a scene in a contemporary Japanese novel. The principal character looks onto a garden and finds that, as the dusk descends, the stones begin to frighten her. Perhaps the main clue to the reading of the works in the show is that point of changeover – the point at which a stone can become a sinister thing with the fading of the sunlight, the point where reality and illusion begin to merge.
Murtagh and Poole are very much concerned with context. The works are not about inherent meanings but, rather, deal with the connotations substances can assume. The artists are overt in their use of the Japanese technique of 'captured' scenery, in which a garden or architectural space is fashioned around and in sympathy with a single tree or stone. They have isolated single elements around which they have created a garden or shrine. Each component has a sense of deliberate and artful placement, rather than of any random design.
In some of the assemblages there is a very witty variation on the Japanese predilection for modifying and/or improving on nature. What appear to be small pebbles in these works are in fact ceramics. These were originally large spheres used for mixing vats of paint. Each has been worn down to an irregular spherical shape of about half an inch in diameter. The stirring process has rendered them highly glossy and the pigments they came into contact with have given them a pale speckled appearance. They are, in essence, ceramics which impersonate stones and have been deliberately placed so as to relate to photographs of stones. It is as if there are two axes of consideration in the works-the degree to which something is real or photographic, and the degree to which something is stone or merely impersonates it.
Certainly there is a metaphysical aspect to all the works. The stones and worn-down ceramics are replete with connotations of passing time. However they embody not so much a dread of time passing but a transmutation in the passage of time. The significance is not that the ceramic spheres are diminished in size, but rather that the process has transformed their veneer and allowed them to be reborn as stones. There is no real threat of extinction, because substances have multiple lives.
If there is a message to the show, it is simply that transformation need not constitute loss, that if the stones are frightening it may only be because it is dusk now, but is due to become light again.