Shot Crowd

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After looking around the Emotional Archaeology exhibition at the RHA in Dublin, I had a look around the exhibition in the next couple of galleries on the upper floor – Shot Crowd by Joy Gerard.

In the first room a series of images, some small with other larger pictures, of crowds of people viewed from above lined the walls. They looked like black and white photographs, but on closer inspection it was clear that they were drawings – Japanese black ink on linen.

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The artist, Joy Gerrard was born in Ireland, being bought up in Co Tipperary. Currently she lives in London with a studio in Shoreditch. The monochrome drawings, depict dense crowd scenes, viewed from above, from tall buildings or from news helicopters, of protesters from The Arab Spring, the Ukraine, “Black Lives Matter”, and the recent Anti-Trump demonstrations.

The buildings, vehicles and street furniture are detailed and quite realistic, but the people merge into the mass of the crowd, there are no individual features discernible. To create the drawings she takes photographs from newspaper and online images of mass urban protest

Gerrard’s images present a topographical view of people contained within or spilling out of huge civic spaces in a kind of calligraphic active groundswell. Hundreds of intense, tiny brush marks draw the viewer into particular incident within the works, but equally, they are immediately recognisable – being derived from powerful images that have proliferated via the mass media of the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, mass actions across European cities, US inner city demonstrations and many others. These are all part of our recent history. (artist’s website)

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Describing her technique

I have rules, which are followed for every piece. The crowd starts at the back, at the furthest distance from the eye of the camera, when each person is just a minute dot, or a blur of grey. Here is the fracturing, the edge of the crowd, where there is no containment, and no line of building. It is an uncertain space. As, I work through the crowd towards the centre, the image darkens, and becomes more dense. The image is stationary, but there is a sense of animation in the multiplicity of tiny marks. Depending on the nature and angle of the image, sometimes there is figuration in the foreground of the crowd. When I am close to finishing a piece, most important is the balance between black and white. This tonal balance, often has no relation to the original photographic image, and is about making the image ‘right’. The image will not function, it cannot become an autonomous thing, until this is correct. Memory, for me, is always in black and white, the blacks becoming denser with elevated levels of emotion, doubt or belief. (Material Editions website)

In the second room a video was showing – Shot Crowd , after which the exhibition is named.

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The video shows a model of a city shot from above. Completely deserted at first. Gradually what appear to be ball bearings start pouring in from one side moving into spaces, gathering in clumps around the “buildings” – behaving just like a crowd of people gathering for a demonstration

The “ball bearings” are actually lead shot gun pellets – so the title can be interpret is that it’s showing a crowd of shot or is a crowd shot with a camera. Clever. The pellets finally come to a halt and then after a short pause, the film goes into reverse until the city is deserted again. I thought the video really captured how crowds form, move and accumulate.

All the pictures in this exhibition are of protests and demonstrations that took place in 2016. As the artist says in an interview (see the film clip below) demonstrations occur all the time but 2016 was particularly notable for the mass demonstrations taking place across the world including the United States. And with instability created by Trump’s election and erratic actions, Brexit and potential events on the borders of Russia (with Putin likely to be emboldened by the election of Trump), 2017 is likely to be a vintage year for protests and demonstrations. Joy Gerrard is going to have plenty to keep her busy, I think.

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