Review: Niamh O’Malley – Glasshouse at Bluecoat

Niamh O’Malley – Glasshouse
at Bluecoat. Saturday 10 October 2015 – Sunday 10 January 2016

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith and artinliverpool

Glasshouse is the new exhibition at The Bluecoat, setting the tone for the gallery most likely to win our Christmas shopping footfall. These are some fairly large boots to fill, and O’Malley fits them perfectly. The exhibition is exciting, engaging, entertaining, and above all that, it hits some truly meditative notes; this is the perfect exhibition to break up the city centre drudgery of trudging between Primark and M&S this season.

The title provides the first clue to this exhibition’s subject, Glasshouse, but it doesn’t really become clear until you are in the space. Everything is a view (a view into; a view of, or a view through) something, and it is that which allows us to almost meditate in the serene gallery, looking through reframed windows onto the lives of passing foot traffic, guessing at a fleeting story from just snippets. The work is mostly sculptural, allowing us to choose how, and from which angle we perceive it, standing where we choose, in order to observe the world through the work.

It is important here to make the point of observation clear. The artist is interested in the experience of observation as a sense. In the same way we experience sound or taste. Just because the snippets we get are visual does not make the work about spying, or voyeurism – as O’Malley made clear in our Featured Artist interview. Observation is similar to a texture in this exhibition, asking the questions: what are the colours, the shades, the flashes of light? And how do they reflect our experience of day to day life? The glass panels are never completely transparent, but incorporate exaggerated painted textures, or frosting. This distorts the opportunities we are given to ‘spy’, and limits us to the purer experience.

It is that pure experience we associate so often with meditation, and why I left the exhibition feeling so relaxed. Foremost in this experience of observation was the film installation, in which we recline in a darkened room to watch scenes ebb in and out of focus through panels of frosted glass. This film marked the point at which a sense of relaxation and meditation came about, setting the tone for the whole exhibition, readying us to stand and watch as people pass in and out of rose-tinted-focus. There are several distinct moments in this show where we are finally allowed to focus, through intricately constructed windows, or carefully crafted frames, which highlight the synesthetic experiences we miss in day to day life.

O’Malley’s work is the work of the perfectionist, and works so brilliantly in this space as a powerful solo show. Surprising then that this is her first major public solo exhibition. There is clearly more to come from Niamh O’Malley, and this exhibition is a perfect introduction to how this artist thinks and does.