Nigel Rolfe (MFA Senior Critic) reviewed in December issue of ArtReview Magazine

Issue 28, December 2008, ArtReview Magazine

Green on Red Gallery, Dublin
5 September – 4 October, 2008

Review by Luke Clancy

Despite having one of the larger spaces of Dublin's commercial galleries, Green on Red gives its main space over to just one piece for Nigel Rolfe's latest work, a large-scale video projection, Dust Breeding (2008), which fills most of one wall of the darkened square room. The piece, then, is monumental, at least in that respect, sharing qualities with equally immense and imposing video pieces by Bill Viola and others competing in the arms race of impact.

On the screen, a few seconds of an action by Rolfe, filmed in medium close-up, is looped into a series of repetitions, though the experience of these loops-within-a-loop, given the tendency for attention to rove over different aspects of the image on each repetition, is that each varies minutely. Rolfe's bald head from a side view fills the wall, bulging veins running up the side of his cranium. He is motionless, though slow shivers and eddies in the facial muscles hint that this is not a still, just intense slow motion. Then the eyes flutter, and a look of what could be disgust or simply hesitation winks by as a stream of white powder begin to fall over the face.

If gravity is to be believed, rather than the evidence of the video screen, Rolfe is lying on his back, and the powder is falling from above. So it gathers, in his eye sockets, in the nostrils, the philtrum, on the lips, until it overflows. Then a small squall of dust slowly breaks into the air as Rolfe clears his nose and mouth.

Finally he must breathe, it seems (the petty irritations of corporeality!), and as he does, turns his face towards us. The skull is revealed as planetary, a landscape of crumbling craters and mountainous shadows. As the head turns towards the camera, powder around the eyes first bulges obscenely, then begins to crumble away, to reveal at last the gaze of the artist, bearing an expression that for the first time seems threatening, accusatory.

Rolfe has been active as a performance artist since the 1970s, more recently moving into photography and video, though nearly always trading in images relating to his performance work, or to specific objects used in his performances. And there are aspects of the performance here that might be termed macho, in an archaic kind of way – the artist's body the site of assault, the impact to create empathy and at the same time estrangement. Something akin, indeed, to a certain mood of human embodiment, something apart from natural history, and yet terribly subject. It is a piece that negates fashion, proving Rolfe to be working a vein that is not yet, despite everything, shot.

Read the review online: http://www.artreview.com/forum/topic/show?id=1474022%3ATopic%3A584098

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