Art | Casting shadows


IMMA’s In Praise of Shadows binds a diverse and impressive range of pieces together, but left Conor Barry very much in the dark about their connection.

Confusion is the main after-effect of this exhibition.

Not that the pieces themselves are particularly taxing but that the link between them is never quite defined. Is it enough to have a nice exhibition of some quality work if there is no real link between the pieces?

The main part of the exhibition shows a constant loop of short films illustrating a style of animation that time seems to have forgotten. Dark silhouettes of figures are projected onto a screen and tell simple stories such as a charming retelling of the story of Aladdin or the impressively choreographed, The Magic Flute.

It was interesting to see how this very simple form of animation used different colours to convey the emotions of the characters and how the large difficulties of this simplified genre were skillfully overcome. As an insight to the starting point of animation, this seems to be of major importance.

“The exhibition simply shows you a collection of different (sometimes very impressive) works without giving you any real connection”

There is then a progression from this style of short film to a similar form of live action puppetry where you can see the artist moving the characters in the background, blurring the line between art and creator. This, along with other short films clearly suggests that there is a link between this early form of animation and contemporary puppetry but this aspect was under pronounced. Other pieces included shadow sculptures made from household objects, a slide projection of scenery that switched every three seconds and a giant painting of a rhino. All were impressive, but with no real information, it is difficult to get at what the pieces were trying to convey.

In Praise of Shadows claims that it ‘focuses on shadows, shadow theatre and silhouettes, based on old and contemporary folk tales and simple narratives, it explores the traditional art form of shadow plays and their influence on the world of contemporary art in recent years.’

This is true, in a sense. Yes, there is emphasis on shadow theatre and a style of puppetry that has long since been forgotten and the exhibition can only be praised for bringing these pieces to light and giving them the glory that they surely deserve.

But the problem, is it feels very much like you’re at two separate exhibitions; one is an interesting insight into early shadow animation and artwork with some accompanying preparatory work to show the planning stages. The other, however, claims to have been influenced from the first section but has no obvious link.

The stop motion is an obvious enough progression from shadow animation but a small gallery of semi-pornographic cartoons left me more than a little bewildered. So you never quite get the sense of artistic progression that is promised. Of course, the link may be more solidly defined in the accompanying
book but at a relatively hefty price, I would argue that more information with the pieces would not only be preferred but is a necessity.

All in all, the exhibition simply shows you a collection of different (sometimes very impressive) works without giving you any real connection. You can argue that the point is to link it yourself but I have a sneaking suspicion that that highly priced book would have given me the insight I was hoping for.