Confessions

Austin Hearne, David Leal, and M Lissoni. Curated by Rosa Abbott

The Mill

29 Jul - 03 Sept, 2023

29 Jul - 03 Sept, 2023

The Mill, Lismore Co. Waterford

Sat-Sun, 12-5pm

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Confessions uses a queer and liberatory lens to reexamine the legacy of Catholicism and its rich visual and haptic culture, positioning the body as a locus of mourning, desire, devotion, transformation, and ecstasy. The exhibition presents the work of three early-career artists – Austin Hearne, David Leal and M Lissoni, from Ireland, Portugal and Italy respectively – all of whom have produced new work in response to the curatorial concept. Each artist has taken an expanded approach to lens-based media, incorporating photography, collage and moving image within or alongside immersive sculptural installations.

The starting point for Confessions was Susan Sontag’s 1967 essay ‘The Pornographic Imagination’, which draws a link between the visionary zeal of the ‘religious imagination’ and the ‘energy and absolutism’ of pornography. Sontag links the rise of the latter not to moral decay, but to the lack of space given in secular, capitalist society to such full-body devotional experiences and heightened states of consciousness. Fusing the spiritual with the sensual, Confessions thus seeks to create space for the ‘high-temperature visionary obsessions’ we are deprived of by contemporary existence. It appropriates the powerful imagery and rituals used by religious institutions, particularly Catholicism, but bends them to new political ends. Taking its title from the long tradition of ‘confessional’ texts, from St Augustine’s Confessions to Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask to Madonna’s Confessions on a Dancefloor, the exhibition asks if it’s possible to find redemption through intimacy or articulate an erotics of transcendence.

Austin Hearne uses installation, performance, collage and photographic processes to express queer longing, devotion and obsession, calling out homophobia within the Catholic Church while appropriating the institution’s sumptuous visual culture. For Confessions, he presents a new installation incorporating a modified Confession box, wallpapered and collaged with erotic pictures of queer figures including Mishima. The work is the latest instalment in Hearne’s ongoing series narrating an obsessive and melodramatic fictional love-hate relationship between the artist and the homophobic American cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (or ‘Raymo’). Having mourned the untimely death of Cardinal Raymo in his installation at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin earlier this year, our protagonist now rediscovers his vitality and jouissance through sublimation and devotion to the male form.

David Leal uses object- and lens-based media to probe vision, religion and sexuality, finding fertile ground in the rich overlap between religious iconographies and queer aesthetics, including those drawn from fetishistic or S/m dynamics and practices. The artist’s Palmatórias series of photographs, digitally printed on metal, captures the contorting back and arms of a male figure as he plays the piano and enters cruciform binds. Nearby, an installation of pandemic-era plastic cups containing communion wine and wafers surround a gym bench, conjuring the metamorphosis and plurality of the body, but also heightening its absence, leaving us only with remnants: the leather of the bench evoking skin; the blood of Christ poured into jarringly disposable packaging. A new moving image work prods at AI-generated imagery of ecclesiastical figures, chastity devices, and the insufficiency of the Catholic Church’s apology to survivors of sexual abuse.

M Lissoni uses photographic and print processes, text and objects to examine the mythologies and politics of the body, including the nexus between martyrdom, relic culture, folklore and funerary traditions. In Binding That Moves Along The Road, an antique headboard is wrapped in a piece of embroidered cloth used to swaddle newborns in the artist’s family. The work posits links between Irish folklore and Southern Italian ritual, reflecting on how these become absorbed into organised religious customs. It also draws parallels between ‘binding’ as a type of folk magic curse and the chest-binding practices used in trans communities. In What Is The Preserving Shrine?, two shrines evoke either tombs or altars made from concrete and bricks of earth moulded onsite using the soil surrounding The Mill. Each shrine contains ominous fragments – a piece of shattered tombstone inscribed with the letters DIO (GOD in Italian); a fragment of binding cloth, and a photograph of the artist’s hand bearing marks of the stigmata, partially entombed under concrete.

Opening Reception

Saturday 29 July, 4pm

Join us for a tour beginning at 3pm at St Carthage Hall to see Simone Mudde, with a walk to see Confessions departing at 4pm

David Leal, Palmatória, 2023, courtesy the artist

Image: David Leal, Palmatória, 2023, courtesy the artist

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Opening Hours

Lismore Castle Arts
Closed for the winter
Reopening March 2024
Monday to Sunday
10:30am – 5:30pm
March – October

St Carthage Hall
Closed for the winter
Reopening March 2024
Saturdays and Sundays
12pm – 5pm during exhibitions
Other times by appointment

The Mill
Closed for the winter
Reopening March 2024
Saturdays and Sundays
12pm – 5pm during exhibitions
Other times by appointment

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