Ikon presents the first UK solo exhibition by Dublin-based artist Sarah Browne, a survey of film and sculptural works, including the artist’s entry for the 2009 Venice Biennale. Using ‘the economy’ as the basis for her artistic practice, Browne works with small communities of people, documenting resourceful forms of exchange such as gifting, subsistence, poaching and subsidies, to reveal the hidden social relations that exist in small-scale economic structures.
On 17 February 2012, in the midst of an unfolding European currency crisis, the Central Bank of France ceases to exchange French francs for euros, ending a system that has continued since the introduction of the euro and thus marking the demise of the franc altogether. Browne’s film Second Burial at Le Blanc (2011) follows a procession through Le Blanc, a small French town where local merchants have continued to accept francs for goods and services. At the centre of this procession is Browne’s bespoke ‘ticker-tape countdown clock’, a glass-domed mechanism counting down the hours, minutes and seconds of the franc’s existence. Accompanying the film are two newspapers, distributed at Ikon and in Le Blanc, visual essays that weave together historical and anthropological information related to the work.
Several of Browne’s works explore redundant technologies and leftover industries. Her Carpet for the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2009) is made from surplus wool stocks from the Donegal Carpets factory. Once renowned for its hand-knotted carpets adorning Irish embassies around the globe, Donegal now produces carpets by machine or outsourced labour. The artist’s carpet was hand-knotted by two of the factory’s previous female employees and the design, reminiscent of Irish modernist Eileen Gray, was dictated by the proportions of surplus wool remaining at the old factory, now converted into a ‘heritage centre’.
A Model Society (2007) stems from research – undertaken prior to the recent financial crisis – in which Iceland was declared the happiest nation on earth. Browne advertised for knitwear models in Reykjavik newspapers and then surveyed respondents about the quality of life in Iceland. The models are presented within iconic Icelandic landscapes, wearing traditional lopi sweaters in which selected phrases from their comments, such as ‘no war’ and ‘rotten politics’, have been knitted. In works like these, the artist taps into the personal, emotional underpinnings of both national identity and macroeconomic forces.
Browne’s exhibition runs parallel with the development of a new project, Scarcity Radio, in collaboration with the Ikon Youth Programme (IYP) and Slow Boat. Browne is working closely with members of IYP on film-screenings, discussions and workshops that investigate our understanding of scarcity in the current economic context, focusing particularly on the role of radio communication during moments of social crisis.
A full colour publication accompanies the exhibition, priced £20. It includes essays by Tessa Giblin, Curator of Visual Arts, Project Arts Centre, and artist Jeremy Millar, plus texts by graphic designer Chris Lee and anthropologist Marshal Sahlins.