April 28, 2014 - Project Arts Centre - Barbara Bloom
April 28, 2014

Barbara Bloom

Barbara Bloom, The French Diplomat’s Office (detail), 1997–2014. Mixed materials, staged installation.

Barbara Bloom
The French Diplomat’s Office

9 May–29 June, 2014

Project Arts Centre
39 East Essex Street 
Temple Bar
Dublin 2
Hours: Monday–Saturday 11am–8pm (excluding bank holidays)


The watercolour
A watercolour found on a flea market in Paris in the 1980s is apparently a rendering of an interior decorator’s idea of an office. We shall refer to it as the French Diplomat’s Office. It conveys that combination of modernist austerity and gilt-edged historicism that is such a forceful marker of the post-war haute monde. The anonymous artist attended carefully to the fluting of the furniture legs, to all the details of furnishing and decoration. But the carpet is peculiarly depicted far more abstractly: does it have a quasi-geometric pattern, or is it rather a depiction of fallen shadows? At a second glance, it becomes obvious that shadows are not an impossibility. If those long dark stripes were cast by the framing of the windows, surely they should not end halfway up the room? What optical explanation could there be for the strange intensification of colour beneath the desk? Instead of evocations of light, concrete slabs of umber are laid down with no regard for physics.

The carpet
A facsimile has been fabricated of the carpet depicted in the watercolour. Its pattern is an aerial view of what we see in the image with the following additions: the places where a piece of furniture would have touched the carpet are indicated by grey woven marks carved slightly into the pile. Footprints of a man and a woman have been woven and carved into the carpet, appearing near the couch (where the pair may have been involved in conversation) and walking over to a window—one follows the other, perhaps dancing a few steps, before stopping to look out together, or pausing somewhere close together. The footprints indicate some invisible narrative, some interaction that took place in this room between a fictional French diplomat and an unidentified woman.

The watercolour’s peculiar take on the experience of objects in space seemed to demand that the abstracted room become an actual one, the abstractions made concrete. With the addition of a stage, the gallery space becomes a theatrical setting. The few rows of chairs are ready to seat gallery viewers—empty, anthropomorphic stand-ins for an audience attending a theatre event. On stage the carpet has a solo role in a setting that might trigger an inkling of a narrative. The wall colour and stage set match those of the watercolour, though the paintings have been replaced by simple rectangles of darker colour. The only trace of the furnishings is now incorporated into the carpet design. The theatricality and suggestiveness of the watercolour remain, forming an odd sense of a world not quite properly understood. The effect might be similar to the French nouveau roman, a literary form from the mid-20th century by authors including Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Rejecting the novel’s traditional focus on plot, action, narrative, ideas or character, these writers suggested a form focused on objects, subordinating plot and character to the details of the world. This sparse depiction of absence might be referred to as visual innuendo.

With warm thanks to Tracy Williams, Ltd., New York; Galleria Raffaella Cortese, Milan; and particularly Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne.


Project Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary arts centre at the heart of Dublin, Ireland. Throughout 2014 we will present a series of lectures and screenings created by Maeve Connolly, called “TV Museum: The Mini-Series,” developing ideas to be found in her new book, TV Museum: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television. We are also proud to present the 3rd conference of the Visual Arts Workers Forum on 9 May, with information for all events to be found at www.projectartscentre.ie.

The visual arts programme commissions new exhibitions with artists from around the world, including Eva Kotátková & Dominik Lang (CZ), Barbara Bloom (US) and Hadley & Maxwell (CA) in 2014, with two exhibitions guest curated by Kate Strain (IE), as well as concluding a national tour of Mikala Dwyer (AU) at the Mermaid Arts Centre.

Project Arts Centre is core funded by the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

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