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9 February - 2 April
Reviewed by: Emily Candela »
On Halloween night, Michael Fortune's mother disguises herself beneath layers of coats, a plastic cape and a mask. Then she makes the short journey next door to his grandmother's house. Once inside, Fortune's mother does not speak, but Granny is unfazed by this strange behaviour. The climax of this strange visit comes when the middle-aged trick-or-treater holds a bag open wide, and her elderly mother drops in an orange. Satisfied, she returns home.
Fortune's five-channel video work, We Invented Halloween, chronicles five successive years of this family ritual in hand-held, barely edited, home video. It is one of ten pieces in the artist's single- and multi-channel video works at London's PEER, and it embodies their blend of social document, humour and the uncanny.
Many of Fortune's video vignettes are firmly placed in the everyday life of the South East Irish community where Fortune grew up, and continues to live and work. Each one, however, spotlights the alien in the homely, or the currents of superstition beneath the mundane. Fortune's mother as a masked guest personifies this intrusion of the bizarre into the realm of the home in We Invented Halloween. But sometimes it is we, the viewers, who are cast as visitors, crossing into the half-familiar, half-alien lives of others. In Reigning Cats and Dogs, for instance, the Fortune family household is observed from the ground-level kingdom of the common pet. These animals play a double role, both as reminders of a mute wildness in the domestic setting, and as the playful characters of many a YouTube video. This is typical of the way in which Fortune's picture of the everyday is penetrated by the uncanny, but without a clear division between the two.
Communication between the familiar and the otherworldly takes place across the works on show as well. Two videos in the exhibition come from Fortune's more conventionally ethnographic 'folklore collection'. One is The Banshee Lives in the Handball Alley, a compendium of local tales and beliefs related by Limerick City schoolchildren. It departs from Fortune's home video style, but with its focus on legend and lore, serves to accent the strain of contemporary ritual and superstition underlying the surface homeliness of other works, such as Hunter Gatherer, in which the extended Fortune family unpacks the weekly shopping.
Fortune's nod to the language of the amateur home video aligns his work with that of artists of the frank snapshot and familial everyday, such as Richard Billingham. Such a comparison, however, overlooks the unique way in which the commonplace and the strange interpenetrate one another in Fortune's work. In fact, it might be more appropriate to view his work through the lens of the tourist photography tradition, rather than that of the family snapshot. Like the tourist, Fortune focuses on the foreign and magical, allowing it to inform the familiar. This back and forth between the banal and the bizarre reinvigorates the subject of the uncanny, itself at risk of banality in contemporary art practice, and points toward a richer understanding of the everyday.
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