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Ian Cumberland: Presence in Absence

Best known for his hyperrealist portraits of isolated subjects in detailed interiors, Cumberland explores themes of mass media culture, surveillance and the notion of the human self.

JD Malat Gallery announce Presence in Absence, a solo exhibition by Irish artist Ian Cumberland. The artist, best known for his hyperrealist portraits of isolated subjects in detailed interiors, explores themes of mass media culture, surveillance and the notion of the human self.

The exhibition consists of installations that utilise portraits as part of a multi-part tableau, establishing a dialogue between objects. Cumberland’s works involve an assemblage of theatrical objects, adding abnormal touches and unsettling atmospheres within mundane interiors, giving rise to an acute degree of and different manifestations of realism. The subjects are caught in moments of escape from their psychological containment, similar to that experienced by people during the pandemic. By presenting a wholly unique experience of the effects of mass media, culture, and control on humanity’s notion of self, Presence in Absence is, in effect, a social commentary on a sociological crisis.

Cumberland is meticulous with his choices, precisely controlling everything from the colour palette, outfits, lighting, and the overall set. This staging and organisation are a commentary on our society and how we are manipulated to believe in lifestyles and material goods. Get the Look (2020) perfectly demonstrates this by containing text that itemises the cost of every element in the staged scene, with the neon sign reflecting our image-saturated, commodity-driven world. Behind the woman, the television shows a still from some unidentifiable ravaged landscape, possibly caused by deforestation for the creation of materials, mass pollution in fast fashion, spurred on by our insatiable desire to get the look.

Reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht and his theatre sets, the individuals in Cumberland’s works are faced with a multitude of choices and possibilities and it is up to the viewer to decide what those choices will be. By utilising paintings within a wider installation, Cumberland adds another layer through which the viewer, or the voyeur, must engage with the complex subjects in his work. Although Cumberland begins the story, the audience finishes it.

Says David Campbell, writer and curator: “Encountering the work of Ian Cumberland is a peculiar, unsettling experience, as if the viewer has intruded into a ‘space’ and a ‘moment’ to which they are alien. Positioned as an outsider, Cumberland’s series of multi-component tableaux seem to offer a viewing experience that falls somewhere between an invitation to eavesdrop and an unintended moment of voyeurism.”

Presence in Absence runs at JD Malat Gallery from 7 September – 5 October

Image: Ian Cumberland, Get the Look, 2020 © Ian Cumberland

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