The Past is a Foreign Country
Gemma Tipton

Anita Groener
Foley Street Dublin City Council Arts Office
May 24–July 27, 2019

A circular forest of twigs juts out from the wall. Look closer: Tiny silhouetted people march across the small branches. Intricate, beautiful, perilous, Anita Groener’s Prolonged by a Hundred Shadows, 2018, draws you into its darkness. The figures reappear in Untitled, 2017, and again in an installation of twenty birches, The Past Is a Foreign Country, 2018. The trees, suspended from the ceiling, display parts of their truncated roots. Their branches make a maze in which the miniature travelers are forever trapped.

These installations are echoed in delicate ink drawings with circles of small black marks (Everything Standing Up Alive, 2018) and in another labyrinthine grid (A Day in the Life 3, 2016). Groener has employed similar imagery before, to imagine a form for Alzheimer’s disease, in her video Somewhere Else, 2012. Trees also feature in previous works, as in her installation Gilgamesh, 2009. In this show, they are an apt metaphor for the mass movement of humans driven by war, persecution, and famine—uprooted, rendered nameless, and their individuality diminished by the epic nature of the crisis.

Two videos, Blink, 2018, and Fugue, 2016, share a space. In the former, photographs of migration, past and present, are juxtaposed with those of the artist at home with her family. In a particularly affecting sequence that montages crises from World War II to the Syrian Civil War, children are handed over a barbwire fence. If they survive, what can they grow up to become? The sound track sounds very much like the beat of a heart. At times, it is disrupted by the birdsong in Fugue, in which scenes of a forest occasionally include running figures so fleeting that you wonder if you ever really saw them.

This was originally published in Artforum, Jun 23, 2019 and can be found here.