Robert Boyd, Xanadu

Xanadu by Robert Boyd is the first part of the We The People, a series of solo and group exhibitions showcasing the best of contemporary emerging artists from New York, curated by Gregory McCartney, presented in the Context's offsite spaces at St Columbs Hall

Culled from hundreds of hours of archival footage including that of doomsday cults, iconic political figures and global fundamentalist movements, Robert Boyd’s synchronized 4-channel video installation Xanadu tweaks, condenses, and re-frames modern events into seconds-long image bites, representing a history of apocalyptic thought as a series of MTV-style music videos within a setting reminiscent of a discotheque.

Having peaked in the late 70s at a high point of Carter-era optimism, disco was formed from an amalgam of black, Latin, and gay subcultures. Vilified at the time for its seeming promotion of male effeminacy (i.e. homosexuality), its embrace of a proactive female sexuality, and its racial non-distinction, disco, with its voracious capacity to sample and reshape excerpts from multiple musical genres, had the ability to reduce “everything to its surfaces […] so that the profound and the inane have an equal opportunity to stimulate.”* Robert Boyd’s Xanadu exploits the duality that disco provides and combines it with the organizational structure of disco’s visual reincarnation—the music video—to dramatize recent social and political events.

The choice of disco reverses the classic 70s punk vs. disco dichotomy, in which the harbingers of “no future” were clearly the self-disenfranchised punks. In Boyd’s construction, supported by extreme and often violent footage meticulously gathered over the course of several years, we see a current worldview in which mass annihilation and the Apocalypse are solidly in the hands of those empowered by their people. His choice of dance music suggests a volatile segue from the “feel good” generation of the late 70s to the current “feel bad” generation of the 00s. Taken as a whole, the Xanadu videos insinuate that humanity is not apathetic about its own demise but, on the contrary, is furtively engineering it through a form of collective self-destruction.

Introducing the theme of the Apocalypse, Boyd’s video “Heaven’s Little Helper,” 2005, begins with an excerpt from Masada, a 1981 mini-series about the Zealots, a sect of Jews who defended their right to be free from an oppressive Roman regime through an act of mass-suicide. Fast-forwarding into “family” footage of seemingly wholesome hippies and children dancing in natural settings, Boyd marks the end of sunny popular culture in the U.S. with iconic images of the Manson Family. Continuing in this vein, the video incorporates archival footage of some of the most infamous doomsday-cult gurus and their devout disciples including the Hello Kitty-flanked Shoko Asahara of Aum Shinrikyo, architect of the sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subways; the Reverend Jim Jones of the People’s Temple; Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate; and David Koresh of the Branch Davidians.

“Patriot Act,” 2004, takes a global historical sampling of iconic leaders of the Left and Right since World War II to stage a secular milieu of “followers,” insinuating that genocide can take place only through collective effort. The speed of the video accelerates as images of parades and victory celebrations rapidly devolve into images of war and genocide, leading to the video’s cataclysmic end. Edited between views of numbed and orderly masses, startling images of violence and death, both iconic and suppressed, are deployed. Caught in the blur are images of the men who have redefined the political landscape of the world from some of the most pivotal moments in history.

“Judgment Day,” 2006, chronicles the rise of fundamentalist religions around the globe, including audio and video excerpts from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell of the Christian Right in the U.S.; Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland; Islamic fundamentalists Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden, and Ayatollah Khomeini; Daniella Weiss and Eliezer Waldman of Israel’s Gush Eminum; and Hindu nationalists Bal Thackeray and L.K. Advani. The video depicts their desperate, increasingly violent, and sometimes successful attempts at establishing theocracies. Further leveling the terrains of religious and political extremism, “Judgment Day” blurs the already indistinct lines between civil necessity and fanaticism, and the shattering consequences thereof. The video also contains the only original footage in the exhibition, an excerpt from the artist’s own video of the World Trade Center collapse.

The series’ culmination, “Xanadu,” 2006, is a three-channel video that begins with George W. Bush’s post-9/11 address to the nation, in which he declares the end of the “feel good” era and the beginning of a new one. This era, the artist suggests, is Xanadu—a conglomerate of our fears, paranoia, and prejudices—an envisioned Apocalypse in the process of being actualized.

Serving as both the prologue and epilogue for Xanadu, Boyd’s “Exit Strategy,” 2005, features Rapture-ready prophets such as Charles Manson, Brenda McCann of Manson’s Family, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Shoko Asahara and Luc Jouret of the Order of the Solar Temple. Addressing topics such as death, suicide, the President, and the dire state of the world as they perceived it, the video contains audio and video excerpts from some of their final hours, including Jim Jones’ suicide sermon at Jonestown, David Koresh’s 911 call with the FBI, and Marshall Applewhite’s farewell video, among other tragic and telling moments.

By contrasting the familiar and the fringe, the popular and the notorious, Boyd’s Xanadu suggests a displacement between the euphoric idyll promised by disco and the chilling reality of collective human brutality.
( Text by Lia Gangitano )

* Tom Smucker, “Disco: a soundtrack for communal ecstasy,” The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 3rd ed. (New York:Random House, 1992).

Exhibition previews Friday19 October @ 8pm, and runs until 24 November, in St Columbs Hall's old Orchard Gallery space and main theatre

Prehen House Artists

Prehen House Artists

contextgalleries@ prehen house

Context Galleries @ Prehen House

Preview Saturday March 24th 2007 @ 8.30 pm at Prehen House
Simultaneous opening of four solo exhibitions:
John Beattie, Mark Clare, Breda Lynch, Katrina Maguire
Exhibitions runs until Friday 10th August 2007

Prehen House has recently developed as a site for presenting multi-disciplinary arts, with poetry, music, performance and community arts regularly programmed. This Context Galleries project will present four simultaneous site-specific linked solo shows by John Beattie, Mark Clare, Breda Lynch, and Katrina Maguire in Prehen House and grounds. The house is open Tues-Sunday 2pm-5pm March-October, and at all other times by telephone appointment. There will also be four artist’s catalogues, each launched at a monthly artist’s talk, and four evenings of screenings / performance, one programmed by each artist.
Prehen House website:

Dates of Events:

march 24th: simultaneous opening of the four solo exhibitions
april 27th:Breda Lynch launch and talk and programmed event
may 26th: Mark Clare launch and talk and programmed event
june 30th:John Beattie launch and talk and programmed event
aug: 10th:Katrina Maguire launch and talk and programmed event

There have been two special additions to Context Galleries @ Prehen House:

The first is a satellite project which will present a broader selection of artist's work at the old Orchard Gallery site on Orchard Street, Derry. Dates/artists are:

july 14th - july 28th: The Place of the Crows, Breda Lynch:
aug 4th - aug 18th: Katrina Maguire:
sep 8th- oct 8th: John Beattie.

The second is the Context Galleries education project Sharing Heritage, a series of four specially commissioned art cards, one from each artist, and four cards from the pupils of St Cecilias School, Derry. The project presents work examining individual perceptions of "heritage" sites in the city. The cards will be distributed nationally.

Prehen House is served by and Ulsterbus Foyle route FY6 which departs from Foyle Street in city centre and has a stop outside the entrance to Prehen House at Sunningdale Drive: it departs at 15 minutes past the hour and is a ten minute journey.

Prehen House, Waterside, Derry
Tel: 028 71342829

Context Galleries,
5-7 Artillery Street
Derry BT48 6RG
Tel: 028 71373538

Sara Greavu, 'Love and Theft'

Sara Greavu, 'Love and Theft"

Exhibition has been rescheduled to commence in Feb 2007 and run until March 2007

Sara Greavu, originally from the USA, has resided in Derry for over a decade, and is currently completing a practice based PhD at University of Ulster. Previous solo shows include All Souls, Context Galleries, 2003; group shows include The Moore Street Lending Library, Dublin, 2005; b-lomo, Context Galleries, 2003; Resident, as a Context Artist in Residence with Bayview Educational Guidance Centre, 2003.

This series of photos, taken on Halloween 2005 are part of of a larger project I am involved in which deals with displays of ‘ethnic drag’ and whiteness in Ireland. I am fascinated by the prevalence of these costumes portraying ethnic ‘others’ and I am interested in unpicking the reasons for their popularity. Ireland has a long history of blackface performance: almost from the inception of the minstrel show in the US in the 1820s, minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment here; this endured through most of the 20th century with the (British made) Black and White Minstrel Show being aired here until the early 80s. Given the location of the Context Gallery as part of the Playhouse building, I wanted to refer to this tradition and ask what this modern, homegrown version of minstrelsy says about an Irish concept of identity and otherness. At the same time, Ireland’s colonial history has given it a unique perspective among the nations of Western Europe. There is a sense of solidarity with other colonised or subaltern nations, visible, for instance in the flying of Palestinian flags. I am interested in how these markers of identity sit with the cross-racial mimicry depicted in my work.The photos on the outside of the building are digitally manipulated to isolate the individual figures: the street becomes the ‘black box’ stage and an ersatz lens flare highlights the use of the camera to capture the images, and also places the viewer ‘backstage’ or inside of the performance.The series of postcards The Colonial Harem: Scenes and Types are looking at another popular set of costumes: the ‘harem girl’ or belly dancer. I am relating these images to postcards produced in Algeria and Morocco in the early part of the last century. The faux-ethnigraphic postcards illustrate a Western fantasy or a ‘phantasm’ of harem life and were produced by French photographers for a French audience. These postcards, collected and interpreted by Malek Alloula in his seminal text, The Colonial Harem, were ‘everywhere’ in Algeria, “covering all the colonial space, immediately available to the tourist, the soldier, the colonist…[The postcard] is ubiquitous. It can be found not only at the scene of the crime it perpetrates but at far remove as well.” (Alloula)In the Ireland of today, of increasing immigration and ‘guest workers’, of the citizenship referendum and American troop transports refuelling at Shannon airport en route to Iraq, how can we read these performances of race? Do they work to construct or shore-up a communal sense of nation and ‘whiteness’? Do they, indeed, constitute a performance of whiteness through the means of a masquerade of blackness? Could they also be seen to represent a more ambiguous relationship to the racial ‘other, one of identification, commonality or desire?
Sara Greavu