One of the key figures in conceptual art, Clodagh Emoe's new exhibition at the Temple Bar Gallery gives a heavy nod to the work of other artists while still remaining personal and original. By Billy Leahy Seminal mid-20th century French artist Yves Klein stated once how he wished his life was like his own “continuous note symphony of 1949 – without beginning and without an end”.
“I want to die, and want people to say of me,” he proclaimed shortly before suffering a fatal heart attack in 1962, “‘He has lived and therefore he lives'.” Clodagh Emoe, in her solo exhibition I Am Here Somewhere, currently running at the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, certainly ensures Klein, or at least his influence, lives on. The Nice-born artist, regarded as one of the key figures of conceptual art, provides the basis to much of Emoe's attempts to toy with the impossibility of locating herself in the vastness of the universe.
In fact, one of the main pieces in I Am Here Somewhere directly references Klein, with Emoe wittily reworking the iconic Leap into the Void (1960) in her work The Change of Heart. While the original image depicts Klein throwing himself off a building and “into the void”, Emoe's shows her clinging on to the same building for dear life. The cleverly PhotoShop-ed work plays with Emoe's desire to surrender to the sublime and transcendental, while highlighting the weakness of the human condition when it comes to so doing.
Humour has always played a role in Emoe's work and as you read this, a 1960s hit by Serge Gainsbourg by the name of ‘Shu ba du ba loo ba', is probably looping incessantly, and without any notion of remorse, in the Temple Bar Gallery space. The quirky and irksome – especially when it kicks in on for the umpteenth time – tune provides the soundtrack to the minute-long video piece The End is in the Beginning. Gainsbourg's refrain of “Ça me rend fou”, which translates as “it makes me mad”, seems highly appropriate especially since Emoe's video footage, which documents her attempts to scale various walls, looks like it has been edited by Benny Hill on a sugar high.
The patience-testing piece is a bit-size reflection of Emoe's work, which, it has often been noted, is balanced between the romantic and the ridiculous. The latter element is inescapably in-your-face, the former a lot more subtle, with the artist again tackling grandiose and universal concerns such as the subliminal state and existential angst. Emoe has previously stated: “I am intrigued by our attempts to give structure to our precarious position in the vast universe. By examining scientific and critical theory I endeavour to make sense of the world around me. The drawings I produce can be compared to the endeavours of a medieval cartographer and their attempts to try and depict known and unknown territories.”
This idea of the artist acting like a cartographer is prominent in Emoe's work. In several pieces the artist has burnt holes (perhaps owing a small debt to Klein's Fire Paintings) in a “found book” entitled The Approach to Philosophy. The result of these burnt pages and holes bears an aesthetic resemblance to a coastline map, which is probably a visual clue to this methodology of Emoe. These attempts to plot the unknown build from Klein's statement that the painter of space “does not need Sputniks or missiles to go into space; all he needs is himself”.
Throughout the exhibition, Emoe highlights the shortcomings of any efforts to document the unknown and comprehend the vastness of the universe. This cultivates an environment in which the viewer is confronted with the wonder and fear of the indefinite, as well as fundamental questions of existence. Previously, when these uncertainties were raised in Emoe's work, they seemed to encompassed ideas of spirituality and mysticism, but in I Am Here Somewhere, it is hard to not to feel these concerns are now more focused on a Camus, or even Bergman, strain of existential anxiety. But perhaps the most baffling part of I Am Here Somewhere is Emoe's ability to reference people like Heidegger, Beckett, Camus and of course Klein, and still produce a remarkably personal and original body of work. Amongst her impressive logbook of influences, Emoe is there somewhere.  
∏More I Am Here Somewhere continues at the Temple Bar Gallery until 8 April. 01 671 0073,
Pictured: Clodagh Emoe, The End is in the Beginning, 2006. Collage from a looped video