For her first solo show at Madrid’s recently inaugurated galeria The Goma, the Irish London-based Roisin Byrne takes the break-up platitude, “It’s not you it’s me” and perversely stands it on its head. Indeed, the extent to which she perverts this classic, emotional stand-by of well-meaning bullshit is admirable. The opposite of a rupture, the show largely describes a conjunction, so to speak, so fervent that the subject comes to replace the object of obsession by symbolically becoming the object itself.
Having developed an interest in the Italian artist Roberto Coughi’s quasi mythical work in which Coughi sought to become his father (gained weight, grew a beard, dressed like him, etc) and for which very little documentation exists, Byrne’s research into the project and the elusive artist proved to be frustratingly inconclusive– represented here in the gallery by an exchange of emails with Coughi’s Italian gallerist, colleagues, friends, etc, many of which amount to uninformative shrugs of the shoulders. After doing a bit more research, Byrne discovered that the artist apparently did not exist, or rather, that his purported birthdate did not match up with the registry in Modena, where he was supposed to have been born. So she took this discrepancy as an opportunity to become the artist herself, legally changing her name to Roberto Coughi, opening a bank account, receiving mail, so on and so forth, in the artist’s name, to the point where she has recently begun to receive exhibition invitations as Robert Coughi (all of this– barring the exhibition invitations– is sparsely presented in the space, from the document of her legal name change, to her/his new credit card, to a pile of Roberto Coughi’s mail on the floor, with all the optical appeal of contemporary administrative aesthetics). Driving issues of appropriation to their illogical conclusion, this ethically questionable and not a little criminal exhibition puts a decidedly sinister spin on the cliché, “Imitation is the best form of flattery,” effectively caving it in. Were this usurpation not implemented with a jusqu’au bout logic, it would have run the risk of being merely cute. But that is not the case here. This “project” is verily unhinged, even sociopathic, and as such, speaks to a primeval, if romantic quality of art that runs contrary to the calculating, polite, well-mannered careerism that dogs a great deal of contemporary art today. Countering such predictable chess moves with a genuine sense of curiosity, experimentation, and self-appointed license, Byrne– without knowing where it will lead her (except for maybe to jail)– has embarked on an unusual and unlawful journey, and you have to admire that.