‘Vesper’ is an archaic word for evening and also for the most common species of bat. For this solo exhibition of new work Austin McQuinn deepens his long interest in human-animal relationships by exploring the marginal existences and consciousness of bats.
Inspired by the church gallery space, situated between the belfry and the cavernous basement, McQuinn’s new paintings evoke the bat’s phenomenal experience of its world.
Austin McQuinn’s first solo exhibition ‘Occupied Territories’ took place at Triskel Arts Centre in 1991, this is his first time exhibiting in the Christchurch space.
Being a Bat
In an essay written in 1974, Thomas Nagel asked the question ‘what is it like for a bat to be a bat?’ He asked us to stretch our understanding of who and what had a conscious sense of themselves, such as a bat – not out of any particular interest in animals or concerns around bat welfare – but to push our thinking towards a breach of the exclusive, received idea of what it is to be human. By imagining what a bat might ‘think’ itself to be, our own thinking is challenged and expanded.
The history of personifying bats as ugly, secretive, pestilent and vampiric loads this small creature with well over its own weight in metaphor. The truth is that bats live alongside us, quietly. They live out an ecological exquisiteness in their relationship to human, urban and natural worlds. By cleaning the air of insects at night, digesting populations of midge infested streets or fields, bats live with us and without us, but always at some level of proximate consciousness.
Being a bat means living inside human social structures but maintaining one’s own bat determination. Living in marginal, interstitial spaces such as, traditionally, the church tower, the cave, the attic or the basement, bats are conscious, creative beings that can exist and flourish, out of sight. As modern buildings become more regulated and sealed to exclude animal intruders, bat species and colonies are becoming more endangered and more creative.
Being a bat now means finding ways to negotiate one’s own place inside the major structures that have overwhelmed the natural, the societal, the indigenous and perhaps the individual. Bats try to develop unwelcome or unnoticed colonies in attics, disowned buildings and empty warehouses in order to maintain their ecological position. They have no alternative. Bats are precise, accurate and balanced, a kind of self-regulating entity in many ways. Where populations of insects live in direct co-relation to the health of the bat colonies and so out into the rest of ecology, we humans hold great influence. Considering bat consciousness, of what it is like for a bat to be a bat, opens thinking towards a broader consideration of how and what it is to be in the world as an outsider, an artist, an animal or a human.
Austin McQuinn has a studio practice spanning twenty-five years of Irish and international solo exhibitions at Triskel, Cork; David Cunningham Projects, San Francisco; Project, Dublin; and Butler Gallery, Kilkenny Castle. His work has been shown in selected group exhibitions in France, Tasmania, Korea, United States and London as well as Ireland and he has had the support of major bursaries by local authorities, the Arts Council and Culture Ireland. For Cork City of Culture 2005, his commissioned installation Ape Opera House was widely acclaimed. His work is held in public and private collections in Ireland, UK and USA. In 2016 he was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Roehampton, London. His doctoral research focused on animality in arts and performance practices.