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Trish Morrissey: Autofictions review – This Dublin-born photographer deserves to be a household name

Visual art: Autofictions, on view at Photo Museum Ireland, is the first major retrospective of Morrissey’s evocative, poignant, funny work

Trish Morrissey: Autofictions

Photo Museum Ireland, Dublin
★★★★★

Trish Morrissey may not yet be a household name, but this new exhibition at Photo Museum Ireland demonstrates why she should be.

Autofictions is the first major retrospective of the Dublin-born artist’s work, bringing together a collection from her photography series and exhibition films of the past 20 years. Evocative, poignant and funny at times, the tone of Morrissey’s imagery strikes a balance between, on the one hand, a warm intimacy that ushers us into considering the intensity and fragility of familial ties and, on the other hand, a detached, wry attitude that veers into surrealist humour.

Her series Front (2005-7), for instance, which grew from beach walks across the UK and Australia, is paradigmatic: Morrissey approached a number of families and asked permission from one of the group, often selecting the maternal figure, to take their seat and swap clothing. The resulting images are compelling studies in psychological role-play, with the artist comfortably situated among the crowd, nestled into a new household like a human cuckoo.

The strength of these works lies not only in their conceptual premise or alluring aesthetic composition but also in Morrissey’s “performance”. Dressed in someone else’s outfit and surrounded by strangers, the artist manages to mould herself to fit each new social environment, appearing perfectly at ease, a natural and central element within the group. While a strong sense of mischievousness galvanises these compositions, there is the possibility of something sinister lurking within them: Morrissey’s experiments invoke ideas of impersonation, replacement and substitution, all of which are relevant in the era of deepfakes but also conjure associations with folk tales about changelings and shape-shifters.

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Given its choice of location, the nearby series Psycho Beach (2008-10) establishes a visual continuity with Front, yet the emotional undercurrents at play are vastly different. These compositions are intriguing combinations of landscape photography with portraiture, featuring small figures, faceless and unrecognisable, dwarfed by the coastal environs they reside within. The most eloquent of the three photographs from this series is Gower, in which a nude mother cradles her infant daughter, surrounded by the black-and-grey rock formations carved into the coastline by the turbulent sea.

Anxiety predominates throughout these works, and the vulnerability of the subject is enhanced by their relative scale and anonymity. These artworks speak to one of the central themes of the exhibition, namely Morrissey’s personal experience of caring for a child with significant health challenges. This theme returns and echoes across several of the works on display here but is perhaps most powerfully encapsulated in the artist’s recent film Eupnea. A haunting, complex work, Eupnea carries the viewer through several layers of narrative, grounded in Morrissey’s memories of her son’s illness and the open-heart surgery he underwent at the age of four.

As so many accounts of the relationship between bathos and pathos make clear, the emotional unburdening that accompanies laughter is a close relative of sorrowful release: tears of joy may turn suddenly into tears of sadness, and vice versa. Morrisey’s work is vividly attuned to this continuum of opposites. Not to be missed.

Autofictions continues at Photo Museum Ireland, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, until Saturday, February 10th, 2024

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