Art & Architecture of Ireland, Vol.V: 20th Century, Catherine Marshall /Peter Murray (eds), 2014:

MCCARTHY, CAROLINE (b.1971), conceptual artist.

     In 1998, when invited to participate in the exhibition Irish Art Now: From the Poetic to the Political, an international touring exhibition jointly organized by IMMA and Independent Curators Inc., Caroline McCarthy offered a video piece entitled Journey through the Longest Escalator in the World, which features an empty plastic bottle caught in perpetual motion along a subway escalator. In typical McCarthy fashion, something worthless and generally beneath our attention becomes a metaphor for human life, endlessly and pointlessly carried through space in the hope of arriving at a destination that the viewer knows is fruitless. Not withstanding the seriousness of her intention, or the forum in which it was presented on that occasion, the comic aspect of her imagery is also important. McCarthy's concerns are to re-examine mundane events and objects, even the detritus of our lives, to see what they reveal about the human condition, and particularly practices to do with consumption and consumerism.

     A body of photographs of luscious arrangements of food, serving as a vehicle for the examination of the traditional genre of the still life, aspects of sculpture, consumption, waste and ultimately human vanity, won her the AIB prize in 2001. The still life genre's traditional association with momento mori and human vanity becomes more pointed in this work since the sculpted food is entirely moulded from wet toilet paper, perhaps the most universally discarded of all materials. It also serves to deconstruct the status of the genre within 'high' culture by bringing it closer to vulgar 'toilet' comedy.

     McCarthy was born in Dublin, raised in Dundalk and educated at NCAD and Goldsmiths College, London. Her career has been meteoric. In 1996 her work was selected by the renowned Italian curator Guy Tortosa for the EV+A Open Award and purchased for IMMA. At residency at IMMA in 1997 was followed by others in Eindhoven, Paris and Reykjavik, at Parker's Box in New York, Biz-Art in Shanghai, while she has had solo exhibitions in Dublin, Ghent, London, Dusseldorf, New York and other centres. She has been included in group shows all over Ireland and in Albamia, Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands and the USA. Among the awards she has already accumulated are bursaries from the AC/ACE and the British Council, two Open Awards at EV+A, the AIB Art Prize, and the Culture Ireland Award in 2006. Caroline McCarthy has been commissioned to execute art projects for Blanchardstown, Letterkenny, Dundalk, the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, East Sussex and King's College, London.


Selected reading: Mark Hutchinson, 'An Art of Escape' in Caroline McCarthy, exh. cat. Temple Bar Gallery (Dublin 2002); Caroline McCarthy, exh. cat. Gasworks Gallery (London 2003); Chris Townsend, New Art From London (London 2006)