Eminent Domain: Gillian Lawler

Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, April 9, 2016

Eminent Domain – Gillian Lawler 
The Molesworth Gallery, Dublin

Bill Bryson’s reference to CentraliaPennsylvania, in his book A Walk in the Woods drew Gillian Lawler to the town in 2014. Centralia fell victim to a still unfolding environmental disaster in 1962, when a vein of coal deep beneath it was accidentally ignited. It is burning still. The underground conflagration generates fissures and sinkholes and spews out toxic gases. As the years passed many residents opted for relocation, others hung on, until in 1992 the state governor issued the American equivalent of a compulsory purchase order – eminent domain – on all property in the borough.

Centralia is more a starting point than a conclusion for Lawler. She has taken photographs on site, but documentation is not the point of the exercise. Relatively few dwellings remain on an abandoned network of roads, as trees and other vegetation gradually reclaim the space and smoke curdles in the air. Lawler positions various orderly, geometric, patterned structures against these vistas. As she puts it, they seem to hang there, scrutinising the conditions beneath. These elegantly poised motifs appear delicately balanced against huge energies that simmer within and occasionally erupt through the earth: dreams and glimpses of order precariously won from chaos. The paintings’ finely tuned surfaces reflect that state of momentary, uncertain but beautiful stability.