Postcard from Dublin

Hello from not-London,

The Irish Sea is crashing wildly against the pier in Dun Laoghaire, south county Dublin, 150 metres from the bay window where I'm writing this; radio advertising is singularly, familiarly annoying and the Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) has just become the highest paid such public servant in the western world, earning €310,000 a year. Having recently moved back to Dublin to live after a 13-year absence, I feel unsafe on the streets at night, due to repeated warnings by female friends about alarmingly random violence stemming from drunkenness and a perceptible class-based hostility. Drugs are openly exchanged along the quays; I walk past track-suited groups munching pills and palming bags. 'Everybody knows everybody', in theory, though the glib dismissing of 'knackers' and 'gurriers' seems on short acquaintance way more ubiquitous and self-justified than the usually slightly self-conscious act in England of naming someone a 'chav'. The new wealth here is reflected in some terrific new architecture; the juxtaposition of the old and new is mutually flattering, what's left of the old is addictively idiosyncratic. Calatrava has built a bridge here. U2 are planning to build a tower (with a suspended pod for their rehearsal studio) down along the quays; it will be one and a half times the height of the needle, the landmark spire in the centre of O' Connell Street. There are splashes of puke to be sidestepped on the streets every morning and the streets of Temple Bar smell like sewers. Whole swathes of Dublin are miserable and squalid, but down in Dun Laoghaire the light bounces magically off the pastel-coloured Georgian gentility and we swim in the rain in November, and all through the city the pubs are glorious and affable and cosy and the craic is mighty. Splendid food halls abound (and to think I was worried about finding halloumi!) Parnell Street is chock-full of Chinese foodshops and it all feels merrily multicoloured at last. I am happy to be back.

So happy in fact that for the moment my ability to critique the scene is heavily compromised; as it is, I was so worried about leaving London and its everything all the time world-classness, that I am grateful for every single moment of quality that I encounter; thankfully there are many. The only way I can write this postcard is to single out the gems from what I've encountered in the last few weeks, with apologies for any lack of critical bite. 'Blackboxing', a group show at the Project Arts Centre curated by Tessa Giblin ('Blackboxing: the isolation, acceptance and application of a body of knowledge outside of one's comprehension'), mixes animation, sound installation, film and sculpture. I must confess to not understanding the conceit of the exhibition, which feels ok, given that this is partly what the exhibition is about, the willingness to engage with something one doesn't quite understand... I think. The smallness of the space requires all the work to co-exist visually, which it does smartly, being duotone at rest; an Escherian black and white interactive wall puzzle by Grace Weir sits beside Garrett Phelan's vast black sootblast emanating in one top corner from a dangling radiator-type object. The Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball's video work, from which the show takes its name, for me steals the show completely. So compelling that it made me realise how often I am politely bored by art videos, it is a deadpan yet deadly earnest stream-of-consciousness paean to curiosity, featuring an escapologist and a war magician, and matching her various means - Victorian cartoon pastiche, single-line animation and a shaken kaleidoscope - to her storytelling ends.

At PCP (Pallas Contemporary Projects), Sarah Browne and Gareth Kennedy's new show 'Current Trends Past Projects' brings together disparate cultural artefacts about the oil industry, from a 1965 song about oilworkers returning to Bantry Bay in Cork, to what appeared to be a mock painting of the Universal Ireland, an Irish tanker, presumably - apparently once the longest ship in the world - unless this was an elaborate spoof to accompany the screening of their 'Episode 306: Dallas, Belfast.' Improvising to a skeleton script of the original much-loved 1980s TV series (my brother and I seemed to be the only kids at my primary school who weren't allowed to watch it of an evening), three groups of people in Belfast selected by open audition enact a scene in a purpose-built set in a mobile 'space shuttle' project space. Overlooking the Belfast post-industrial docklands the often comic performances investigate the city's future and issues of redevelopment, prosperity and choice; it matters when it's in a Belfast accent not a Texan drawl.

Hanover Dock, Hanover Reach, Hanover Riverside, Hanover Street, but no bloody Hanover Wharf. After an hour of asking in shops and asking scores of builders I gave up on what looked to be an exciting idea down on still-developing Hanover Quay in the newly snazzifying Dublin docklands. With a splendid roll-call of 33 artists, about 8 a week, including Paul McCarthy, Cecily Brennan, Reneke Dijkstra, Marina Abramovic, Kim Schoen and recent RCA graduate Simon Cunningham's mesmerisingly perfect 'Mollycoddle', BodyCity, a month-long project in 'Video Apartment' should've been great and was to be the centrepiece of this review, but there was neither a signpost nor a helpful map in sight, so I stomped off in great bad humour to IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, to see I'm Always Touched By Your Presence, Dear, an exhibition of IMMA's new acquisitions from the last few years. It opens well, with a space-by-space walk-through of the several video pieces, by Pierre Huyghe, Philippe Parreno, Willie Doherty, Brian Duggan, Lu Chunsheng and Cecily Brennan, interspersed with lightworks by Michael Craig-Martin and Liam O'Callaghan - a lovely light play on smashed wing-mirrors - perhaps an ultimate in urban serendipity. Frustratingly, two of the works, Doherty's and Duggan's, weren't working, though it was opening day for Thomas Scheibitz and Miroslaw Balka, so I couldn't be too vexed; instead I felt sorry for a modern gallery techie who in days of old only had to deal with hanging and lighting flat canvases and the odd bust.

Cecily Brennan's 'Melancholia' was strong (matched by another Irish artist Willie O'Donoghue's 1982 three-canvas 'Anatomy of Melancholy', poignant as the long, black nights set in - many fewer streetlights here) but (perhaps still in a grump) I couldn't engage with the others - Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno's works felt like also-rans in their oeuvres, elsewhere so strong. Thereafter, it seemed a shame to be meeting the wildly disparate works by the 30 or so other artists presented in this way; they felt robbed of context and a felicitously alchemical sleight-of-hand of more deliberate curation. Artists included Dorothy Cross, Tom Hunter (the photograph from his 'Living in Hell' series gave me a pang upon seeing the Hackney bandstand - violent sexual crime taking place notwithstanding) Garrett Phelan, Gary Coyle, William Scott, Patrick Scott, Fergus Feehily, Thomas Nozkowski, Louis le Brocquy, Thomas Schütte, Blaise Drummond; Mark Manders was represented by two remarkably creepy sculptures. I didn't buy the curatorial brief (that the works were primarily about memory and absence) and came away strangely underwhelmed overall and thinking that I should feel a bit more stimulated having seen a multiple of Bertie Ahern's yearly salary on display. Downstairs, though, a small, deeply meditative exhibition called 'Three' featured the work of Charles Brady, Maria Simmons Gooding and Callum Innes, the idea being that each artist had a small solo show in a room openly adjoining the others and the dialogue between their works would open them out further. It was beautiful and inspirational, but I'm probably reflecting my bias for paint and limpidity here, so don't mind me.

Down back towards town a bit, the approach smelling strongly of burnt hops when the windsock points down Thomas Street, is mother's tankstation, a small but perfectly formed home-cum-workspace-cum gallery, in a converted gallery just on the quays, overlooking an ocean of Guinness barrels in the adjacent St James' Gate empire. Thorsten Brinkmann, a young German photographer, makes work that crosses the Knights of Nee, Holbein and Lidl Homewares; a wall of absurd ancestors, wearing ceramic pots or ladies' handbags for heads, car upholstery for armour and old bins for forelegs strike heroic poses against salvaged Oxfam ex-wardrobe wooden panelling, as a clothes rack pyramids out of the wall, a folded mattress in its mouth looking for all the world like a giant stuffed trophy triumphantly bagged by Tweedledum in Wonderland.

So lots going on, which is great and all bodes well - though it already feels to me that it would take a brave reviewer to write something negative in this small city - I'm already having qualms about putting my name to this! And in fairness I should add that Body City has since edited their address on their website and added a map...