At the beginning of March I was just leaving Paris and wondering, a little skeptically, what lay ahead of us all under the threat of the little known COVID-19. Sadly now, we are all too aware of the present danger and our way of living and being has been considerably changed. For some , like me, there is the safety of being locked down at home in relatively comfortable surroundings. The situation is not the same for everyone and around the world some countries have dealt with this crisis better than others. In the UK, the death rate in now the third highest globally. The luck of the Irish is a well rehearsed cliche but for now, being located on the North of this Island offers a further degree of comfort. Our fatalities, for the moment, are lower than in the rest of the UK. As someone who is trying to create a memorial for the Troubles, these new deaths add a sad extra dimension to the work. How will they be remembered? I wonder when we will all gather in groups again, or will social distancing become an ingrained habit? I have thought about how the home is a refuge for some and a prison for others during these unprecedented times. The designs I am working on at the moment, shown above, reflect some of these concerns and are a way of working through ideas of community, solitude, commemoration and the memory/memorial relationship.
A trip to Paris always brings something unexpected - this time the non stop rain and the threat of COVID 19 virus all around - even the Louvre was forced to close. Luckily, I was able to catch the wonderful Christian Boltanski retrospective at the Pompidou before it finished. A sombre, moving and provocative exhibition centred (for me) around themes of remembering and forgetting; mourning and memorials. It seems appropriate to include an image of Notre Dame in ruins.... Back home, I was pleased to have an older piece of work (bottom right) included in the exhibition Embracing Human Rights; Conflict Textiles' Journey at Roe Valley Arts Centre, curated by Roberta Bacic. My work, the recumbent figure holding a mirror, reflects how much of March has been - moving forward by thinking about ways to remember the past. Next month, I may post a picture of tulips and the rain may even have stopped!
February has been cold, windy and wet so I have been busy working on new drawings in the studio. As is often the case with my drawings, they are difficult to document and much of the detail can be lost. In these drawings, the process is made deliberately complex as erasure, engraving and layering are part of the process. The work is a response to thinking about time and mourning; about marking the loss of many lives individually and collectively and how in times of violence we are entangled with each other. Maybe the heading of this month's blog should be Philosophical February! But these drawings are a way of making marks on paper as a reflection of how time, trauma and memory can mark us all.
January can be a long, bleak month so rather than fight it, I went to London for a weekend of dark things! Memories, ghosts, art and memorials (naturally). Looking back through my photographs I was struck (not literally) by the unintended theme of axes which emerged. From Anslem Keifer's beautiful, bleak exhibition at the White Cube* to a Jack Nicholson mural in the East End of London, as well as 'axes' ancient and modern at the Museum of London, there is always something to see and a motif to follow, if you choose. I wonder what February will bring?
*Superstrings, Runes, The Norns, Gordian Knot
December marks the end of one year and the beginning of another. The Solstice is observed and each day extends its light by welcome minutes. It seems to be a reflective time of the year, full of contrasts, such as memory and hope. These reflections are manifested in my ongoing memorial research. This month I have been preoccupied by doors and thresholds, thinking perhaps of those we welcome into our lives and those we lose. The Japanese craft of kintsugi has inspired me as a means to think about damage and repair, how things can be fitted back together, without losing their beauty, even though the wounds are on show. Dark December. Happy New Year!
A long planned research trip to the British Institute of Archaeology in Ankara posed something of a dilemma given that a few days before I was due to leave, Trump, Turkey and conflict along the border with Syria all kicked off. Would going mean I condoned this and it was business as usual or would a seeing/deciding for myself approach be better? After all, Ankara is a long way from the border. In the end, with a cohort of other PhD students, I went. It was an opportunity to discover the archives at BIAA, visit the Antikibar Mausoleum complex and do some sidebar explorations of my own such as to Ulucanlar Prison. This is now a museum which displays information on the many academics, journalists, writers and dissenters who were incarcerated there. I also made some work which addressed the fragility of borders and how 'things' such as peace can be made and unmade. An interesting trip, not without tension but then isn't this what self discovery is about?
For such a small Island, Malta has a lot to offer - especially for those with an interest in history. I was here on holiday but managed to fit in a bit of research including the Siege Bell Memorial in Valletta, St. Angelo's Fort in the Grand Harbour and a tour round the Lascaris War Rooms. All of which served to show that the size of an country is no indicator for the scale of its strategic importance - something which is particularly relevant to Northern Ireland right now. But, still being in holiday mode, and reminded of my trip to Lascaris (central image) I am convinced that there is light at the end of the tunnel!
August should be the height of summer with flowers in full bloom and the fields ripe for harvest. I took a few days out to go to Achill Island and planned to walk , beachcomb and relax - not necessarily in that order! Things go a little differently on the West Coast of Ireland and I spent a bracing few days buffeted by gales, sandblasted on the beach and getting mostly soaked each time I ventured outside. It was worth it though to see the force of nature and the majesty of the Atlantic Ocean. No wonder some fishing boats end up as wrecks, wooden and rusty memorials left to go back into the sands over time. In the studio, I continue to make memorials, conscious of how they might stand the test of time. Above, just one example of making material the metaphor of the fragility of a house of cards. How easily toppled it is, how many things its unbalance could stand for, from the environment to the peace process in Ireland. Leaking boats and driftwood are also under consideration.
Days out, whether at home or abroad, are always made better by encounters with art, history or a combination of the two! This month saw me taking a few days off to explore Bordeaux and to visit La base sous marine - formerly a WW2 U-Boat base and now home to a contemporary art gallery. I was also there to check out the memorial to the Spanish prisoners who were forced to construct the base. (Left Image). On the way back, walking through Chartrons, I chanced upon the last day of a stunning exhibition by Spanish artist Gonzalo Borundo whose installation in a disused church offered not just the usual scale and spectacle, but also detail and depth. (Centre Image). Just as moving, and nearer to home, I went to Dublin and the Irish Museum of Modern Art to catch Doris Salcedo's Acts of Mourning exhibition just before it finished. Shown on the right, a detail from one of the sculptures from the Disremembered series , delicate garments made from silk and pins - the artist's response to loss through gun violence in Chicago. Amazing how something so delicate can be so powerful. All in all, an inspirational month and so I am back in the studio processing , drawing and making - details to follow!
June was quite hectic - busy and enjoyable! Three conferences - Durham, London and Edinburgh , a workshop in Newcastle and the official launch of QSS Studios. Taking a cue from the Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum in London on the perils of all work and no play (see above!) I also found time to be inspired by David Adjaye's wonderful memorial exhibition , also at the Design Museum and to make new work for the opening night of QSS. Highlight of the month for me was the First World War: Past Present and Future Conference in Edinburgh. I presented a paper which gave an overview of my practice which, for some twenty years, had creatively responded to WW1 through themes of memory, forgetting and commemoration - both public and private. It was a real treat - and very moving - to have the opportunity to explore the Craiglockhart campus and to walk around the grounds where poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon had spent time recovering from shell shock. Beautiful grounds, wonderful literary archive and a fitting way to end the month!
This is where you will find news about exhibitions, projects, events, other artists, travels, experimental work and sometimes things that I just enjoyed seeing! I hope you enjoy them too!