Monuments and memorials are found throughout Ireland and their meaning is normally easily discerned through the design of the memorial, its inscriptions and its documented history in the archive or local library. The figures shown here are mysterious and ancient so their history is less easily read. Known as the Boa Island figures, they are presumed to date from the late Iron Age or early Christian period and they are located in a rural graveyard in Caldragh in County Fermanagh. I first saw them thirty years ago and revisited them for a second time last week. The images above show the larger of the two figures, from each side, the smaller figure being too eroded to be legible. What is interesting is that the figure is bilateral, and is described as Janus faced, despite the fact that there is no connection to the Roman god of the same name. Some say the figure shows Badhbh, an ancient Irish goddess of war. Others say the figure is male on one side and female on the other. On the broken plinth beside the figure is a collection of coins of different dominations, from Ireland and beyond. These have been left as offerings of some sort but who left them and what they asked of the stone deity is as unknown as the origins of the figures themselves. Do we have to know the biography of a monument to enjoy its existance, or can we simply be glad it is still there? Are we obliged to leave something behind - money, a hope, a memory - or can we just reaquaint ourselves with the past and move on leaving nothing behind?
I am still thinking about airborn memorials and ambiguity. This weekend, I spent time walking along the cliffs from Ballyhornan to Ardglass, following the narrow rocky trail along the coastline. Somewhere, far out on the rocks, I spotted this broken obelisk, the remains of an unknown memorial. I wondered what it marked and who it was for. Behind me was the former Bishop's Court RAF radar station built in 1943 and ahead of me was the Irish Sea and the notorious narrows of Strangford Lough where many boats had sank or foundered on the rocks. There was no signage or indication of what the obelisk commemorated and further down the rock face, I could see the rest of the column which was also without markings. Was it for pilots or fishermen, or for someone who had drowned? Did knowing the details add to or detract from its melancholy ? For me, not knowing allows thoughts and memories to remain open, making the memorial part of my present and not someone else's past. I remember what I do not know, and think of those I never met. Those in peril on the sea, as the song goes. In the studio I veil my model airship, put it in the garb of mourning and wonder if memorials grieve.
Art work that is separated by time and space can connect in novel and unexpected ways. "Big Albert" (left), was made in 1999 and it is curently on show at the Crawford Art Gallery , Cork* as part of an exhibition called Menagerie. On the right, made just last week, is painting of a speculative memorial to be contained in an airship. It is shown against a background of marks left by blowing bubbles, and so it merges with another concept where breathing is a form of remembering. Big Albert is a large scale charcoal drawing ( 210 x 150 cm) of a pigeon carcass. It is one panel of a triptych which referenced the carnage of the First World War through the use of animal imagery. The airship, or floating memorial, is based on a First World War example but it has been recontextualised by me to imagine how a memorial for the Northern Ireland Troubles need not be solid and fixed, but rather it might float and circulate, only landing when there is a request to see inside. The small scale painting (30 x 30 cm) contains a lot of big ideas but to me, it is not unfeasible, in that the airship could both be and contain a memorial. During the First World War there was a base for airships in Northern Ireland just outside the town of Larne. The mission of the crew was to look down to search the seas for the hidden threat of German U-Boats. Today, that which threatens us seems to come from the sky, and through the air, as an airborne virus we cannot seem to free ourselves from. In twenty years time, will the work I make then connect to the works shown here? Will this future work be about wars and political atmospheres, or the right to clean air without living in a bubble?
*Image courtesy of Crawford Art Gallery. Photography by Jed Niezgoda. Other artist featured in shot: Joe Neeson and Tony O'Malley.
It's the end of April and it seems we are all now ready to enter into the world again but are we all really ready? In the assumption that we are all in a rush to shop, to consume, to spend, to holiday, to meet with friends and family, has there been any rush to remember or reflect on those who are no longer with us? Perhaps the encouragement to rush towards all of these things is a deflection; a denial of scrutiny and a desire to remain within the guilded cages of our own making. Not everyone is so protected. Not everyone is free to fly. For some, lockdown has been a cage and for others, a respite if not a refuge. As we emerge into the sunlight, we should take some time to think of those who are still in the depths of darkness and of those who are still behind bars.
This month I have been developing my ideas from February. All the thoughts about islands and erosion and memory given material form in this experimental work with ice cast letters. My chosen location was Barr Hall Bay at the entrance to Strangford Lough and despite the driving wind and rain I managed to get some work done! Video clips to follow. Here, there is an example of how names on a memorial can be more inclusive. The melting letters shown depict the ways in which we identify oursleves and others - I, We, You, Us, Them etc. which became entangled as the waves washed across them. The letters were dissolved bythe action of the tide coming in and the rain falling down. The ice became water again and in this way, part of what destroys it. I am still thinking about this.
This time last year, I was in Paris. It was my last trip abroad. Since then, travel has been limited but thoughts can always roam free. Sometimes, the memories of a special place are found nearer to home. There is no need to visit them because they can be recalled in the mind just as a photograph is held in the hand. Island Hill is a storehouse of memory for me. Each time I think of it, or visit it, I am reminded of Marc Augé when he said " Memories are crafted by oblivion as the outlines of the shore are created by the sea" . He speaks of the connections between memory, oblivion and erosion and it always makes me think of Island Hill and how , over my life time, is has been eroded and seems a little smaller each time I go there. I wonder then as it decreases in size will my memories of it fade or will it always exist as long as I remember it? In years to come, what will be remembered from this year of lock down - who will be remembered and why? Despite the impossibility of perfect recall and the challenges of the past year, I feel lucky to be here to narrate the memories of them.
The stones in the foreground of the image above are known locally as a dolmen, and it sits within a circular earthwork - or henge - called the Giant's Ring. It is one of Ireland's oldest monuments, circa 5, 000 years old, and therefore it predates the pyramids at Giza. What we see today are the inner remains of the tomb and not its outer covering, nor the other tombs that were said to surround it. I have been thinking a lot recently about the oppositions of inner/outer and visible/invisible. Bachelard's Poetics of Space has helped me think about these things in interesting ways. Bachelard talks about the interface of oppositions by drawing our attention to what is held in tension between polarities and how the dialectical relationship between inner/outer is intimate and subject to change, or reversal. The point at which these polarities come together - the border line - is, according to Bechelard, painful to both sides. To avoid this pain, in a move from poetry to physics, we might consider that (after Barad, 2014) there are no boundaries, as "there is no absolute outside ; the outside is already inside". As I continue to develop ideas for a future memorial, I ask myself what the relationship between the visible and invisible will be, and how will it enable polarities to come together there in ways which are not painful to either side. How can I avoid absolutes?
The origins of the phrase 'may you live in interesting times' may never be known . I would argue that today, the nature of time itself is compelling and complex. We are not just living in interesting times but in a troubling and traumatic time period when the measurement of how hours and days pass (and repeat) is marked by a new chronology - Covid Time - which seemingly has no end. As the evenings darken and temperatures drop is it possible to think of better times ahead? I believe that it is. November turns into December and the shortest day is just that - one solstice day - after which days incrementally start to lengthen . At this present time we are shut down, locked in and dark. Time passes slowly for some and quickly for others. Some people don't notice time passing at all . For too many people this was the year that time stopped. These are some of the reflections that were layered into the making of the clock shown above. It had lived, silently, in a box for many years - an inheritance from another time. When I unwrapped it in the studio to start making a cast of it, the mechanism unstuck itself, and I heard it tick for the first time.
In a world where the only certain thing is continuing uncertainty it seems appropriate to continue experimenting in the hope that being open to new ways of thinking and doing might be part of the solution. In the studio, I continue with experiments into how to materialise that which cannot be measured or seen - like a breath or the weight of someone's soul. Allegedly, and if we believe in such things, this is 23 grammes. The bird form shown above weighs 23 grammes. It is hollow and translucent, made from fibreglass tissue and pva glue - gossamer or ectoplasm were not available! As we have just passed Hallowe'en, and today marks the Mexican Day of the Dead, in the midst of another COVID lockdown, one wonders about the combined weight of all the souls of the dead. By how much will this weight increase in the coming weeks, and who should be remembered this year, on Remembrance Day?
I recall the last words of a stranger - "I can't breathe". These words are unsettling as they return me to you. You who are no longer breathing. I can't breathe. Your last words to me 'say nothing' and so nothing more was said. In this space I am breathing and making a memorial. Around the world unknown people can no longer breathe. Memorials and monuments are being pulled down. What can I do to remember you and all those who are no longer breathing? In the middle of a pandemic that has produced an awareness of how our breath affects those around us, how can I make breathing an act of remembrance? If each inhalation and exhalation could be materialised and made visible then what would the result of such a breathing excercise look like. How would it sound? I exhaled into a bag. Sealed it. Wrapped it in plaster and waited. When the plaster was dry, I removed the bag and the solid shape of my breath remained. Hard to the touch. Hollow inside. Empty and open. The gap fits my mouth and I breathe again. Remembering.
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!