Juxtaposing. A word much overused in my art college days. Recently, however, I have been reconsidering its meaning as part of the renewed social interest in how we abut, encounter, interface and perhaps even co-exist with each other during the continuing pandemic. In this context, I started to juxtapose sculptures made just pre-Covid with those made more recently. In the last blog post, I shared the process of making a painting on the theme of breathing, using blown bubbles and paint. The image above (left) uses the floor cloth from this experiment. It is draped over a piece of studio furniture - an old lectern from an unknown church. Onto this, I set a piece of sculpture made from driftwood which I had collected in the West of Ireland. The sculpture is called Mother and Child. Bringing these three elements together - the lectern, the stained sheet and the sculpture gave the piece a cohesion which was not apparent when the elements were randomly dispersed around the studio. As a reflection on this, I concluded that there is nothing to fear from bringing diverse materials or objects (or people) together as the sum of the parts can progress us towards new ways of thinking and seeing, refreshing old ideas and adding new layers of meaning.
The past few weeks have been marked by protest, monuments being toppled around the world and the unrelenting death toll caused by COVID - 19. So many deaths have occured in hospitals surrounded by caring staff or, uniquely, in brutal circumstances on the streets at the hands of those whose duty it is to serve and protect. Some have died at home, in lonely and desparate circumstances. How are we to make sense of it all? Of any of it? I tried to reflect on this in the studio, continuing on from research into how to make absence present; or how to make material that which is no longer there, like a breath. I thought about my own research into how to make a memorial for the Troubles, and how to (as Donna Harraway would say) stay with that trouble by considering the past as well as the present. I am still here. Still present. I marked that presence by taking a breath and remembering someone as I exhaled, through a mixture of soap and paint. The bubbles which formed dropped onto paper, some floated into space and I held the paper up to catch them. Each left its mark on the paper, evidence of breathing. Of being present. Of thinking of those who are not.
For many, including me, May has been a month of mourning as we collectively and individually count the dead here and around the world. Those known and unknown to us who died because they were ill or because they were trying to save those who were ill. Far away from these shores, some die because of the colour of their skin. Judith Butler, in Precarious Life (2004) described - most eloquently - how we are undone by each other and how if we are not, we are missing something. I was a little undone by events in May and so I post this image of Ballywalter beach in memory of someone by whom, at one time, I was undone. As Butler says, " For if I am confounded by you, then you are already of me, and I am nowhere without you. I cannot muster the "we" except by finding the way in which I am tied to "you", by trying to translate but finding that my own language must break up and yield if I am to know you. You are what I gain through this disorientation and loss. This is how the human comes into being, again and again, as that which we are yet to know". As many of us are feeling disorientated, or unbound, at the moment, I invite you to consider the horizon in the image above and imagine something better appearing there, drifting towards our shore.
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!
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!