Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Pluid - The National Comfort Blanket

This week I had intended to write about the other exhibition, Pathos, at Rathfarnham Castle, but after seeing the Pluid exhibition on Sunday, I decided it was a priority because it is a fundraiser in which all of the works may be viewed here and many are available for auction in aid of Pieta House, a charity with a mandate for suicide prevention. I blogged about the Pluid Project back in April of this year when I decided to get involved; you can see that post here. While the initial intention of the project was to create a National Comfort Blanket where the individual contributions would be sown together into one giant work, it soon became apparent to the organisers, Claire Halpin and Madeleine Hellier, that both the variety of media and the number of artworks involved would make this an impossible task. Instead, the numbered works were laid out on a long platform and visitors to the exhibition could make their way around the table to view the squares.

Looking up the tables at the multitude of contributions! Admittedly it was a little overwhelming but also gorgeous to see. The two monoprints I submitted, Rosehips and Wild Rose (#81 & #82), are visible towards the bottom centre.

The brief was completely up to the contributing artist to interpret: so a 6 inch square encompassed both 2D and 3D work and any medium that could be thought of was used! I was particularly drawn to Ciara O'Connor's stitch-drawing image of a parent and child making pasta together.

There were three primary schools that took part in this project: Fairview NS (Dublin), Holy Family NS (Monkstown) and Gaelscoil Nás na Ríogh (Naas). This picture also shows a variety of textile-based work: knitting, crochet, felting, beadwork and quilting. 

Jenny Mahony's limestone sculpture (centre) is a beautiful example of a fully 3D artwork in the exhibition. As #56 - an early piece to arrive at Pluid headquarters - it certainly shows how impossible it would have been to stitch the works together as a literal blanket!

2D work took the form of painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and various types of printmaking. There were a few examples of sun-printed cyanotypes. The print at centre-right is by Val O'Regan.

I was thrilled to see a ceramic piece in the exhibition by Orla Kaminska (upper left), whose work I had seen at the annual Ceramics Ireland exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle in June (I blogged about that exhibition here). I was delighted to discover that Fungi (centre right), the beautifully debossed and gold leaf embellished hand-bound book by Fiona O'Grady, was a blank sketchbook! As someone who enjoys bookbinding myself it is such a treat to see what techniques another artist is using.

This picture again shows a variety of works in different media and techniques: painting, felting, photography, crochet and stitching. The gold embroidery on denim is an extremely delicate drawing of wild garlic by Mairéad Harrington, which to her were a comforting sign of spring. As I have wild garlic growing annually below the fuschia hedge in my front yard (from which I make pesto each spring), I delighted in this piece.

In many of my own art pieces I have referred to my "dream boat": an image of a red-sailed boat in the ocean that first appeared to me in a dream and which I have come to associate with my self. Seeing this marker drawing of the red-sailed boat (centre) by Laura Geragerthy brought a true smile to my masked face, like meeting an old friend.

Human touch, both painted and photographed, like these photos (top, black and white) by Joshua Sullivan, has such strong associations during this time of "social distancing". Hugging and holding hands, when possible, have become far more important and nuanced than at any other time in our lives. I was also delighted to see the mokuhanga print of Kate McDonagh. Stillness (centre) "reflects the solace [she] found in the quiet skies throughout the Pandemic particularly [during] the first lockdown when no planes were flying." I became acquainted with McDonagh's practice during one of Graphic Studio Dublin's "Artist Beyond the Studio" series of lockdown remote artist talks a few months ago. A recording of it can be watched here.

Comfort in nature was another theme found in various forms throughout the "blanket". I was particularly drawn to the bog cotton works by Pamela DeBrí. I used to live rurally in Kerry and the field next to me was where I first saw bog cotton, a sight which I thought wonderful and beautiful. It was a joy to see both the photograph of a cotton field and the real things immortalised on rag paper.

This picture shows varying 3D works by different artists. I enjoyed Grant McEwen's stainless steel Jigsaw Time (reflecting the overhead beams of the cowshed) and it gave my family the opportunity to do a squishy masked selfie. In front of McEwen's piece is the blue origami and graph paper work, Blue Pavilion, by Helen Barry and beside that is Nourishment, a driftwood and copper piece by Helen OBrien. Nearby I was struck by the altarpiece quality of Michelle Boyle's The Sun Rises in Spite of Everything, a mixed media work that includes gold leaf, granite and découpage elements to create something mystical. To the right of Boyle's work is a blue glass abstract landscape work, Bay, by Barbara Keneally.

There were a surprising number of glass works submitted and I was particularly drawn to the colourful works (centre) of Maresa Edwards, which were based on her daily walking routes.

Obviously it is impossible for me to feature every worthy artwork here - there are more than 1200 works! - so please look at the auction website, here, to view individual works and find out more about the artist's response to the theme of comfort. Altogether it is quite amazing how much thought and work and expression can go into a six inch square. Each artwork is so individual and so human - this is truly a project that has shown the depth of feeling that individuals are willing to show during this extraordinary time and to share their comfort with others. Brava Claire and Madeleine for intiating this project! Thank you.

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