Wednesday 30 March 2022

The Map - exhibition at Rua Red Gallery, Tallaght

A couple of weeks ago I went to see The Map at Rua Red Gallery before it closed at the end of that week. The work was an enormous collaborative commission by Alice Maher and Rachel Fallon, in response to the "history and legacy of Mary Magdalen".

In Ireland any response can only be nuanced -- not only as the name of the female disciple of Jesus, but as a concept attached to the systemic abuse and incarceration of women, with the collusion of the church, since the founding of the State some hundred years ago. 

Thus Maher's and Fallon's response is politically, historically, as well as artistically charged. Using traditional concepts of "women's work" - needlework of all kinds (appliqué, embroidery, crochet, sewing skills) -- as well as paint and print, they created a huge work of art, a textile sculpture, using the language of cartography. 

There are islands, winds, constellations, flora and fauna in abundance throughout The Map and the details are exquisite.

There was a documentary video outside the gallery in which Fallon and Maher spoke of their collaboration as having its starting point in the banners they created a few years ago for the "Repeal the 8th" marches prior to the referendum regarding the 8th amendment (whereby a fetus had the same rights as a living being, making abortion criminal under any circumstances).

As with maps of old, various sea monsters roamed and Maher and Fallon used these as both witty and pointed decorative devices.

Each detail in The Map is important, so I found myself examining portions and trying to get a handle on it, while stepping back periodically to take in the whole view of this work full of wonder and awe!

As I am not tall, I couldn't quite see all the details at the top of the work. The only other way I could imagine it being displayed is on a huge table that I could walk around.

I agree with Maher's description of the work as one of "material culture" and I hope there is the opportunity to view it again.  I do think it belongs in one of the State collections - at the National Museum, National Gallery or the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). I hope someone has the foresight to see the importance of this work, both artistically and historically.

In gallery two was the accompanying aural work We Are The Map, an ekphrastic poem by Sinéad Gleeson with music composition by Stephen Shannon. It was both pleasant and enlightening to hear the writing wander through The Map after having seen it. In a darkened room, the aural hopping from island to island became a meditative experience as I was able to gain a fuller understanding of the imagery within the artwork. Of course, I appreciated the beautiful writing of Gleeson with whose work I am already familiar.


Wednesday 23 March 2022

Cora Cummins and Saoirse Higgins at The LexIcon Gallery

 A couple of weeks ago I realised that I was running out of time to see an exhibition that had been on my radar for a few months! With the way these past two years have gone, at least I can forgive myself for losing track of time. But at least I got to see the exhibition at The LexIcon Gallery prior to its close. On Steady Ground/Unsteady Ground was a 2-person exhibition by Cora Cummins and Saoirse Higgins. While there was some collaboration in process discovery and prior to exhibiting work (as indicated in an artist talk by Cummins) the exhibition itself is not of collaborative work, rather work by two very individual artists.

Entering the gallery from the adjacent library, the viewer is brought face to face with a number of prints by Cora Cummins and the variation in scale - from tiny mezzotints to the multi-panel etching - is immediately apparent.

The common denominator between the works by the two artists seemed to be landscape and a concern for the environment. However, this is only a surface reading of the works as both artists are really addressing issues of isolation and responses to the pandemic seem to seep out of the works.

As I knew something of Cora Cummins prior to listening to her artist talk (via Zoom the week before I saw the exhibition) I was not surprised to find out that Cummins was also finding creativity from insurmountable grief (her husband died, far too young, several years ago). 

Even had I not known this, I would have looked at the fractured image in the multi-panelled print Monument as something more meaningful than simply the image of a mountain. Because of the artist talk I was aware that this labour-intensive piece subverted the whole point of printmaking itself - it was a unique piece and would always remain so:

Cummins, after printing those unique panels, used the copper plates to form the sculpture Fallen. Together the two works complement each other in a heartbreaking expression of sorrow and survival.

The space around each work allowed that necessary room to hold the emotionsal impact.

I thought, at first, that this wall hanging was another of Cummins's works, but the creator was Saoirse Higgins. It was a good bridging piece between her and Cummins's pieces. The central image had that feeling of landscape but its actuality could not be placed. Perhaps it was a detail? Within the larger cloth it took on several aspects of appearance and connotation: a shroud, a blanket and a screen. So any emotional reading was confused by a multiplicity of meaning.

And then one is drawn to the flickering video in the small room at the back of the gallery where the changing shoreline and racing clouds of timelapse are mesmerising. I was unable to attend Higgins's artist talk but from hints Cummins gave in her talk, I surmised that the landscape filme was of a remote island in the Orkneys where Higgins spent much time in isolation during the worst days of the pandemic.

At some point the video/film becomes multi-split-screen and, aside from the saturated blues of sea and sky, one is aware of the propellor movement from a small aircraft. Both Higgins's and Cummins's work deal with the passage of time and leave the viewer with a melancholic hope. I was glad I had the chance to view the work in this incarnation, at this venue.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Memory Is My Homeland at Rathfarnham Castle room 3: The Dining Room

 The third room of my exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle is accessed by walking across the back of The Saloon from The Pistol Loop Room and entering through the curved door. To see works related to this exhibition and in-progress, simply do a search for Memory Is My Homeland on this blog.

While it is furthest from the door that one has just entered, Kingswood is the largest piece in this room and being so colourful one tends to walk over to it first. 

This is my representation of the house in Toronto that I grew up in, the three figures representing moments of my life: a young child stands on the front lawn by the hedge on her Communion Day, wearing the purple cape that her mother made for this occasion, a young teen reading and tanning on the steps (every summer for several years) and the young woman in her early 20s leaving home to start her life as an artist and writer. The house had much flora in the front yard, back yard and side garden. One of the lilac trees in the back yard was hit by lightning when I was a child so there was a stump that didn't flower, but the other side of the tree remained healthy. I didn't put everything in the picture but as much as I could... 

Moving away from the big picture, on a false wall of its own is Home. Although this piece is much earlier than the others (it was created in 2009) and began as part of another series of works, I thought it belonged with these works. The little icon is based on a drawing my child did, of my current home in Bray, when my child was about 6 years old.

Turning away from Kingswood and Home, one is attracted by the bay windows and the plasterwork on the ceiling. There are two false walls in niches to either side of the bay windows and these contain the last pieces in the exhibition.

The House with the Red Door and The House with the Green Door are representations of the earliest homes of my life, in Cabbagetown, in Toronto's inner city. I actually remember a few things related to each house but mostly I differentiate them by the colour of their door. We moved from the former to the latter when I was 2 years old and my family moved from the latter when I was 4. The print Swing Chain, in the Pistol Loop Room, specifically relates to the low chain fencing separating the front lawn of The House with the Red Door from the footpath. I had remembered swinging on a chain fence as a toddler and thought this was a false and impossible memory until one day, as an adult, I passed this terrace of city housing while on the streetcar in Toronto and saw the low chain fences as they appeared in my memory! Cabbagetown got its name because in the late 1950s and early 1960s there was a huge wave of Irish immigrants who ended up living in this area (my parents and siblings among them).

The final piece in the show, Kingston Road: Waiting, is a representation of me in my twenties at my bachelor apartment in the upper beaches area of Toronto (West Scarborough), where I lived for several years. The curtains behind me are actual sheers that I had painted for an installation about HOME that I worked on while completing on my BFA at York University. I was, of course, waiting for my career and life to really begin. A few years after finishing uni, I moved to Ireland, where I had my first solo exhibition in Dublin at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios in the spring of 1989.

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Memory Is My Homeland - Rathfarnham Castle - room 2: The Pistol Loop Room

Last week I started the "virtual tour" of my exhibition Memory Is My Homeland in The Saloon of Rathfarnham Castle. You can see that post here and/or do a search on this blog for all the work related to this exhibition using the title of the exhibition as key words. The Pistol Loop room is a tower room accessed through a curved door at the back of The Saloon. It is an intimate space and ideal for my prints on handmade silk fibre sheets. There are three false walls in the room, with 2, 3 and 4 prints on each. Here are walls 1 and 2.

And closeups of each print: Hospitality and 

Spilt Tea on wall 1.

The second wall holds Prom Rail, Bray,

Prayers For My Children and


Here are walls 2 and 3.

This is the third wall showing its 4 prints.

Field Gate, Knockeen,

Clothes Peg,

Distance and 

Swing Chain.

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Memory Is My Homeland - Rathfarnham Castle - room 1: The Saloon

Since there are three rooms to my exhibition at Rathfarnham Castle, I thought I would do a virtual tour over the next few weeks of my blog, starting with the first room that one enters to view work: The Saloon.

Of course, the real start of the tour is entering the Castle, an Elizabethan fortified home. The Entrance Hall on the first floor is where one picks up my catalogue and folder that accompanies the exhibition.  


After one enters The Saloon from The Entrance Hall the colour of the large painting, Knockeen, on your left, stands out

in contrast to what appear to be three framed blank pieces of paper! (For detail images of Knockeen, you can look here.)

On closer inspection (though difficult to photograph) this is a trio of blind embossed prints, entitled Ghost I

Ghost II

and Ghost III. In answer to questions about their meaning, my response is that they are about being seen and not being seen. The hand images are made from photocopies of my own hands that have been reduced in size and cutouts made from sandpaper for the embossing texture. The form here is very appropriate to the meaning.

This is a view up the left hand wall from the back of the room. Note the decorative plaster work on the ceiling; the embedded painting panels are scenes from the life of Christ, placed here early last century when this building was owned by the Jesuit order for use as a seminary and retreat.

Florence Road: Butterfly Wall derives from an actual encounter when I moved back up to Bray from Kerry. I planned to paint all the walls in the house white, in order to brighten this old house, which had been unlived in for several years. Meanwhile, however, quite a number of butterflies had taken residence in the house and had become dormant on the old wall of the stairwell. While I was alarmed at this, my husband collected the butterflies and put them outside where they came out of stasis and flew away. Butterflies have always been an easy symbol of transformation and freedom and this was a personal experiene for me to paint.

This is a view along the right wall from the back of the room. The chairs mark the doorway that we have entered through, which is flanked by two fireplaces. In planning the location of the false walls, I stipulated that I did not want the fireplaces to be covered.

Red Wellies is a monoprint on handmade silk fibre sheet. I learned to make silk fibre sheet (technically not "paper" since it is not plant-based) during a zoom course that I took in the early days of the pandemic. The Fabriano paper inclusions are visible in the sheet and do make it easier to print on. I bought my wellies during a deluge in Galway in 1989 and practically lived in them (and wore them out) while I dwelt in Kerry for three years. They were worthy of commemoration!