A giant black mountain of cardboard and tape jutted from the floor of the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery. Its angular edges and height like the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. Two silver figures with flat pointed heads, their legs covered with painted ‘evil’ eyes brandished spears and stood guard at the mountain’s base. A bulbous, black cyclops rose from atop the mountain, swaying from side to side. A line of figures moved through the gallery out onto the street while a speaker pumped loud music that echoed off the surrounding buildings. Viewers poured onto the street to observe the performance.
In the middle of Chancery Lane, a tall figure with a crescent moon on its head, its body wrapped in black tape, fluorescent yellow and reflective strips, like those from high visibility vests, held two checkered flags aloft. Two rally car creatures took their position at the starting line and the tall figure blew a horn loudly. Racing off down the street, the creatures turned, crossed paths and returned to the start line at speed. They slowed at the top of the street and rejoined the group of rally cars circling excitedly. Their merriment and the buzz they created as they undulated side to side mirrored rhythms of the lively electronic music. Referencing the ancient Fomorians, a monstrous, mythological sea-faring race said to have inhabited remote parts of the island, these rally cars conveyed a sense of light-hearted play. Later when their movements slowed mimicking the change in the tempo of the music, their demeanor became rather morose. Further up the street, pedestrians stopped and stared, and patrons emerged from a nearby restaurant to observe the rumpus. Their collective curiosity an evident mixture of confusion and wonderment.
The striking figure of Morrigan, the phantom queen, dressed in an elaborate costume of black bin bags and silver duct tape seemingly materialised from inside the gallery. Her bird-like headdress indicated a connection to Badb, the crow who foretells victory or defeat in battle. The upper and lower part of her face split in half, with black and white paint, signified dark and light; death and life. Her presence was a force to be reckoned with. She moved her enormous wings, pinning a viewer against the gallery window. Moving ever so slowly, drawing closer until they were cheek to cheek, communication appeared to pass between them, though it was unclear what, if anything, was verbalised. Morrigan moved from one person to the next, her body leaving a series of small traces of black paint from where she has pressed herself against them. Those not prepared for such intense bodily engagement actively sought to remove themselves from her path.
Though Chancery Lane was blocked off to car traffic, a car managed to drive around the corner making its way to the end of the performance space before coming to a halt. Moving to the centre of the road, Morrigan maintained her regal bearing and drew herself to full height to stare them down. The driver was perplexed but didn’t move. The performance became an impromptu game of chicken, which echoed the sometimes bravado antics of street racing. We watched with interest; our anticipation palpable. Morrigan outstretched her wings in all their glory, black plastic feathers rippling in a sudden blast of the wind that swirled down the street. With this action, the driver reversed in the opposite direction, though not before snapping a quick picture on their phone.
I remained still when Morrigan approached me. When we stood toe to toe with our faces were mere inches apart, I was surprised to see a salty, tear running its way down her face. The vulnerability and intimacy of it made me feel uncertain. Meeting her eyes, I found myself blinking several times to briefly interrupt our connection because the intensity was overwhelming but I found myself unable to turn away. I gave a slight smile, hoping the empathy I felt translated to my eyes. As she moved slowly past me, our connection dissolved back into the rhythms of the performance. Live performance can produce these intense moments of interconnection and the uncertainty that accompanies one’s response to them serves to produce meaningful encounters. SIRENS part III coupled these bodily encounters with a DIY aesthetic carried throughout the performance- found in the construction of the mountain, the elaborate costumes and even the wheeled speaker that propped open the gallery door. In doing so, the performance aimed to open up a space for exploring the current conditions of young people in rural Donegal by drawing connections between the fringe culture of rally car racing and Celtic mythology as a way of thinking through past and present Ireland.
SIRENS part III was presented at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery 22 to 31 August 2019, with a live performance on 22 August.
Dr Kate Antosik-Parsons is an art historian who writes about Irish time-based art, gender and sexuality. She is a researcher at NCAD for the project ‘Performance art in Ireland in the 1990s’ as part of L’Internationale’s ‘Our Many Europes’. www.kateap.com