Experiencing Material Traces of Frances Mezzetti’s Between and Beyond (2008)

by Kate Antosik Parsons

Frances Mezzetti, Between and Beyond, Out of Site, Clontarf Promenade, November 2008.

A description of the performance from Open Spaces brochure published by Dublin City Council reads:

Frances Mezzetti – Between and Beyond. 2.30-3.30pm
Nestled in the trees along the beginning of the walkway the artist will create a portrait based on her interactions with the local nursing home.[1]

I was there that cold, rainy day on the 8th November 2008, where I witnessed several performances from Out of Site, the public outdoor exhibition of performance art curated by Michelle Browne. Out of Site included works by Amanda Coogan, Pauline Cummins, Gareth Kennedy, Alastair MacLennan and Dominic Thorpe, and others sited at different locations along the Clontarf Promenade and the walkway end of Bull Island. Intending to spend the day with the performances, I went first to the Bull Island performances before heading down the promenade, thus inadvertently missing some of the performances sited in the opposite direction. I was surprised when I later learned that one those performances, Frances Mezzetti’s Between and Beyond, was concerned with Rose Parsons (1930-2010), my partner’s elderly great-aunt who at that time was resident in the Clontarf Private Nursing Home.


When I recently met with Mezzetti to discuss her art practice she gave me a bundle of materials relating to Between and Beyond. Included were preliminary sketches of Rose in her 30s and as an ageing woman in her twilight years, a family tree that aimed at understanding Rose’s place within a large family, and detailed notes relating the different journeys Rose made around Ireland and abroad. As part of the research process Mezzetti also recorded an oral history with Rose. From the material traces I learned that Rose had a sense of adventure, and as a member of the Legion of Mary in the 1960s, she travelled to Venezuela where she lived for three years. Mezzetti told me that the local people Rose met were puzzled that she did not have a child. When she explained she was unmarried, they told her that was not important in their culture and that even the local priest had children. I tried to imagine Rose’s shock upon hearing this.


Mezzetti unfolded a large white translucent piece of fabric hemmed at both ends for me to view. I was reminded of a voile curtain panel, the kind often used to let light into a sitting room while still maintaining privacy. It bore a larger than life bust portrait drawn with a felt-tipped black marker of young Rose wearing a cross necklace, indicating the special place that spirituality held in her life. Grasping it in both hands, I held it high, gazing into the eyes of someone unknown to me but so incredibly familiar.

Mezzetti explained this fabric was suspended top and bottom by wire strung between two trees. She described the difficulty of constructing this hanging portrait, and the necessity of pressing the fabric up against a hard surface to provide the resistance enabling her to draw on it. I ran my hands over its surface, visualising the challenges this fabric posed for mark marking and imagined how Mezzetti’s hands touched where I touched. Evading my grasp, its silky texture slipped from between my fingers. Perhaps this material alluded to the elusiveness of memories, so real and yet distant. Mezzetti pointed to Rose’s hair where a faint trace of a word was still visible. In the course of the performance, she inscribed parts of Rose’s biography onto the fabric, and in turn, these composed the cohesive image.


At home I performed gestures of my own as I held Mezzetti’s two sketches of Rose in my hands. I swivelled my head between them, old/young, old/young, repeating the action several times looking at each feature: eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, chin. I did so in the hopes that these encounters with the documentation might enable me to identify shared resemblances between Mezzetti’s portraits of Rose and my children, one of whom nearly shares her birthday and exact name. Though I wasn’t in attendance at the live performance, I attempt to construct an understanding of it based on Mezzetti’s descriptions and the material traces of the performance I encountered, coupled with my recollection of the cold air on the seafront that day. Remarkably, Rose, at 79 years of age, was present that day to observe the performance. What was she thinking as she stood there on that windswept promenade watching an image of her youthful face unfold in front of her? Did it harken back to that exciting time when her travels took her overseas to faraway places? Did people watching the performance recognise the past and present faces of Rose?

When I showed some family members Mezzetti’s sketches and explain that Rose was present at the performance, they were fascinated. One recalled Rose returning from Venezuela and speaking only Spanish. Another remarked that Rose was a reserved person and marveled at the artist’s skill in establishing a trust with Rose. Recalling Mezzetti’s previous work as a nurse and midwife, I consider how her deep listening techniques and quiet confidence enable her to make meaningful connections with people. Examining the documentation and contemplating the performance eleven years after it took place, Between and Beyond raises several points of interest. I think of knowing about someone but not knowing them. I consider ideas about the meaning of individual memories in the context of wider familial histories and how performance art facilitates engagement with these histories. Though Rose’s life history does not belong to me or Mezzetti, the history attached to this specific performance finds new life in the present through our mutual engagement with it. When entrusting me with the performance documentation, Mezzetti extended her performance, enabling it to move between and beyond different layers of histories and their absences. In turn, this remembering and retelling of the performance suggested ways in which it is possible to enact new relationships to past performances.


FIX19 Review: Sharing Responsibility

by Emma Brennan

This year saw the thirteenth edition of the prolific FIX festival. Established by Catalyst Arts in 1994, for twenty-five years, FIX has consistently delivered an innovative programme of local and international live, sonic and performance artists to the city of Belfast. It is internationally renowned as one of Europe’s longest running live art festivals. Book-ended between Culture Night and October’s late Night Art, this year saw more than 20 artists participate over the two weeks in multiple venues across the city. Much like it’s parent, Catalyst Arts, FIX boasts an undeniable reputation for showing iconic, thought provoking work and is a vital outlet for contemporary art practices in Northern Ireland.

The legacy of this festival is tightly sewn into the cultural fabric of the city of Belfast, and hence was one of the biggest draws for me to pursue a Directorship at Catalyst Arts. Needless to say, the opportunity to then project manage such a beast was both an exciting and intimidating prospect. The very definition of being a festival posed an endless index of possibilities for what FIX19 could become and an equally long list of anxieties for me as an emerging curator.

In our initial conversation about performing at this year’s FIX19, BBeyond member and no stranger to the festival itself, Brian Patterson, offered me a formula for approaching live art events which helped ease this anxiety. An equation of sorts that I frequently meditated on in the overwhelming moments of the festival, helping to keep my head above water.

The gospel according to Brian:

First there is the individual: The you, I, singular, artist, curator, maker…etc

Then there is the group: The collaboration or collective, an organisation…etc

Finally there is the broader: The abstract, a concept or a movement, the social, political, or ideological…etc

These three elements arose throughout the festival in all the individuals involved, organisations like Catalyst and BBeyond, featured themes of Transnationalism and works that varied in content and concept. The performances at this years FIX19 were equally sensitive to their individual avenues of thought and challenged everything from horticulture to institutional abuse. From French artist’s Ouazzani & Carrier exploration of Belfast through the foraging, producing and hosting of their tea infusions to Dominic Thorpe’s harrowing durational performance, during which he self-suffocated with the application of layers upon layers of petroleum jelly, FIX19 proved Patterson’s theorem throughout.


Brian’s live art hack also reminded me throughout the festival that the overall outcome was not solely my responsibility or achievement. FIX was bigger than me or Catalyst and any other singular element. In actuality, the undeniable success of FIX came from all of these factors working together towards a common goal.

Artists, levelling from emerging to established, travelled from all over the world to not only perform at FIX but also to help one another install work, support each other, act as viewers and bestow their great knowledge as facilitators. The beautiful and rewarding moments of the whole experience came from watching these strangers join together to share spaces, conversations, food, pints, laughter, infusions and much more.

My very own introduction to performance art, Dominic Thorpe, not only did me the great honour of accepting an invitation to perform at FIX19 but also spent the evening before his own performance standing in the lashings of rain to support Bbeyond’s work; carrying things, encouraging others and at one point even holding an umbrella above me so I could document their work. The kind acts of this gentle man are just one example of the considerate and generous work that was happening outside of the contracted work that define FIX19 for me.


‘’Consider stillness as empty time, into which a performance can be poured’’ – Anthony Howell

The beginnings of the festival felt a lot like this, a stillness. An eerie calm before the chaos reigned. A run of blank days over a two week period into which an array of things had to be poured. In the months leading up to and during  FIX19 an abundance of hard work, consideration, patience and what can only be identified as love were committedly donated by each participating artist, fellow project manager Anne Mager, myself, the Catalyst Board, volunteers, viewers and everyone in between.

To sum it up in its entirety would be a futile attempt and not one I will make for your sake and for mine. Not alone because of the sheer volume of the festival but also because of the very essence of performance art and the liveness of it. However I can say that standing now, on the other side of it, I feel I have received a great gift in my experience with it all. For this I have to give my sincerest gratitude to the entire FIX family, for your kind generosity and unwavering compassion throughout the festival. Upon reflection I am met with beautiful, emotional memories that will help define my time at Catalyst Arts and I hope you have all been equally rewarded in your experience with us.


FIX19 took place between September 20th and October 3rd 2019.

Participating artists were (in order of appearance): Brennagh Meehan, Lee Hamill, Aoife O’Connor, Evamaria Schaller, BBeyond, Ouazzani & Carrier, Dominic Thorpe, Bettina Wenzel, Amanda Coogan, Rory Mullen.

Member’s Screening Artists: Andrea Piras Pinna, Áine Phillips, C J Woods, Eleni Kolliopoulou, John D’Arcy, Kate McElroy, Katharine May, Marianne Dupain, Nenad Bogdanovic, Nollaig Molloy, Rachel Macmanus, Sally O’Dowd, Sarah Lundy, Tadhg Ó Cuirrín, Uri Kloss, Valerie Driscoll, Vasiliki Stasinaki.

Curators: Emma Brennan, Anne Mager

Catalyst Board at the time: Emma Brennan, Leah Corbett, Edy Fung, Peter Glasgow, Anne Mager, Liam McCartan, Thomas Wells.

Photographer: Jordan Hutchings

For information on the festival: www.catalystarts.org.uk/projects#/fix19





















































































Reflections on Sarah Risebourough’s work at Somatic Distortion, Leitrim Sculpture Centre.

by Fergus Byrne

“Somatic Distortion” took place on Oct 4th and 5th at the Leitrim sculpture centre. The event was curated by Sandra Corrigan Breathnach and featured live performance, videos and photography of past performance art.

Sarah Riseborough’s drawing/sculptural performance took place in the front space of the gallery and was visible from the street. A  roll of white paper hung from the wall and extended toward the floor where it was taped down. With considerable slack hanging free Riseborough was able to manipulate the paper as she drew upon it. Using pastels she inscribed the sheet both front and back in tandem with her movement with the paper.

Sarah Riseborough Photography Sandra Corrigan Breathnach (5).JPG
Image by Sandra Corrigan Breathnach

As this proceeded she elevated certain sections by attaching them with fishing line to the window frame. An evolving architecture commenced in which she operated, sometimes concealed and at others revealed by the paper. Certain moments saw her marking the back of the paper  by  leaning into it: her arm and later her face became surfaces for this frottage. This reduction of the space between the page and herself raised a haptic space; a meeting of skin and paper surfaces. The density of marks contrasted with  previous lines inscribed by broad sweeps and extensions of her body. Extended movements  would return in the form of a knife with which she cut the paper to open apertures in the form. One viewer commented on the circling cut of the stanley blade that emerged like a shark’s fin above the surface.

The audience could come and go over the course of perhaps three hours. At one point  I returned  to see a Gestalt leap in the layers and planes of the form. No longer was  there a surface of front and back but a three dimensional sculpture occupied the floor. This shift into three dimensions reminded me of André Lepecki’s writing  on Trisha Brown’s It’s a draw/Live Feed. 1

At this point I must tangent briefly to outline Lepecki’s writing. It’s a Draw/ Live Feed was  a series of drawings on charcoal by dancer Trisha Brown which were performed on the floor.  Lepecki writes of the distinctive territories of horizontal and vertical space in the context of Benjamin’s horizontal as the site of ‘graphic marking, of writing’ as opposed to the vertical as the plane ‘of painting, of representation’.  Lepecki’s basic argument is that Brown’s relation to the horizontal subverts this dichotomy and particularly the horizontal as a site of ‘signing, or with writing’2.  Through the abstract mark making of her dance, (not all of which leaves its trace on the page) Brown confounds Benjamin’s  horizontal plane of logos.  However ultimately  the work is hung on the wall to allow a second  drawing to be made. It is also hung on the wall when displayed in museums3. This culmination does in some ways unravel  Lepecki’s arguement as the artist’s motivation diverges from his theory.  It is in the three dimensional form of Riseborough’s drawing in Leitrim  that I see a sequel to  Lepecki’s discussion in material form.

Riseborough’s activity was process based and more functional than  dance movement: ‘My body made an environment where it felt it could leave a trace of itself. That’s the understanding I have, that there was a preparation or making of a space’.4

 Image by Sarah Riseborough

She is extending the drawing surface into three dimensions through the act of folding and cutting which proceeded from initial mark making. Volume thus superseded surface.   The final  spiraling shape gave a sense of lines of motion  in space. The light weight of the paper retained the ephemeral quality of movement in space.  Riseborough’s kinesphere in which she had operated was made manifest.  By taking the material into three dimensions the drawing escaped the limitations of both the horizontal and the vertical be they practical or philosophical as proposed by Lepecki.  As mentioned above Brown’s dance was not entirely driven by mark making. Movements of the arms and upper body  often left no mark on the ground surface so much of the dance’s trace was elusive.  Riseborough on the other hand  left an object as clear evidence of movement in space without in fact having danced its creation.



1          Lepecki ‘Toppling Dance: the making of space in Trisha Brown and La Ribot’. Exhausting Dance, performance and the politics of movement, 2006. p68. https://www.academia.edu/34715156/_Andre_Lepecki_Exhausting_Dance_Performance_and_BookSee.org_

2          Ibid. p 70.

3          I saw one of these works in Madrid some years ago where it was displayed upon  a wall. The performance of which Lepecki writes was relayed by live feed to a remote audience via a vertical screen when performed at  the Whitney museum.

4          Correspondence with artist.


Celina Muldoon SIRENS part III

by Kate Antosik-Parsons

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

The cross-section of contemporary dance and performance art

In conversation with Oran Leong concerning POST-DANCE Dublin.

Coming off the heels of Post-Dance, a performance and lecture researched and commissioned by Sara Muthi at the Project Arts Centre on August 15th – curator Sara Muthi sits down with dance artist Oran Leong to reflect on the cross-section of contemporary dance and performance art in Dublin following his Post-Dance performance commission.

Oran Leong Post-Dance at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Aug 2019. Photography by Kristian Mantalvanos.


SM: What is your take on contemporary dance in terms of the wider visual arts context? Where are those lines drawn for you?

OL: Contemporary dance is really broad. It’s everything from stage production, to outdoor performances, to performances in a gallery – but such creations are not obviously called performance art by their dance-makers. I think with anything that is contemporary the lines are always blurred – but there are still going to be specific parameters which you create and demonstrate for a cohesive work. If there wasn’t, there would be a mish-mash of anything and everything goes. That’s where I appreciate people’s frustration at contemporary art. People like to know what they see as it helps in their understanding. But where can one begin to understand when perhaps his or her first conscious engagement with art is the accumulation of many styles and philosophies?

SM: Do you think there’s enough of cross-pollination happening between dance artists and visual artists?

OL: I think even from Post-Dance being in Dublin that’s an example of it happening in a very strong sense, there’s always a merging, always a blend. Even in contemporary dance there are collaborations happening all the time with visual artists or what happened between Aoife Kavanagh (composer) and myself. There can always be more cross-pollination. If there wasn’t we wouldn’t still be growing and developing, and finding new things to make interesting, innovative art.

SM: Do you think there’s a purpose of cross-pollinating contemporary dance and visual art? It is also true that not everything needs to overlap. As far as I know there’s no one talking about the cross-pollination between ceramics and performance art, for example. Is there a more productive element in considering dance and visual arts?

OL: People can have the same idea about something but a painter would absolutely approach it from a different place to what I would as a mover. We’re still answering the same question – or attempting to discover the root to a question or concept and produce two very different things.

SM: So you’re saying cross-pollinating media gives us new tools to explore concepts?

OL: Yes, but really, it’s also nice to be able to communicate with someone that isn’t always talking about dance! If I’m saying something dancy to a visual artist and they’re seeing it fresh for the first time – that interaction can stimulate a different pathway in the brain and enable it to create something that’s new.

SM: So that’s where the value is injected for you – in different vocabularies of production.

OL: Exactly. There’s also a monetary purpose.  I’ve found funding bodies often encourage and look for collaboration in working productively with people from other disciplines.

SM: To bring this into Post-Dance. You as a dancer, since you’ve been more aware of this new terminology, what tools does that give you in developing your practice?

OL: I thought you were going to ask that and in a regular interview I’d be very prepared with bullet points. However, in the essence of Post-Dance I’m just going to speak off the cuff. I think Post-Dance is accepting the now of whatever that is – without the influence or stereotype or bias of other dance styles or other voices coming in and inhibiting what you bring to the floor. When I was asked to make work previously – I thought: what is the aesthetic of the choreographer who is asking this of me? And how do I comply to that aesthetic? You, being a curator – I felt there was less of an expectation. Also, Post-Dance was quite freeing to be able to accept whatever it was and say that this is true once I feel it’s authentic and real. So initially I was thinking Post-Dance… Post-Modernism? And I was trying to turn away from post-modern ideas in my mind’s eye and being cautious not to be too post-modern-ish. Almost immediately I back-peddled on that because this is something else. Post-modernism is infusing with what I am doing right now to not be post-modern, but if it happens that it comes off as such those are my own gremlins that I have to deal with – not what Post-Dance is: because Post-Dance is a vessel that you can fill. And there might be a combination of things that are very performance art, very post-modern, very balletic, whatever – throw in a bag of chips if you want. That became quite liberating and enabled me to move without inhibition. That has actually been a problem of mine as an artist. To then say, this is a canvas, and whatever you draw on this is going to be right. There is no right or wrong. Even as a creative task, it allowed me to find things I don’t think I could have found any other way had I been doing it in a dance setting. Since that time that we created the Post-Dance commission I’m looking at movement differently.

SM: Really?

OL: Absolutely. I’m challenging my own doubts of “why can’t I do this? Cause in Post-Dance I’d be allowed to do this”. It’s helped me to grow as a dance artist but also as a mover – someone who does things with time and space.

SM: That’s very satisfying for a curator to hear. Lastly, now that you’ve been integrated into concepts of Post-Dance and performance art, do you think you’ll have those frames of reference continue?

OL: I think so – I definitely draw on all my previous experiences.

SM: Do you think contemporary dancers would benefit to being introduced to performance art practices?

OL: I think it depends on the stage of the dancer – they need to have a thirst for it. There’s no point in putting something on them that they don’t want. They might not have exhausted everything within dance for them to move into performance art. They might become confused in their own artistic voice of what is it that they want to say. If a dancer is curious about an expression outside of dance, I think performance art is a good place to start. It’s not so far removed from the physicality of what it is dancers already do. Any experience can be utilised or rejected. In my case it’s something that I’ve definitely benefited from as an artist and human being.

Post-dance is the second performance event researched and developed by Sara Muthi. As opposed to publishing text as the result of her research Sara prefers to forefront the questions, shortcomings and potential surrounding live-art practices in the Ireland through performance and open dialogue. By way of commissioning live-art in collaboration with visual artists, dancers and musicians in conjunction with institutions and venues across Dublin, Sara aims to re-examine the often preconceived ontology surrounding performance practice. With one eye on the developments of performance practices internationally, particularly in Europe, it is through vigorous research, collaboration and an element of education that Sara develops her research based events.

POST-DANCE was researched and curated by Sara Muthi, performed by Oran Leong, composition by Aoife Kavanagh followed by a lecture by Amanda Øiestad Nilsen at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin on August 15th. Photography and videography by Kristian Mantalvanos.


Sandra Johnston – Wait it Out at Project Arts Centre

by Fergus Byrne

Johnston presents a formally rigorous show with  video works and text, the narratives of which  are in dialogue with each other.

The central piece, ‘That Apart’, is installed in a timber frame corridor. Johnston’s collaborator Richard Ashrowan filmed her performing to camera in the  gallery space.  Both have edited the same footage to produce this two screen work.


Sandra Johnston/Richard Ashrowan, That Apart, two-channel HD video projection, 2019 (installation view ‘Wait it Out’, Project Arts Centre, Dublin )
Camera: Richard Ashrowan; Editing: Sandra Johnston and Richard Ashrowan
Courtesy the artists
Photo: Ros Kavanagh. Photo courtesy: Project Arts Centre

A text written by Johnston on the gallery wall gives  a perspective  from which to view and hear the show.  As I read it  I was hearing the percussive sound track of Ashrowan’s edit, the sounds of which assume greater violence in relation to the accounts of bombings and paramilitary activites.  These interspersed with related sensory perceptions convey the embodied experience of violence.

In the film Johnston engages physically with objects – a brick, a stack of bowls, army boots. Her improvisation exceeds their prescribed use.   Drumsticks are clutched in the hand and rattled on the concrete floor. She wears a pair of Northern Ireland issue  British Army boots. The image of her standing still, her black clothes matching the boots, is heavily grounded in the floor where the thick soled boots… stamp and fall back against the wall, stamp, fall back against the wall. Back bounce off wall. Boots on hands catch her as outstretched  arms fall against the wall. This is the fast editing of  Ashrowan’s video, intercut  with cracking drumsticks, and ceramic bowls circling and scraping upon each other. The martial energy of the objects is conveyed in Ashrowan’s edit while  Johnston’s conveys more the pace of her actions and extended periods of waiting out characteristic of her performance.

A smaller blacked out space contains TV footage of a march by the Peace People in London in 1976 and documentation of a performance by  Johnston in Belfast from 2000.  This latter video is overdubbed with an interview with Mairead Maguire, founder of the Peace People, conducted by Johnston in 2003. Maguire describes her aversion to  ‘putting up monuments’ that are ‘locking people into the tragedy of what we’ve all suffered’. This viewpoint is  countered by the show’s return to the past in the form of objects and text that recall violence.  This oscillation is reflective of the persistent tension in Northern Ireland  despite a publicly lauded Peace Process. The wall text and an open discussion on the opening night both drew attention to smouldering aggressions in Northern Ireland.

Johnston’s collaboration with Ashrowan presents a fruitful dialogue whereby the film mediates performance actions usually made to a live audience. The process has produced a very strong film that does not reduce the intensity of Johnston’s actions. Ashrowan’s 16mm film of  Johnston in haptic dialogue with a tree resonates with a section of Maguire’s interview in which she cites the appreciation of natural beauty as  a counterpoint to living with trauma.   There are constant moments where the works inform each other sometimes through the smallest details.  This dialogue creates a tension wherby moments of balance and of light yield to rupture.   The proximity of these opposing states is well described when Johnston writes of the void left by an explosion – ‘Perhaps it is perverse to say it but I see here in its chaotic heart a piercing beauty, as if the air has become chrystal, its momentous darkness haemorrhaging with light’.


Photo Ros Kavanagh
Sandra Johnston, Overprint, Alternating two-channel video projection, colour, sound, 2019 (installation view)
Editing: Sandra Johnston
Courtesy the artist
News footage courtesy: UTV archive / PRONI (The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland)
Photo: Ros Kavanagh. Photo courtesy: Project Arts Centre.
Sandra Johnston: ‘Wait it Out’, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 2019 (installation view with That Apart and poster text)
Photo: Ros Kavanagh. Photo courtesy: Project Arts Centre.
Commissioned and produced by Project Arts Centre, Dublin with support from the Irish Museum of Modern Art Production Residency and Arts Department, Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK.

Sandra Johnston’s exhibition Wait it Out runs from 29 August until 19 October at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.

buried, suppressed (Pauline Cummins Inis t’Oirr: Aran Dance)

by EL Putnam

In a darkened room, gestural drawn interpretations of knitting patterns and wool intermingle with images of archetypal Aran jumpers and a nude male torso through overlaying slide projections. Sitting on a small bench that can only accommodate two people, I listen to a deeply intimate narration by the artist Pauline Cummins, as she shifts from innuendo to explicit sexual reference. Bodies are presented as incomplete forms, fleshed out in the viewer’s imagination, where a performance is manifest with the guidance of Cummins’ narration. This is Inis t’Oirr: Aran Dance, a multimedia work originally created in 1985 and was recently exhibited as part of the GAZE exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Through this work, Cummins draws parallels from the knitting of Aran jumpers in the West of Ireland to the sexualised, nude male body, where the manipulation of yarn and the resulting patterns in the jumpers are influenced by the knitter’s desire; a knitter who is presented as a mother, as she creates for herself, her children, and her husband. These jumpers, historically created on the Aran Islands just to the west of the Irish coast, have come to symbolise traditional Irish culture through the burgeoning tourist market throughout the island, evoking qualities of rural quaintness. Cummins subverts this seemingly innocuous garment through her drawing together of the male body and landscape through knitting pattern. She “radicalises rather than rejects” this traditional craft and allusions to traditional Irish domestic femininity (Nash 1996, 161) using an interplay of lens-based imagery and the body through gesture. As such, there is a strong tactile quality to the work, as indicated through the textures of the jumper patterns, the hairy nude torso overlaid with images, as well as the gestural qualities of the drawn lines. Cummins’ language also emphasises the sense of touch. At one point she lists verbs that evoke haptic sexual acts: spreading, glistening, slipping, sliding, pushing out, deseminating, tipping the navel. Other descriptions evoke kinesthetic empathy, drawing attention to my embodied state:

The hidden male body, buried, suppressed.
Touch the hip, into the waist. Squeeze, Rub up.
The back. The spine bending, extending, joining the shoulder, broad, wide, thick.
Arms, hairy, sinuous, strength.
Thighs, joining, apart. And the butterfly motif (Cummins quoted in Nash 1996, 164)

Through this process, Cummins transforms the domestic craft of knitting, traditionally performed by Irish women–wives and mothers–into a sublimation of sexual desire. Catherine Nash emphasises the political and cultural context of this work, which was “was made and exhibited in the mid-1980s in Southern Ireland when women’ s reproductive rights were being debated and women were attempting to negotiate personal identity with traditional Catholic and nationalist ideas of Irish femininity” (1996, 153). In contrast to Catholic ideology that emphasises how sexual acts must be reproductive rather than erotic, Cummins undermines traditional presumptions of the Irish maternal as “represent[ing] Irish women as sexually active and desiring both now and in the past” (Nash 1996, 166).

When first witnessing this piece at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, I noted how the audio played through two sets of headphones. While the use of headphones is a common installation practice for works that include audio in order to reduce sound cross-over, their use in this context added to the intimacy of the piece. Sitting alone on the bench, I listen to Cummins describe the “hidden male body” of Aran jumpers, unleashing the suppression of desire through the repetitious act of looping yarn over needles over and over again, creating thick, woolly garments that embrace the wearer. As her language becomes increasingly sexual, I become aware of my physical presence in the room, observant of other gallery attendees who enter the space, but do not listen to the provided headphones and so are unaware of Cummin’s narration, thereby increasing the intimate exchange that the work encompasses. I was grateful that for the most part that I witnessed this work in solitude and without the awkward acknowledgment of simultaneous private, intimate moments that the work affords, cultivating a complex eroticism that continues to be poignant, even decades after the work was first created in the 1980s.

Inis t’Oirr: Aran Dance was included in Gaze, curated by Johanne Mullan, at the IMMA Freud Centre as part of the Freud Project from 04 Oct 2018–19 May 2019. This text is an excerpt from Dr. EL Putnam’s lecture response, “Haptic Gaze: Inviting Touch”, which took place at IMMA on 1 May 2019.

Works Cited

Nash, Catherine. 1996. “Reclaiming Vision: Looking at Landscape and the Body.” Gender, Place & Culture 3 (2): 149–70. https://doi.org/10.1080/09663699650021864.