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.

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Epoch – in conversation with Conor Coady

by Sara Muthi

Coming off the back of a performance at K-Fest Music and the arts Festival I sat down with performance artist Conor Coady just before he opened the group show GROUP as part of PLATFORM 2019 with his piece Epoch commissioned by the Draíocht Gallery.

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SM: So the work you’re performing here at the Draíocht Gallery to kick off GROUP is the latest rendition of Epoch. I must say that I, and perhaps many others would instantly recognise this work from various IG posts over the past year. Would you like to share a little about this work beyond the surface imagery?

CC: I was very keen at looking at extensions of the body and making an internal non-physical thing come out into a physical form; and in that highlighting parts of the body. I suppose I wanted to depict an act of a kind of ongoing struggle.

SM: And you’re doing this through your use of the briars which of course have become quite iconic in your work.

CC: Exactly; I’m using that very specific material and the connection of my hands and going from there so it’s that kind of ongoing dialogue with myself and the material; emulating feelings through the briars and making energy come out through that.

I’m manipulating the material in a way so it becomes the body and the body becomes the material. In my mind there is this exchange between the two and that was the basis of my intention and thinking around the materiality of the briars.

SM: And where does this connection between you and your material come from?

CC: I was looking at rural landscapes for its physical aesthetic and the idea of the brambles came quite naturally while walking through a space such as field or a landscape. The natural dynamic of brambles and what they do and the difficulty present in them appealed to me and my research in a very real way. They felt like an appropriate kind of material to engage with from a mental health perspective, a queer perspective. Then there’s also a cultural recontextualization from my own basis that would be on the deeper planes of what that dialogue is.

SM: Working with materials found in natural landscapes is quite prevalent within Irish artists, particularly working in performance art. I can think of a few names already, but for you, what is it about the natural environment that makes it so irreplaceable? Or perhaps irresistible?

CC: To put it simply I think I’m drawn to it because it is exactly what it is.

SM: Does that relate to the fact you’re scantily clad in your performances?

CC: For me, yes definitely. I was very intentional in highlighting this very bare element. Showing the bareness of the body was also quite minimal in aesthetic which I was leaning very heaving on while developing this work. At the same time however it was also scary. I was often asking myself “am I so bare that it’s too bare?”, but in actual fact that was a breeding ground to push more and to bring out more.

I think with the natural it’s like somethings that’s been coming out of my work more strongly in the last year maybe two. I’m very much focused on the natural, what is natural, what’s not natural, what we deem to be one or the other. The body, nature, environment. And speaking of environment, it does goes out in that direction in an environmental sense to an extent. Of course I am aware that I am bringing in this raw natural material. I’m presenting and working with the natural, but it is because it is what it is, as I said before.

I think looking at it from a queer perspective when you go through so many layers of growing up and you finally arrive at a point of independence and begin to contextualise for yourself and being to process all these things you’ve gone through i.e. so many layers of conditioning and social systems and conformities and distractions. So, for me just looking at nature for what it is – is kinda in itself something I want to emulate from that perspective. There is no fluff with it, there is no walls to be pushing down or people’s minds to convince. Nature is what it is and connecting that to the body, that being part of the body and me as a performer would be where the natural perspective is coming from.

—-

Conor Coady’s briars are both fashioned from five or six thick, dried and hardened stems that were bound together with woven pink wool to form handles from which they reach into the space. They remain fastened to the gallery wall from which they were picked up and returned during Epoch. They form a sort of natural arch reaching into the white cute. Stains from his hands and belly remain on the gallery wall as a symbol of the body, of the gesture, of the artists presence elevating the work beyond what might otherwise be seen as a sculptural object.

 

Epoch was performed at the Draíocht Gallery on 20th of June 2019 as part of GROUP curated by Sharon Murphy. GROUP presents Conor Coady, Victoria J Dean, Sarah Farrell, Cara Farnan, Anna Hryniewicz, Riin Kaljurand, Oran Leong, and Éanna Mac Cana. The exhibition runs until the 31st of August 2019.

Transactions II: Performance Art on the Greenway

by Heather Kapplow

Saturday

Exiting South Station, I feel already surrounded by every day performance: the busy-ness of travel and transit, which always feels quite put on to me. The visible invisibility performed by our homeless folk, an elegant tightrope walk between tourists. It is fine tourist weather…

CENTER FOR RESTORING THE MEANING OF FAKE WORDS

A sign reading “Fake Words” is visible through the greenery as I approach The Rose Kennedy Greenway from South Station. The starkness of its black-and-white-ness stands out from a distance, and then, when I grow closer, seems related to the more permanent public art in the same area, Aakash Nihalani’s Balancing Act. The visual contrast between the two works is that of handmade versus machine wrought, but the notion of balancing is good preparation for Milan Kohout’s project. He’s chosen his site well.

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When I arrive he is trying to convince a young lady with long navy blue fingernails to be his first meaning-restorer of the day. She’s game to talk to him, but is hesitant to pick a word. It turns out she just doesn’t want to be in any pictures. She’s curious and beautiful and there are maybe too many men gathering around her.

Milan gives her a New York Times to look through. She says her problem is that “what’s fake is a feeling not a word.”  Then she says maybe it’s “happiness.” It’s what everybody says they are but she doesn’t believe they’re happy every day. “I’m so happy at my job at Target! I’m so happy with my new baby…” Milan holds up a mirror and lets her say the empty phrases into it, then asks her to make up a new word to replace “happy.”

It’s green here, but we are essentially in the middle of a traffic island. There’s honking and a highway onramp is nearby. It is an unlikely place for language to be retooled, but that’s what makes it feel plausible. Milan isn’t just prompting people to think about how meaning is stolen from us and what else might be being stolen from us by those in power. He’s teaching the techniques that might allow a reversal of these trends. He’s letting people practice taking power back.

Her word is “pinco.” Milan calls out to the traffic and to passersby “Are you pinco?!” Then he pulls her words, from a long white paper roll, out like a carpet onto the grass. The woman with the word works for the trains. She has time to kill—she has to be on standby, close to the station.

Milan begins announcing through his loudspeaker: “All the treasured words are emptied.” His ‘ch’s stick—it’s part of his accent—and they ring out loudly after the rest of the words are completed. His pronouncement about how all of the wealthy pigs are hoarding money in the basements of the tall buildings echoes off of them. “Let’s be ‘pinco’ again!!”

WOULD YOU SIT WITH ME?

Pavana Reid is taking a cloth from a woman who is sitting in one of two chairs and the woman gets up. Pavana puts the cloth on the chair and a man comes up and sits in the other chair. Pavana puts the chair with the cloth on it so that it is facing him, and then sits in the second chair herself, handing him the cloth. They speak with one another but I can’t hear. Slowly the tableaux shifts: Pavana and the man in the chair are still talking beyond my ear-range, but now they are sitting with their chairs back to back. I step in to experience the piece.

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I am sitting. Pavana gives me the cloth. It’s warm. She smells like lavender. She feels like a stranger. We talk quietly about how that feels. About what makes her feel the least like a stranger. (It’s when people stop and help her or answer a question for her on the street.) She feels that time is the most precious thing that people can give to each other. She mentions an anti-suicide ad that she saw on the subway so I tell her about the memorial service for a friend and teacher of mine that I am missing in order to be at the Greenway—that he committed suicide and that I am thinking of his close friends and family while I am sitting with her. Pavana gets up and wraps me in her cloth, swaddling me to the chair. Then she wraps herself up in the other end of the cloth and tucks herself in close and tight to me. She says my story made her feel like she wanted to be closer to me, and asks if that’s okay. It’s okay. Just being together brings the strange kind of peace that being with someone you are close to does, but it feels uncanny because Pavana is, of course, a stranger.

 

 

Pavana wraps the whole cloth around herself as she unwinds it from me, and it looks like she’s a flower—there are hints of the wrapping of saris and ceremonial kimonos in the gesture…

ARTIFACT

I see a scrambling movement up ahead. Sara June is in white on the ground, bouncing, for lack of better word, while someone else on the ground is engaging with her in a way that is a little unclear from a distance.

When I approach, Sara is sitting on the ground, legs out straight in front of her, feet bare. Black hair, white outfit, a pile of round mossy stones behind her. Her seat is astroturf on grass. In front of her are four colored buttons. Or are they lights?

She moves slowly. A group of kids speaking a language I can’t identify congregate around her, but don’t engage. Sara continues her slow cycle of movement. Maybe she is turning? A woman with a dog stops and takes her picture.

I press the green button and it makes a videogame sound, and Sara moves a new way. I step on the red button a few times. It makes an alarm sound each time I step on it and she leaps, turns and rolls. I press the blue button and it plays a triumphant sound. Sara leaps up and down each time I press it. Someone else presses the orange button and she leans in towards them. Each button triggers a different gesture, slower, faster. She evolves very slowly between button pressing, regal.

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The title of the piece throws me off, but slowly it dawns on me that despite her seeming humanity, Sara is a digital artifact. The motions are rote, evolving in the way that permutations do, but never having the kind of variation that living things organically do. A strange thing to say about a living thing that is performing, but it is a good performance of the non-living. (Also raising unanswerable questions about performing as a non-living thing.)

A NOSE FOR THE TRUTH

I see two women dressed in red, one with a gold shopping cart full of gold bags. The cart is strung with cassette tape innards and has a stash of cassettes on the bottom. They seem to have been interviewing a young lady. She puts her cassette in their basket and then is invited to pull on the tape while remembering her words and what they mean to her. With loud construction sounds in the background, she steps out onto the grass, walking backwards, the tape streaming. Light glints off of it.

The ladies in red discuss the poem she spoke into their recorder. “I stand in the water and wait for the water god.” The girl is pulling the tape as if the act were a dance, smiling back at them from about 20 feet away, then moving closer again, the cassette tape still streaming around her.

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The piece moves fluidly between something a bit transcendent—sharp spots of beauty—and something very mundane and scatological. There is true artfulness in the performance of what are essentially crone roles—an inspiring mixture of faux dottiness, real warmth, darkness, and mysticism, all played out like a game with the props.

The ladies in red are laughing. Mari Novotny-Jones says to the girl “I said to Frances, that was so elegant!” They ask her to say her poem again and she recites some of it: “The sound of rushing water fills my brain, my jaw begins to numb….” Construction sounds drown her out for a bit and when she is audible again she’s saying “Prismatic hues form an expanding ring of colors. The water grows louder and louder.”

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She explains to Mari and Frances Mezzetti how the thing she spoke is related to her research on shamanism—it’s a performance she’s developing. As she says this, a dog gets caught up in her tape/words. It takes a shit (literally) on it/them. Frances gathers up the tape while Mari continues talking to the woman. A little girl calls out “What are they doing?” Mari explains about the tape itself—the detritus of people’s stories. Frances continues gathering. Light reflects off of the tape.

Gold, cloth bags, bags crocheted out of tape. “That’s life though, the little dog comes and shits on your work.”

PRIVATE PERFORMANCES FOR SOLOIST TROMBONE

AND SINGLE AUDIENCE MEMBER

Construction sounds ring out. There are jackhammers and the smell of hot tar.

The trombone fits in perfectly. And it’s a break from everything.

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I close my eyes, sit, my hands cupping the headphones against my ears, and emotion floods through me for a second. Then the music turns more playful—I can hear Tom Plsek breathing, open my eyes, see his feet tapping out a rhythm. It gets diggery-doo-ey. Then synchs up with the construction. Then ends. We sit and talk about the sound and the mechanics of the device. And the construction—he’s been trying to resist it all day, but this time gave in and played along with it.

A NOSE FOR THE TRUTH again

When I get back to the ladies in red, they have unpacked one of the “bags” in their cart and it’s a tube. Mari is in one end and a woman with glasses on is in the other end. Frances is holding the center of the tube still while they record in there, butts sticking out of either end, cassette tape streaking off of the cart.

I realize now that the gold “basket” is actually a big soft nose.

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ARTIFACT again

Someone is emptying the trash near Sara’s piece. I’m watching him, watching a little kid enthusiastically pushing Sara’s buttons. Sara drops and hops, jumps and leans, rolls, hops, curls in a ball, hops, falls, jumps up, falls, scoots forward and back, rolls, hops. Her astroturf is littered with moss-rocks now. She stacks them on her legs, an action to fill space, calmly between actions. Also a reminder that there is never non-action in her piece.

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WOULD YOU SIT WITH ME? again

Pavana is dancing almost with her interlocutor. They slowly fold the cloth between them, and then Pavana holds it, standing between the two chairs.

When the next visitor comes forward, she hands him the cloth. She pulls the chairs so that they are sitting knee to knee. His hands are on the cloth, folded in his lap, and hers are too. Between his. They are talking quietly. He smiles and the wind rustles the trees.

The two do not move at all. Then they stand and Pavana lays the two chairs down on the ground. They sit on the chairs lying down, heads in opposite directions, and their conversation becomes very loud. “Can you hear me?” “What do you see?” “Do you think we see the same thing?”

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The “not moving at all” seems a key to Pavana’s piece, despite the fact that the performance is improvised anew with each person, the call to sit with her, seems sometimes not as much about the sitting with her, as about just sitting in a special, set-aside-from-everything-else way. Taking time to really settle. But Pavana provides the excuse by offering her company.

CENTER FOR RESTORING THE MEANING OF FAKE WORDS again

There is an echo between Milan’s paper and Pavana’s cloth. They were similar in size and shape earlier, but Milan’s paper is very long now. As I grow closer to him his amplified voice booms off of the buildings in the area. “All thoughts are fake!!”

Here are some new words:

Idealistic=FKNAL

Crazy=YUGEN

Truth=HUGE!

Life=DEBT

Money=TETHER

Luxury=YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT

Cruelty Free=JUST GET RID OF THIS BECAUSE IN THE REVOLUTION THERE WILL BE NO NEED FOR THIS.

Milan’s voice continues to bounce around. “Words are all privately owned. The word ‘delicious’ does not mean anything any more!”

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Could this really be true? He might be right. I’m not sure I remember what ‘delicious’ is for me, and then, right there, wondering about whether I really know deliciousness, Milan gives me an incredible gift: an understanding of Capitalism as something akin to clinical depression or mourning. They’re the only other things that can strip away meaning and flavor from life.

WOULD YOU SIT WITH ME? again

Pavana sits with Marilyn. Black outfits, one next to the other. Sara in white moving very slowly in the background.

Pavana puts her chair back to back with Marilyn’s then slowly unfurls the cloth, making a path outward to one side of Marilyn’s lap. The smell of weed wafts over from somewhere.

Pavana moves the empty chair, wraps Marilyn slowly and almost entirely, then rolls herself in the rest of the cloth and sits back to back with her in a similar cocoon. They speak over their shoulders to one another, looking like kids at a sleepover, then they cover their heads completely and become a sculpture for awhile before Pavana unwraps things, gathering the cloth in a crumpled bundle this time rather than folding it. The chairs stand empty for a bit.

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The final guest folds the cloth into something organized again with Pavana and takes one of two seats set next to each other as guided. Pavana spreads the cloth across her lap, shaping it so it flows down to the ground like a skirt, and kneels at her feet. The woman gets off the chair and comes down to her level. They kneel together, touching and kneading the fabric between them, smiling and talking, leaving the two empty chairs side by side. We sit in another row of chairs, watching.

Sunday

It’s a bit of breakneck hustle getting there—driving to three places on a fruitless errand earlier in the morning then it taking forever to find parking. Running for the red and blue lines, barely making both. Then emerging from the station, pushing through traffic with arms full: I’m the one performing the role of busy person in transit today…

I learned yesterday that the pieces all weave together no matter which direction you move in, so I’m starting at the other end of The Rose Kennedy Greenway this time.

MOTHERS WALK

I’ve gathered with Frances Mezzetti and Jimena Bermejo a little before noon, and we’re waiting for other mothers dressed in white to arrive. It’s a bit chilly. Frances tells us about the Irish (pagan) equinox celebration of Demeter and Persephone (“seed becomes fruit, fruit becomes seed”) which focuses on motherhood, creativity, and the circle of life; Jimena talks about finding gestures related to the experience of motherhood; and I speak briefly of the tradition of mothers as activists and demonstrators.

Then three women in white begin moving in a slow circle around the perimeter of The Greenway’s Rings Fountain. They are pacing thoughtfully and the mist makes it all look very romantic. They are leaving a stream of white rose petals in their wake.

There’s no way to know from looking that they are mothers. The piece relies on the subtlety involved in knowing the name of the pathway they’re tracing, though Frances, invigilating, does explain to visitors about what’s going on. Even without explanation, you feel their presence as serious and mystical. The piece of motherhood not visible at the surface here is the daily difficulty of it. The image is much more poetic than mundane.

STILL WORKING IT ALL OUT

Dogs and their owners are running in circles across the large lawn. Something brightly colored is happening in one corner of the grass.

It’s a free class! There is a circle of yoga mats with piles of something on each one, and Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell, wearing a pink visor, is playing with a small child on one of the mats. She’s demonstrating a duckbill that you can wear on your face to squawk like a duck. The class is called “How to Draw Like a Beginner.”

Now the mom of the kid has a drawing tablet on her head and is drawing on top of her head. The small boy draws with a marker on a long stick and then opens an umbrella.

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The class is very small—tailored—but it’s clear already that this is no ordinary class. The mom is working harder than the young boy, or maybe they are working equally hard. In any case, they are equally beginners, and the act of being new at something as a distinct experience, best supported by an environment that emphasizes play, comes through strong and clear.

MOTHERS WALK again

I see the three women in white pacing by in the background.

Jimena leaves a rose stem at the end of the Mother’s Walk and turns around.

WATER TABLE PERFORMANCE

I round the corner of the beer garden and see some kind of construction is in place. A strong/sturdy looking man, Brian Connolly, is fixing one of the tables it looks like.

There are four tall 2” x 4”s propped against each other like a teepee.

Some more are lying on the ground in shorter lengths with signs on them, around the perimeter of the circle (this is all happening in a circle.)

There is also a chair in the circle, and a table. A very tall table which the man is making taller, slowly, by clamping the 2” x 4”s to each leg.

The signs on the ground have images of water with logos floating over them: DuPont, Marathon Oil, FTS International. The 2” x 4”s without signs seem to be waiting for signs.

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The table, now about five feet tall, has a pan of water underneath it, a pendulum hangs from beneath the table, over the pan of water. What looks like another pan of water is on the table’s surface, along with a dish (silver) with a sphere (silver) set inside of it. Some wisps of plant also seem to be coming out of the top of the table. Brian supports the table with his head as he adjusts it.

The pyramid/teepee also has a bowl (silver) under it and a feather hangs on a thread with a block of wood above from a tree. Brian makes another sign out of one of the 2” by 4”s, stapling paper on it.

The pieces of the piece feel abstract—require a bit of puzzling together—but then it becomes abundantly clear: water is teetering in the balance. Mankind is pushing its limits.

HOW FAR APART

Up ahead is a small hill with trees and a man lying on it. Dominic Thorpe has the leg of a black chair balanced on his (shaved or bald) head. He is turning on the ground very slowly, holding a black marker to his stomach which leaves a line as he turns. I don’t notice this until the chair falls off of his head. There are many beautiful, wavy lines on his stomach. They look like rings on a tree stump, circling around his core.

Dominic replaces the chair when it falls, and begins the slow turn—like a very slow motion rotating spit—again. It’s like a nap in the grass in one way, but not at all like a nap in the grass in another way: he’s relaxed, but you can feel the pressure and tension of the precariously balanced chair.

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A tourist trolley drives by and I can hear the pickup of a truck’s engine and a bus engine on either side of the path simultaneously, a stereo whooshing, then three different cars broadcasting the music they’re listening to, then a motorcycle.

Dominic’s back is facing me now, for the first time.

From the other angle (I’ve moved around to his front,) the image Dominic is making is so different. The copse of trees and the fact that he is on a hill among them feels more evident and important.

Overall, the esthetic quality of all the works has been very sharp and bold—they are blending into nature, but also standing out as strongly as the less ephemeral artworks do against the ground. They feel more organic than the fabricated things because they consist of bodies, cloth and other simple materials with less degrees of removal from nature.

As I cross the street, a group composed of men and women pushing baby carriages and visibly preggers pause, unsure of whether to move through The Greenway or to walk alongside it on the sidewalk. They split into two groups, each taking one pathway.

An oil truck with a logo similar to one on one of Brian’s signs is idling at the light.

GLOBAL

I see a woman in black with some kind of small bags hanging from her dress. She is talking to a man in hat. They part and she—it’s Margaret Bellafiore—takes something, a dark blue paper cup, from one of the bags and begins drawing something on the ground with a white powder in the cup.

Cars honk. Some youths step around one of her drawings carefully and she invites them to engage, but they decline shyly.

Margaret draws an elaborate butterfly. There is also a penguin.

The (canvas? hemp?) drawstring bags pinned to her dress have drawings of animals on them as well: there are turtles, birds, fish…in white on the ground, in black on the bags.

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A family stops to talk to her. She asks them what they know about penguins. The young boy answers, and they begin to discuss global warming and its impact on penguin eggs. Then cod reproduction. The family tells her what they know, she tells them what she knows of the subject. The white chalk is graceful between them on the ground.

The disbursement of the chalk becomes the disappearance of the animals, destroyed by human footprints.

MOTHERS WALK again

On my way back to check in on the mothers walking, I see two mothers along The Greenway re-dressing their children. One child was peeing in the bushes, another had gotten its shirt wet.

The Mother’s Walk, is strewn with white rose petals and stems. I step into the performance, holding space for mothers, because I am not one, so I do not walk, but I follow Jimena’s instructions as she followed mine, finding three gestures that connect/resonate/feel true to my only experience of mothering (of myself, from a very young age.) I trace the straightness of a rose stem between two fingers; softly stroke my own hair into place around my face; shift my weight from foot to foot occasionally.

A wall of parents and children lines up between me and the fountain. The fog comes up. I feel as if I am invigilating for motherhood, watching over it as it is performed in real life.

The walking mothers return from their break and make their first circuit. I’m trying to discern their gestures.

I love how everyday they look—not costumed—just two mothers on a walk, disappearing into the crowd. This is the mundane element I was looking for. As they trace the path, their route takes them through the misty, romanticized circling of the fountain, but also across the street with the dead pigeon in the crosswalk.

STILL WORKING IT ALL OUT again

Sinead and Pavana Reid have umbrellas open with rubber ducks and pinecones balanced on them. They are trying to pass them to one another without their falling but it doesn’t work. Now they are applying temporary tattoos or stickers to themselves with Frances. Pavana holds a gold square to her chest and takes a bow. Sinead’s yoga mat has a banana, an apple a headset mic. There’s not much action now but the yoga mats look much less organized now than they did before, and the last time I passed by there was a good crowd of people—mostly with young children—at the yoga mat-circle.

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Sinead is on a break with a “shall return at ___” sign, and tidies everything for the next “lesson.”

The mothers drift by again.

WATER TABLE PERFORMANCE again

Brian has more signs now: BP, OXY, Andarko.

The table I would say is now about 12 feet tall. Brian is on a ladder. Things are wobbly, but stable.

Is this where we are now? As the piece progresses, I feel as if it’s mapping a situation in more and more accurate real time.

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GLOBAL again

Margaret’s chalk is more ground in than spread around. It looks like constellations. I’m standing on a moose. The chalk is losing the race to adapt to its environment.

HOW FAR APART again

Dominic’s line is darker and thicker. His feet are black now. I can’t help but think about his view.

People are really stopping to watch for the duration now. It’s hard to tell which element of what he’s doing they are focused in on.

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I notice the fallen leaves now, the steady rate at which he slowly traces his lines, the peace on his face, the beauty of the lines themselves. Somehow the chair doesn’t ever slip off of his head anymore. Without looking at the guide to learn what his piece is about, I can tell that it involves paying more attention than people usually do. That it’s about how action accretes and adds up to a shape it may not have intended by simply being a repetitive pattern.

WATER TABLE PERFORMANCE again

The table now looks to be about 15 feet high. The teepee is gone: every board is a sign. People are exploring close-up. Brian is making a mini-teepee out of signs on posts.

How can it be so high and not tip over? How has nothing spilled yet?

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STILL WORKING IT ALL OUT again

Sinead has a full class—every yoga mat is occupied. Everyone is holding a mirror—she is helping them see the sky, the ground, what’s behind them on either side. Then they “warm” their mirrors up with a paintbrush and everyone paints a leaf on their mirror with a brush dipped in water.

The tracing of nothing on a reflective surface feels like a magic spell—like the magic spell—the one that makes things out of nothing. This last piece I’m seeing today feels like the bookend to the first piece I saw yesterday. Sinead is teaching people how to do to knowledge what Milan Kohout was teaching people to do with language. Take control of it by making your own.

I also see Jimena pacing in the background, picking up rose stems, alone now.

Sinead’s voice is so present. Everyone flicks their fingers as she guides them, “Flick, flick, flick.”

Then she gives everyone something to take away: a small square of gold leaf. It’s like she’s giving communion. I remember that you can eat gold leaf. As if she could hear my thought, Sinead’s amplified voice says, “It is not edible. The edible stuff is really expensive, but you can get a kind that you can eat.”

She brings me a piece. I don’t eat it.

A crowd roars somehow nearby—a ballgame at a bar with an open air seating area I assume.

A rabbit hops across my path as I make my way back to the Mother’s Walk.

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Photos by Jordan Hutchings

 

Trying on the Body

by Sara Muthi

It is needless to say that present day Belfast is a very complex, sensitive context tightly wound up with the well-known aftermath we know to be the Troubles. Stepping in from the outside onto Northern Ireland’s traumatically unresolved terrain it is difficult to feel you should have anything to comment, as if doing so would be wholly out of place and ignorant of the fragility of the context. Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter at the Golden Thread Gallery translates the contemporary conditions of working class lives in Belfast to an audience outside of the context from which her movement is spawned.

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London born, Belfast-bred choreographer Oona Doherty works within the context of such politically and historically charged spaces. She however does not look back to Belfast’s Troubles, nor does she deal with such political matters explicitly. With that said, indirectness is not indifference, in fact quite the opposite. As many Northern Irish artists must, she deals with unimaginably sensitive spaces carefully and considerately. Doherty however aware of the socio-political context she must be pays forensic attention to the seemingly familiar patterns present in the working class culture of today.

Death of a Hunter is Doherty’s visual arts debut. Trained as a dancer and now a practicing choreographer, her work is not what is expected to be found in a visual arts space. Her subject matter and execution in collaboration with video makers and sound artists give the work the oomph to seamlessly slide into a gallery context. One space in the gallery showcases a multi-part video work while the other hosts an installation composed of the heart-breaking presence of a crashed car.

The multi-part video installation is difficult and at times uncomfortable to watch. Each short film deals eloquently with a differing aspect of the physico‐sociological state as witnessed by her within Belfast’s urban culture. The first episode of Doherty’s video installation is titled Lazarus & The Bird of Paradise. Here is where I believe the cream of the crop of Doherty’s practise lies. Her lone figure lies motionless against the indistinguishable clamber of familiar loutish behaviour that acts as the score for this work. Soon she gently arises like a man possessed, being swiftly glided to her feet in relation to the weight of her own body. Her movements following this is the result of forensic observation of “smicks”, a derogatory term used to describe young lower-class persons of brash behaviour. It is the energy of this culture, the subtleties of an unsteady stance, a shrug of the shoulders and a rub of the nose which by itself may not be doing much but is threading a line between anxiety, fear and unrest that Doherty “tries on”, as someone would try on an outfit. She splits and splices these urban gestures with her unique style of contemporary dance that I can only describe as guttural. Unlike our general perception of contemporary dance in which the face stays motionless, Doherty utilises facial expressions to further try on these urban attitudes wholly to become completely engrossed in the character she takes from.

Her movement is visceral and sets the scene for the following episode, Sugar Army, which abstractly regurgitates recognisable gestures of young defiant girls, posturing to the camera. Once again this work is generally not consumed by those considered to be the subject matter. Rather what Doherty does is she delicately and intentionally presents to us these characters in order to suggest an understanding of the deep psychological past that may have created such a culture. The work through her movements and direction are humanly honest and reveal a painful society which far too often lacks empathy.

Oona Doherty’s Death of a Hunter runs from the 20th of October to the 3rd of November 2018 at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.

Rememory

by EL Putnam

“I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

The performance opens with a darkened space and the only light coming from a small projector held by one of the dancers as she spans the room. It is Super 8 footage that appears to be home movies. The aesthetic is shaky yet characterizable of this sort of documentation. The framing is awkward, shifting and truncating bodies as the amateur cinematographer becomes enraptured in the excitement of the moment being captured. It is footage that is familiar yet the figures are anonymous. The dancer moves the video over the floor, then the members of the audience; always in motion so that it is only possible to catch a glimpse of the flickering frames. At some point the projector shines directly into my eyes so all I can see is that source of light, knowing that something is playing back, but unable to look at what is unfolding over me. The projection is then onto the backs of the other two dancers. Bodies become screens and shadows interrupt the ghostly nostalgia.

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Fragments consists of a bricolage of actions, images, light and sound; a scrapbook of gestural experience that is drawn from the mundane, abstracted, and reconfigured through the process of trying to recall moments. Actions repeat, flowing through the dancers so that not one dominates the space nor a single gesture. Motions coalesce and then splinter apart.

The repetitive actions became ritualistic as if the dancers are trying to withdraw experience from the recesses of the mind. The multi-sensory aspects of sight, sound, and touch took on the significance of trying to capture something, a whatever, that cannot be represented, but only alluded to through the process of recollection. Touching the body, the clothes, and the face: yes I am still here.

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There is a narrative to Fragments that cannot be accessed. Instead, the performance captures the process of trying to recall them while losing them. Memories are created through the details—a touch, a sight, a sound, a smell—little figments of sensory experience that coalesce. Therefore, what can evoke or trigger a memory can be some minor element, which in and of itself is simply forgettable. The repetitive, simple gestures of the performers, the flickering video, and layering of the soundtrack all allude to this process, provoking broader questions: how do our memories inform us? How do our memories inform those around us? What happens when we can no longer access these memories?

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The dancer returns with the projector. She again scans the room with its flickering lights dappling the faces and bodies of the audience. Another dancer holds a mirrored ball in her arms. As the light of the projector casts over its fractured reflective surface, shattering the image and dispersing it throughout the room, I am mesmerized by the fragility of the light as it swirls around the room; cracking someone’s celluloid reminiscence.

Fragments is created by Jessie Keenan and includes performers Marion Cronin, Siobhán Ní Dhuinnín, and Sarah Ryan. It ran as part of the 2018 Dublin Fringe Festival, September 11 to 14 at the Complex Dublin. Images by Carrie Lewis.

half-way to cyborg-city*

by Sara Muthi

*a liminal-point at which a hybrid entity consisting of organic human and technological mechanisms is in the process of becoming a cyborg, though does not yet have a body. The ‘city’ in this case suggests a hypothetical destination in which the cyborg is integrated into contemporary metropolitan society.

The way I see it, Composition 2: Notes on Breathing + Space exists on three layering planes. The intersections that form the meat of the work happen between

  1. the visual and the vocal
  2. the organic and the technological
  3. the past and the present

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A pitch black space, reminiscent of a void due to its lack of perceived corners, sets the scene for this performative visual and vocal work. There is an effortless symphony between the unique yet repetitive technological sounds and the queued lights spotlighting the microphones with ring-lights tracing the circular rim of free-standing speakers. This ensemble is the second composition in this project between Siobhan Kavanagh and Adam Gibney.

Various repetitive breaths and vocals along with a loosely-musical and technological sound assemble in reaction to the gallery space. A space such as this, comprised of concrete walls and ceilings, with layering blackout curtains along with contrasting supple flesh form the canvas for these technological and organic sounds. Not one of the cracks, crevices or surfaces are to be taken for granted in the translation of these heavy vibrations. The plane which is responsible for the technological sounds and the plane which is responsible for the breathing vocals weave together in such a way as to be fundamentally inseparable. While separate planes of sound, it is clear both were created with the other in mind, developed simultaneously and cohesively. The live vocals from Kavanagh add a dimension of depth between the past recorded breath and the live improvised breath. This sometimes incomprehensible shift back and forth between the live and the pre-recorded, along with the way in which these audible elements vibrate against the organic breath of the audience present is what makes this work a half-way point to a cyborg-ian place.

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Composition 2 seems to have been equally assembled from human breath and technological ‘breath’ per-say. Even if it were not for the technological breaths in this work, the layering and persistence of the enunciated pre-recorded human breaths we hear would not be possible without the technological mechanisms devised by Gibney. A cyborg extends beyond typical human limitations by incorporating mechanical elements to become more-than. Ultimately, while a physical cyborg body is not explicit, nor intended, a cyborg breath is present in Composition 2.  What Kavanagh and Gibney create is a liminal void in which these possibilities between the technological, synthetic breaths live in a non-hierarchical space with the largely favoured human breath.

It is important to note however that this work is titled Composition 2: Notes on Breathing + Space. The work does not set out to create or make a statement on any particular truth or possibility. It is a note, an experiment in how these elements may co-exist, interact with each other but also with a wider physical audience. It is a one-off possibility, a comment, a particular observation they both wish to share and make possible.

By intersecting these complex planes between the visual and the vocal, the organic and the technological and the past and present in an informal, non-didactic, rhizomatic-ish way the work reaches, I believe, a place half-way to cyborg-city.

 

Composition 2: Notes on Breathing + Spacetook place on August 10th at 6.30pm. The work was developed by Siobhan Kavanagh and Adam Gibney and was a commissioned piece from The Complex as part their Visual Art series in the Ground Floor Gallery. Photography by Misha Beglin.

 

The Womb is not a Void (Jesse Jones, “Tremble Tremble”)

by EL Putnam

It was the depth of the darkness that first struck me. The rick blackness mingled with my fingers as I thrust out my arms to avoid colliding with anyone who may be wrapped in it. The darkness of the two monstrous screens nullifies place-specificity, as the figure of giantess emerges and disappears into its shadows. The past, present, and future are collapsed into a single plane.

Images of a gigantic woman jump from screen to screen, forcing the audience to shift position to catch a glimpse of her. Lights flash in various points, transforming the experience of watching a film to an immersive experience where witnesses are unable to passively sit back and absorb what flickers before their eyes. Her movements shift forwards and backwards; pulsating rhythms creating breaths of light and sound

The room is a body; a negative space that envelopes its inhabitants so that it is not empty, just as the womb is not a void. Bodies of women slip through the shadows, making their presence known through the tapping of shoes as they walk, the rustle of a curtain being pulled along its track, the amplified scraping of paint from the wall. Women working in the shadows that obscure their presence, overlaying it with an opacity that cultivates an oceanic darkness embracing the audience. This embrace is illustrated by two gigantic arms that circle the room, moved along the track and directing the movement of the space’s occupants. The arms become an extension of the monstrous presence on the screens; a fractured body without organs. She is beyond the audience, surrounding us, with her ephemeral presence. Her shifting movements through the different screens, light, and material elements make the cinematic apparatus quiver, causing it to perform.

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This is my second time witnessing Jesse Jones’s Tremble Tremble. I was able to experience it in its debut context in the Arsenale as the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This time was different. On a personal level, when I most recently experienced the work, I carried a one-month old sleeping infant on my chest as I walked through the gallery, listening to her vocal quivers punctuate the soundtrack. Recently experiencing the radical bodily process of pregnancy and childbirth, combined with the physical and mental exhaustion of caring for an infant, I engaged with the work in a distinctive, psycho-biological level that offered solace to my wrecked self as a twice over mother.

The differences of experience extend beyond the autobiographical. Other variances emerge from the context of the exhibition. The Arsenale, which was the old ship building facility of Venice, is a distinctive work of architecture. Its long voluminous halls are transformed every two years into the galleries of the world’s longest running contemporary art event of its kind. Art is in this context is far from autonomous, with it functioning as politics by other means through its national identification (which is part of the Biennale’s appeal for me as a certified student of International Relations). Thus, the gendering of politics on this international stage in affiliation with the Irish nation is significant.

This brings me to a third reason Tremble Tremble was different, since it was now being presented after the repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution that equated the right to life of the fetus with that of the mother. As Jones recently articulated, the eighth amendment meant that “A man is a man is a man is a man, always. A woman is sometimes equal to a foetus.” However, this is not the extent to which Irish laws are influenced by implicit and explicit sexist biased. While the project may have been rooted in a desire to propose an alternative to eighth amendment—the Law of In Utera Gigantae—its drive for political and cultural change is by no means restricted to it. The current political events of Ireland make it timely, not resolved.

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The women of the shadows make the apparatus move, quiver, and quake. They are the ones whose work is unseen, but create an impact that is experienced in multifacted and multi-sensory ways. What draws me to Jones’s Tremble Tremble is not what is seen, but what puts the system in motion through actions shifting in the shadows. The invisibility of presence becomes a metaphor for the underacknowledged and undervalued reproductive labour that makes many human civilisations possible, but it also cultivates sites of instigating resistance and change. What emerges from the darkness is not all that matters, since it provides only a glimpse of what exists beyond illumination.

There is a quote by Silvia Federici from the exhibition catalogue that I read in tandem with Jones’s project: “Since the power to be affected and to affect, to be moved and to move, a capacity which is indestructible, exhausted only in death, is constitutive of the body, there is an immanent politics residing in it: the capacity to transform itself, others, and change the world” (47). I read bodies as extending beyond the limits of the human corporeal entity and into the complex ecologies that make life livable. Through the envisioning of this body as a giantess, there is a shift in the grounding of patriarchal culture that has perpetuated the oppression of women. The recent changes to Irish legislation may be the highly visible event that indicates something is shifting, but let us not get distracted as to ignore what is happening in the shadows. There is still much more work to be done.

 

Tremble Tremble by Jesse Jones and curated by Tessa Giblin was exhibited at the Project Arts Centre 7 June to July 18, 2018.

Works Cited

Federici, Silvia. “In Praise of the Dancing Body.” Tremble Tremble, edited by Tessa Giblin, Project Arts Centre and Mousse Publishing, 2017.

Jones, Jesse. “Why I’m Voting ‘Yes’ to Repeal the 8th in Ireland’s Abortion Referendum.” Frieze, 24 May 2018, https://frieze.com/article/why-im-voting-yes-repeal-8th-irelands-abortion-referendum.