Between a Rock and a Hard Place
‘seismic reflection (mass noun) Geology; the reflection of elastic waves at boundaries between different rock formations, especially as a technique for prospecting or research.’
In May 2013 I spent a month as artist-in-residence at Cló Ceardlann, an Art Centre located at the foot of mount Errigal in a remote corner of North West Donegal. The spacious and well-equipped residency accommodation adjoined a simple, vernacular, stone dwelling that would once have housed both family and livestock. I was drawn immediately to one particular room in the original cottage, which rose up from an exposed, excavated rocky escarpment. This extraordinary space formed the basis of what was to become Seomra Úna - Oona's Room - a site responsive installation that investigates the relationship between people and place.
The work was informed by the distinct geology, indicated by the place name Mín an Leá - the place of the flagstones - and the experience of living and working alongside the directors of Cló’ - both of whom are practicing artists - and their family. This allowed for reflection upon the resilience and ingenuity required to survive in such a beautiful yet harsh environment and in turn, set in motion an exploration of notions of identity, the difficulty of eking out a sustainable existence whilst maintaining a manageable work-life balance. It also prompted questions about how we surmount and navigate our physical and personal terrains in any given time and place.
Foraging in the immediate environ, inside and out, I found tantalizing material traces of the past - a child's bed base; a decorative, filigree mirror frame minus its glass; crockery; books; toys; a door from a washing machine and a wooden clothes horse. Relocated and carefully positioned in this new space, these objets trouvés took on a new resonance. An old TV, powered by a make shift extension cable leading from the main house, provided no tangible picture when switched on but its static snow cast an eerie, flickering white glow on the stone walls. The mirror frame, hung on a wooden peg above a rudimentary fireplace, reflected only absence. In addition, I pulled paper castes from some of these disparate objects including a cup, shoes and a section of the flagstone floor, and fabricated sheets and laundry from reams of tissue paper - fragile, semi transparent and transient. The room was beginning to assume a feminine presence.
These objects, both found and constructed, provided an inventory that shed light on generations of inhabitants - their changing values, tastes, roles, customs, habits and mores - and seemed to embody a synthesis of, or reckoning with, the materiality of people and place. Acknowledging the current and previous, (unknown) occupants, the work explores the liminal space between the past and present. Old and new technologies, the frugal and the extravagant, mud floors and china cups – seemed to stand as signifiers of the seismic social, cultural and economic changes that have taken place in Ireland over a hundred years.
On the rare days when it didn’t rain, I set out into the landscape with a pinhole camera crudely fashioned from a discarded drink can, in an attempt to document and capture a sense of the locale. The subsequent series of images, distorted and in negative, offered their own, strange reality.
Alongside this, I began work on a sculptural piece in the Living Archive that houses Cló’s extensive library. In the resulting work, 'God beam - a Jehovah’s Witness called', a diaphanous column of fabric hung suspended from the skylight allowing for a beam of light to fall to the floor. The work was in response to one of only two callers I received at the residency in the time I spent there, the other being the postman.
The residency was part of the Úr program, a trans-European Art and Cultural exchange supported by EACEA, Culture Ireland and the Arts Council of Ireland.