Dublin City Arts Office
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Past Exhibition

Of Space and Place

Margo McNulty and Geraldine O'Reilly

April 11 - June 07 2014

Exploring their mutual interest in history, memory and narrative, their work is situated in the local.  O'Reilly's work draws on a residency at the Heinrich Boll House on Achill Island, where she was struck, in particular, by the Deserted Village, abandoned since famine times. John F. Deane's poem, 'The Abandoned Village', and an excerpt from Eavan Boland's essay, 'Outside History', from the book, 'Object Lessons', appear alongside a series of photo etchings. McNulty's work explores personal history revisiting her grandmother and great grandmother's house as the basis for her large scale lithographs, which become microscopic portals to the past. This work concerns itself with episodes of chance, the intersection of personal and public histories and how these histories and meanings can be embedded in material objects.

Margo McNulty is a graduate of GMIT and NCAD. She has had many solo and group exhibitions in London, Paris, Cologne, Sidney and Dublin. Recent residencies include TRADE in Roscommon and Gorlice in Poland. Her work is included in a number of private and public collections abroad and in Ireland in the National Gallery, the National Museum and the OPW.

Geraldine O'Reilly is a visual artist based in Westmeath. A graduate of NCAD, she has had many solo exhibitions and shown in group exhibitions throughout Ireland, England, France, Belgium, USA, Sweden and Tasmania, Australia. She is a member of Aosdana, Black Church Print Studio, the Graphic Print Studio and a former Fulbright Scholar. She has also been awarded a number of important residencies most recently at the Centre Cultural Irlandais, Paris and The Heinrich Boll House, Achill Island, Co Mayo, Ireland.  Her work is held in collections including The Great Hunger Museum/An Gorta Mor, Quinnipiac University, Hamden, CT, USA, OPW, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Trinity College, The National Gallery of Ireland, The Chester Beatty Library, Mc Mullen Museum, Boston College, USA, SUNY (State University of New York), University of Tasmania, and NCAD.

This exhibition is presented in association with the Dublin Writers Festival and is is accompanied by a specially commissioned essay by Prof Luke Gibbons(see below). Writer John F Deane will be in conversation with Geraldine O’Reilly on Wednesday 21st May. For tickets see www.dublinwritersfestival.com

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FIELD OF VISION

Luke Gibbons

 

A photograph, Susan Sontag once wrote, is like the delayed rays of a star; the object may have disappeared long ago but the light lives on in the present. In the photo-etchings of Geraldine O’Reilly’s ‘Deserted Village’, light itself is defined by the shadows cast on the landscape since the nineteenth century. Grass –stubbled roads cannot find their way home. Abandoned gable walls loom like headstones and, from a distance, the originals in graveyards suggest they have more in common with other rocks, than with the people they left behind. Writing of the same Mayo countryside, Ernie O’Malley noted that landscape does not have to await representaton but carries its own bereft expression:’Memory must play it’s part…. In enclosures of light-filigreed stone walls which map land hunger, or in unobtrusive cottages, dwarfed by mountain and hill to an almost tragic insignificance.’ It is as if the land is already etched, and photographs are not so much after the event as emanations from the same act of engraving. Though no one is watching, there is a sense that the fields are looking back, ‘the way an urchin might once have watched from a doorway’ (in the words of John F.Deane’s antiphonal lines to the images).

In the romantic ruin, human artifacts are reclaimed by Ivy – ‘nature’ – but in Ireland, ruins and even the grass that overruns them are products of human endeavour. In the mid-eighteenth century, Charles O’Hara acquired the island of Inishmurray off the coast of Sligo, and his friend edmund Burke wrote ruefully it was not nature but progress that threatened this precarious Eden: ‘You charm me with this account of your little new world, which you have described so near home. Of what size is this island, or is it described in the map? I wish you may get it with all my heart; for I know you will be no Cortez, Pizarro, Cromwell or Boyle to the natives. Happy and wise are these poor natives in avoiding your great world’.

In the six photo-etchings that comprise Geraldine O’Reily’s ‘Inishmurray’, the ‘great world’ has left its indelible mark, the texture of the images themselves reenacting surfaces of stone. Even in wide vistas, foregrounds predominate, as if the camera is rooted to the spot. Grass draws the lens downward gaze, much as it grows up to what were once front doors. Ancient monuments and crosses defaced by ruins of a different kind: desolate cottages and, closer to our own day, abandoned slated dwellings. To defy anonymity, members of a family have left their graffitied names on a porch, and when the view moves inside, a frame of light is thrown on the floor. The house itself has become a camera, its windows letting in the delayed light of the past.

In one of Margo McNulty’s images, shadows leave blots of ink outside an open window with a crumpled curtain: it is not clear whether a cat has made its escape, or a phantom limb is casting a menancing presence. In a corner in another picture, an empty wastebasket is a victim of its own success, for it has now become waste. An empty chair made a similar wickerwork turns its back on the viewer, facing another version of itself, close-ups convey intimacy but may also be too close for comfort, as interiors become congested districts of loss. And what might have been. McNulty’s photo lithographs give the impression of surviving from the early days of photography, the spectral traces of the medium going against the grain. In other images, paint awaits a finishing touch as abandoned tins are left on the shelf, and this coatings peel off damp walls. Progress has come unstuck, discarded machines succumbing to rust and corrosion, extinct species once they no longer work. Objects that connected their uses to systems and grids – a tap, a light bulb, a dust-encrusted fan – seems out of place when deprived of human company. We cannot even recognize labour-saving devices that cannot save themselves, discarded by the very labour they almost made. Redundant.

A photograph only moves us, according to Roland Barthes, when ‘it takes the spectator outside the frame. And it is there that I animate the photograph, and that it animates me’.  Just when we think we are looking at another photograph in Margo McNulty’s  ‘remnants’. It comes alive in video form, as absent voices fill the air, and a bird intrudes on a derelict room, seemingly casing the joint for a new future. It soon gives up, however, and disappears from view, but the voices remain, out of shot, taking us outside the frame, wondering about all the histories that have become still-lifes, long before their time. 

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