The Power of the Object

 

I’m looking forward to the sixth knot of Colm Cille’s Spiral, which moves to Dublin to reinterpret his legacy and influence through the theme “The Object”. The commission links curatorial, artistic, historian and archeological practice.

 

Although Dublin is not directly linked to Colm Cille, many of objects related to Colm Cille have returned to the capital Irish city and have become relics and monuments to the Saint. What is interesting about the objects is that many of them are books and manuscripts, which Colm Cille intended as a means of sharing knowledge. However, many of these books are hidden away from the public eye. One of the objects is the Cathach or “battle book”, the story of which was controversial as it was famously copied from Finnian and a battle ensued. There have many stories, interpretations and superstitions connected to this book and it seems this is where a space for artistic interpretation lies.

The Cathach

 

Derry is also a place where objects are personified and hold memory. The Colm Cille’s Spiral final exhibition is coinciding with ‘A history of Derry in 100 objects’ allowing the objects to tell their story and preserves people and events safekeeping personal meaning and symbolism.

 

These medieval objects raise many questions that remain unanswered, they invite a re-telling. This space of mystery is where the artist, Tracy Hanna will bridge the gap. Having looked at past works from Tracey Hanna gives me an insight into what she’ll create for the Dublin commission. Her work is site specific and engages with the narrative surrounding the objects. She has chosen to use natural elements such as peat, reminiscent of the tale of Colmcille returning to Ireland walking on peats of Scottish soil as he […]

Reflections on Raasay

 

I have been following the blog entries from the residency in Raasay, made up of artists, scholars, illuminators and medievalists who all took part in the different knots of the Spiral to ruminate over questions surrounding Colm Cille; the extreme past, retelling myths, exile and labour.

 

One of the things that occurred to me is our connection or rather disconnection to sea and landscape in comparison to Colm Cille’s time, when it was inherent to human nature. This connection is one that is being attempted to re-invoke throughout the spiral and residency on Raasay. The sea and land were vital tools to export the knowledge of Colm Cille, from his initial pilgrimage to Iona and the unique settings he founded monasteries and settlements for contemplation. This reminds me of the Vicissitudes performance, a participant, Liam Campbell who had a big interest in Colm Cille and had just completed a Phd about the River Foyle, its symbolism and how it connects people. This reconnection to our surroundings to me is an element of Colm Cille’s Spiral that is vital to explore.

 

Some other themes that stood out to me was re-interpretation of power structures and traditions. Local traditions of places such as Raasay are at danger of being lost. Tory Island is just off the coast of Donegal, where Irish is the native language. It draws similarities to Raasay, with a similar population count, traditions, native language, all of which are dwindling. There is a King of Tory who is selected by the islanders as a spokesperson for Tory, a tradition that has died out in other places. The local people use the sea and soundscape as a tool to throw their voices to manage everyday island […]

Reflections on “The Word” and “Ethical Knowledge”; Sacred spaces, forgotten histories and challenging predispositions

 

There has been a lot of talk in the past few entries of folding and unfolding. The layers of Colm Cille’s legacy are definitely being peeled back in the last two commissions and conversations surrounding them.  I’ve been gathering my thoughts on the blog entries.

 

The spiral moved to Newcastle to interpret “The Word” resulting in a poetry sound installation in opposing sites, one a tower on the island of Lindisfarne and the other in St. Aidan’s Crypt in Bamburgh. These same pieces resulted in very different reactions. Shadow Script, the commissioned poetry, which was used in Antiphonal sound installation, told us fragmented stories of pilgrimages, myths, secrets and meditations, leaving us to piece the rest together. Linda had felt that the Crypt installation was more successful as the reverent, peaceful atmosphere allowed the piece to be enjoyed and reflected upon. The space used for these commissions seems like a vital element, to create the atmosphere for contemplation, as I feel was successfully created in Vicissitudes.

 

The third knot of the spiral, “Ethical Knowledge” in Bradwell, where the medievalists played the role of artists at “Interruptions” in St. Peter’s church. I found this interesting as it forced the historians to challenge all their predispositions and embrace the challenge of imagination and the unknown. During the Curator’s Conclave in May this was raised as being a transition from referencing and accuracy to using contemporary at, literature and performance as a new way of understanding the past. The engagement and interactive element of Interruptions seemed to be an informative element of the work, as with the personal stories and connections people brought to the Vicissitudes performance.

 

Kathryn Meade‘s piece on forgotten women today and in medieval times sounded like […]

Vicissitudes Film Clip

This short clip of  ”Vicissitudes. Exile, Ritual and Lament” gives an insight into Ceara’s interpretation of Colm Cille and the “Voice” theme for the Derry commission on June 9th. Combining sean-nós singing (traditional Irish song), along with fragments of her experiences journeying on the Colm Cille trail and the historical, religious, political and cultural figures she met along the way. The audience engaged with her on topics such as exile, the idea of home and spirituality in a unique setting on a curragh along the River Foyle.

The performance was experiential; the curragh and its short journey on the River Foyle created an atmosphere that was intimate and spiritual. Even though we were a mere few metres within sight of the city of Derry, the journey felt secluded and offered a time to reflect, be still and listen. Every person on the boat seemed to have a personal connection with the stories, symbols and topics that Ceara sang and discussed. Each passenger was gifted with keepsakes; a handmade broighter boat, a packet of soil from St. Colmcille’s grave (believed to protect your home from fire when put in your fireplace) and a photograph of Paddy Gillespie from Gleann ColmCille with a healing stone, which is associated with the saint.

The “Vicissitudes” sound installation was installed on the Marina on the River Foyle and passers by could catch fragments on the wind as they walked. It included snippets of interviews and songs. I picked up on elements of conversations about the lost act of creation, how in the past people were impulsed to create as part of human nature and a song of a teacher on an island who lost all his books on a boat journey […]

Vicissitudes. Exile, Ritual and Lament

Vicissitudes marks the beginning of the first commission of Colm Cille’s Spiral.
The setting is the marina on the Foyle Marina, Queen’s Quay, Derry, Northern Ireland. The river is the fastest flowing in the country and Derry city holds strong connections to Saint Colm Cille.

The date is 9th June, St. Colm Cille’s feast day, when celebrations and festivities take place to commemorate the patron Saint.

Vicissitudes is a voice and sound performance that explores themes of exile and immigration, the lament and economic myths inherent to the life of Colm Cille.

Artist Ceara Conway will be doing this performance in the Colmcille curragh (pictured below) on the River Foyle this Sunday 09th June. Performance times: 1.45pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm & 4.00pm. Places on the boat are free but limited so booking is required either by emailing me on: mckeever.maggie@gmail.com or phoning: 0778 454 6910.

 

 

Curators’ Conclave

I was invited to take part in the Curators’ Conclave in King’s College, London on Wednesday 22nd May. This offered ourselves as curators from the six knots of the Spiral, medievalist historians and Difference Exchange to meet to share ideas, interpretations and debates surrounding Colm Cille’s legacy and how we feel visual and literary art can represent this.

It was interesting to hear medievalist, Michele Brown talking about questioning her role as an historian and what drives her.  To “fire the imagination” and to question medieval society and in turn, reflect on the issues and values of society today. I noticed that common themes in Colm Cille’s story arose; information flow, ownership and copyright, all of which are topical with the rise of the digital, open access to information and knowledge online.

In Colm Cille’s time oral storytelling were traditional ways to safe keep information, which leaves many gaps in knowledge. Perhaps literary and visual arts can play an interpretive role of filling in the grey areas of knowledge to create new possibilities. Instead of establishing historical facts, the knots may be open ended and ephemeral, we ask more questions rather than answering them.

Curators from the six knots or “themes” gave us an insight into their work with the chosen artists, scholars or illuminators; discussing approaches, outcomes and ways of representation. Interpretations ranged from song performances on a boat, sound installations in a crypt, literary interpretations, google algorithms, tours of hidden relics and exchanges of knowledge, which cross over cultures and languages.

We discussed the state of flux that the projects are in and how the six knots could be represented as a whole. Is physical representation in a gallery space necessary? Or could it be an […]