Completing The Fold

Colm Cille’s Spiral has been a complex project with many elements. It addressed the apparently remote history of a 6th Century monk about which, as Clare Lees said in closing remarks to the project ‘We know nothing – right? Nothing’. It was firstly perhaps a project about the difficulties of history. It took place around six locations or knots, and each of these fractured into multiple locations (ultimately at least twelve places across the British Isles were sites for work, with others from the UK Ireland and Greece brought into play). So the project was also on the surface about territory in some way. It was ‘delivered’ by twenty-six artists and poets of varying artforms across those locations and resulted in some amazing and rich works. It gives a flavour of the richness of the project to note the media and practices included (poetry, typography, ceramics, photography, video, sound work, walking, singing, sailing, sculptural objects and installation, drawing, and the growing and documenting of online communities). A deeper look at the works, covered in more depth elsewhere on this website could extend this list. These artists have been supported and guided by five arts organisations, five universities, four independent curators and a network of advisors. This scope of time, place, people and institution gives a good idea of the projects’ complexity.

However it is important to distinguish between complexity and complication, because all these voices were navigating through and illuminating the same project and formed a related investigation around an easily grasped central point of gravitation. By finding their own interpretations and using their own networks and techniques these multiple voices were helping us all work through our own understandings.

The project was initiated by Difference […]

‘The Fold, A Creative Convention after Colm Cille’, ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’, 30 Nov – 1 Dec 2013, Derry~ Londonderry

Colm Cille, the founding father of Derry, is attributed in a poem as describing the city as follows:

“The reason I love Derry /Is its quietness, its purity/ For full of angels white it is/ From one end to the other”.

We arrive in the city for our concluding event, ‘The Fold’, at a time when it could be described as busier than Colm Cille envisaged it in his mind’s eye, with impressive queues for the Turner Prize, nightly gatherings in squares to see the Lumiere Festival projections and generally a city and audience confidently in full swing for all the cultural offerings of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013. With this event ‘The Fold’, The City of Culture itself and London Street Gallery become the containers for all six knots of ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’.

There was a word regarding Celtic Art that Dr Katherine Forsyth (Reader, Celtic and Gaelic Dept, University of Glasgow) used in her presentation at CCA in Glasgow back in October:  ‘interlace’. Interlace refers to the complex geometric patterns on stones, manuscripts and on jewellery, where motifs are looped, and braid and knots intertwine. The detail is so extraordinary that in some of the manuscript illustrations, it would take a magnifying glass to see the full picture. This word ‘interlace’ describes my understanding of this multi-layered project.

So, if we pick up the magnifying glass and hold it up to ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ at its conclusion – ‘The Fold’- what can we see? The ‘interlace’ brings into full view the ‘knots’ of Glasgow / the Hebrides, Newcastle/ Lindisfarne / Bamburgh, Derry, Dublin, London / Bradwell-on-Sea and Lichfield / Llandeilo. The ‘interlace’ also braids the past and present, mirrored by a key objective of ‘Colm Cille’s […]

Dublin’s Objects: walking back and down through time

At the steps of the Royal Irish Academy founded in 1785 ‘to promote the study of science, polite literature and antiquities’, the start of our walking tour for Colm Cille – The Object. Enter a hushed library with dark wood book casements and galleries above, green lamps hanging low over tables above the heads of readers. It’s reverential, a true repository of knowledge.

The cathach or ‘battle book’, one of Ireland’s most rare objects containing examples of some of the earliest Gaelic writing, has been brought out for display specially for the four walking tours. All that remains of the psalter, allegedly written by Colm Cille (although more likely a later origin) copied from Biblical texts of the period, are the remnants of its pages, torn and browned at the edges, mounted in a modern binding. I can’t take a photo. Cathach means ‘war’ in Irish – the book was taken into battle, a talismanic weapon that ensured victory, which also had other powers – when dipped in a pond the water was made save for cattle to drink from.

The cathach was traditionally kept in a gold and silver shrine, elaborately decorated – now on display next to a crozier at the National Museum. I peer into the glass, listening to our excellent guide from Trinity College. I try to imagine the shrine not in a modern museum vitrine, but slung around the neck of a holy man, leading the clan into battle through mud and gore.

And to the Book of Kells at Trinity College, I strain my eyes drilling into the intricacy of the design, and wonder at the author’s hand, the colours made from natural pigments still vivid after the passing of centuries. […]

By |November 24th, 2013|The Object|0 Comments

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 […]

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 […]