The works on this page form part of the ‘Three Views Of A Border’ exhibition (works by Anna marie Savage, Ciaran Dunbar and myself), which was shown in An Tain gallery in Dundalk in June and July 2022 and which subsequently toured to Iontas Castleblayney where it remains on show at the time of writing.
While I was starting out on this body of work I was also working on a house renovation, uncovering newspapers under old carpets, decades old wallpaper hidden under new walls like the ghosts of former residents, toys lost down the backs of cupboards. Towards the bottom of the page are some of the initial works I made in exploration of the themes I was interested in but which didn’t make sense to include in the exhibition as it was realised. As I was starting the exploratory work on this body of work I was simultaneously working on the lead bells commemorating the Ballymurphy Massacre and Bloody Sunday and I started to think in more depth about how the materials I chose could work as a vehicle for exploring memories and teasing out meaning, implying a narrative that I didn’t have to approach in a reductive fashion. The resulting works include both installed and wall mounted pieces, often titled with reference to songs. This was in part to create a secondary way into the work but also because it chimes with the mordant, gallows humour so prevalent in the border counties.
The Sin Eater engages with the ubiquitous guilt that most of us carry around with us. The idea is fairly simple. Anyone who wishes can cast a ballot, anonymously committing to paper their darkest secret, their most shameful act. Like all ballots, what they write on the paper is entirely their own difference. Their secret is safe in the belly of the box and when the exhibition closes I take the ballots and burn them, relieving the voter of the burden of their shame. The burnt ballots are then cast in a wax block.
Five Decades was the most adventurous work in terms of its scale, for all the simplicity of its concept, that I made for the exhibition. It was, in fact, too large to put together in the studio and the first time I saw it in its entirety was once installed as part of Three Views Of A Border. The photograph above shows it in the large basement gallery space at An Tain Arts Centre.
Triptych takes excepts from the account by Noel O’Dowd of his mother’s words to him as he came home on the evening of January 4th 1976to find his uncle and brothers dead, his father grievously wounded, as the result of an attack on the O’Dowd home by loyalist paramilitaries. Martin Doyle, of the Irish Times, who had been a neighbour of theirs growing up told the story and his account of the now dismal state of their once immaculately kept home affected me greatly. The inset lead plaques read ‘Is that you, Noel’ ‘Go and get your uncle Frank’, ‘Your father and them all has been shot dead’.
When I started making work for what eventually became the ‘Three Views Of A Border’ touring exhibition I had only the vaguest concept tying together the things I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make work about the border between the 26 counties that form the current bounds of the Irish state and the 6 counties that were excluded under partition. More specifically, I knew I wanted to make work that was about growing up in proximity to that border. As I got under way I initially started making works which looked at some of the more obvious features such as checkpoints and watchtowers but I was conscious that those works could be too easily construed as political where my themes were more rooted in memory and loss.