The Shambles of Science, 2019. Production still. Performers: Stacey Sacks and Esther Maliani. Photo: Joshua Aylett.
What is your daily routine as an artist?
I like to have coffee every morning, and for the last couple of months I’ve been trying to start the day with cider vinegar. Good for the gut! After that, there’s more variety than daily routine.
What would you say is the biggest challenge as an artist/curator
The ongoing precarity (‘variety’) that puts us at increasing risk as we get older.
Who has been of great influence to you in your field?
The lecturers who taught me, the students who I’ve taught since, and the other artists I have collaborated with over the years
What is the best advice you would give an emerging artist?
Find the people you care about and who you want your work to speak to, to matter to. See if you can make it speak to them. Keep trying. Develop your own instincts. Learn when to say yes, and when to say no. Try not to hurt yourself.
Tell us about your project.
I used the award to develop two closely related works from the same body of research: a film titled The Shambles of Science (4K video; 27 minutes), and a sculpture titled Epigenetic Activity Mat (printed and woven textile, cast aluminium objects, found pewter spoon, HD video; 2.3m x 2.3m).
The film makes a connection between two historical events: the involvement of Swedish physiology students Lizzie Af Hageby and Leisa Schartau in anti-vivisection protests in London; and the contemporaneous force-feeding of suffragettes held in Holloway prison. Central to the film is the way the bodies of both the dogs and the women were represented in the contemporary press as prone and unspeaking, whether subject to illegal experiments or resisting state-sanctioned ‘care’ in the prison system. This could help to explain some of the affinity the women felt for the dog, which led to an unusual coalition of the vulnerable across the political spectrum. The image of the dog is taken to ventriloquise proto-feminist ideas about bodily autonomy, dignity and political voice.
Epigenetic Activity Mat is a touchable, useable sculpture for adult humans that is based on dog activity mats (which are presumably based on children’s activity mats). The textile mat incorporates printed images and cast objects inspired by tools of play and domestication, with an implicit warning of violence. The mat also encompasses two text excerpts presented as video: first-person testimonies of force-fed suffragettes and witness descriptions from the 1903 diaries of Af Hageby and Schartau that would ignite the so-called ‘Brown Dog affair’. The works speculate on the intergenerational effects of trauma, even between bodies that may not be obviously related.
I developed the project over a three month residency in Stockholm, with further support from Iaspis (the Swedish Arts Grants Committee).
What has the Project Award support from the Arts Council meant to your practice?
The Project Award resourced me to work with a highly skilled creative team, which was produced by HER Films / Malin Hüber and shot by Joshua Aylett, both of whom are based in Stockholm. It also allowed for a certain level of experimentation and play through developing the sculpture, which was something unexpected that arose naturally from the research process. I hope to continue building on these working relationships and new material experiments.
What are you doing next?
The project has just been exhibited at the Bergen Assembly, a triennial event in Norway, and it will also be exhibited at Deptford X in the UK next month. I’m now back in Ireland working on a public art commission for South Dublin County Council that will be realised as a series of participatory performances, staged in the form of fitness classes in leisure centres. Titled Public Feeling, the project approaches similar questions about health and the body, and what solidarity might be found in vulnerability.