I get nervous at exhibitions.
My body becomes a site of imagined destruction.
What if I drop my wine and the glass somehow catapults at that painting? What if the painting then collapses, skids towards the cast to its left, and an artist’s months of work shatters before their very eyes? What if my body just spontaneously spasms into a tornado-esque force, ploughing every work in the exhibition to its demise? It seems that -for me at least- the body can often feel too large, too present, around the delicacy of artworks. That a divide exists between the messy, hairy pulse of the body, and the mapped, preconceived environment around it.
‘Echoes of Past Sorrows’ was an exhibition of artworks by Kathryn Kelly, held by Sample Studios TACTIC Visual Arts Programme, and assisted by TACTIC member Katie O’Grady in St Luke’s Crypt, Cork City in February 2019. The work was Kelly’s response to the sudden loss of her father, and an exploration through death, mourning and grief, which was further inspired from her readings of Julia Kristeva and John B. Ravenal- exploring ideas surrounding the physical and metaphysical nature of life cycles, and the relationship between beauty and death. A sound composition by composer/producer/DJ Ellen King titled ‘Sublimation’ was presented as a visceral, throbbing response to the visual works on show.
When I heaved myself through the entrance to the Crypt two years ago -sweaty and jittery and full of exhibition destruction nerves- I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d seen a Facebook event for a sound and visual exhibit in St Luke’s, and the description attached felt like a love letter to my little goth heart. On entering the crypt, I became immediately aware of the cave-like nature of the space. Sure, there were exhibition leaflets and wine glasses milling around me, but it felt different this time, like I’d entered a vessel, the belly of the church above, a body of stone. The works were placed tastefully around the softly lit vault, separate entities threading the space like visual beats- I felt calm, they had room to stretch and breathe. Kelly’s use of material was varied and reflective of the themes discussed in the work.
Wood, paper collaged, near feathers, fabric, fur, assembled with neon, plaster paint, By wooden boxes, painted, Stuffed with fibres, and rose quartz, stone, rope trailing.
There was a blue and magenta light installation which tossed my view between hot and cold hues, downwards at plaster of paris skulls on a shallow mound of shredded fabric. I had rarely felt so dizzyingly distracted from myself, yet so vividly rooted in my surroundings.
We sat down to ‘Sublimation’.
Saying that we ‘listened’ to the piece doesn’t quite fit the bill. Not to sound wankery (but to sound wankery), we ‘experienced’ the piece instead. It’s a feeling I’ve found hard to accurately describe since hearing the work. King took sounds and mixed them around, tearing them, stretching them, and teasing their edges so that they lay on each other like layers of a cake. They wove and bled between each other like veins, resulting in an overwhelmingly visceral experience. I’d meditated before- you feel your body weigh itself down, your mind floats overhead and you look down at yourself, you’ve separated. This was different. As I sat, and the soundscape sprawled around me, I felt acutely aware of my body. I was connected. It felt as if the landscape of King’s piece had crawled inside of me, occupying my space as I occupied that of the works around me,
As the volume of sound climaxed around the crypt, I felt it push and heave inside my chest, resulting in tiny gasps, and the realization that my cheeks were wet. I scrubbed at them, and tried to look as aloof and composed as I could, I was at an exhibition afterall, a certain decorum is expected.
When I left the crypt I didn’t feel nervous anymore. I felt calm.
‘Echoes of Past Sorrows’ and ‘Sublimation’ had extended a hand and shown me that in the precarious, ephemeral nature of being a body, there is also beauty. That beauty, art, and the visceral body aren’t separate, but entwined. Two years later, I still think of how it felt to allow those sounds and sights to change my body. I think of how nice it is to escape from reality into that memory. And I think of how I’d like to thank Kathryn Kelly and Ellen King for creating that memory.