Des Kenny Reviews Sinead McDonald - Uchronia

December 8, 2014

08 December 2014 - Our Arty Blogger is back! Des Kenny gives a personal response to our current exhibition by Sinead McDonald, ‘Uchronia’.


Sinead McDonald’s photographs in Draíocht’s First Floor Gallery explore, through the medium of self-portraiture, alternative identities she might have assumed if destiny and chance had determined a different future from her present fate as an artist. Can fantasising divergent future histories offer a sense of control over current existence? Are all our blind tomorrows fractured if viewed from a disordered contemporary society? Such questions naturally surface when standing before these inquisitive images.

Self Portrait at my son's grave on his birthday

In one of the more poignant photographs the artist stands in a graveyard before her imagined son’s gravestone. It is the only photograph in which the artist does not confront the viewers gaze but turns away and hides her devouring loss from voyeuristic eyes. It is a frightening realisation that even invented suppositions have ungovernable and painful tragedies. A fiction can fearfully seed contemporary life with a premonition that may summon unwanted fate.

Self Portrait once removed

In Self Portrait Once Removed the artist presents herself as a young teenage boy standing awkwardly but self absorbed in his school tracksuit on a suburban street. He seems to portray an internal conflict while assuming the identity of a female persona in a male body. The boy becomes an actor transforming his identity to inhabit another’s vision as the artist becomes an ambiguous spectator while she views her own gender change. The sexual metamorphasis hints at the dual nature of our humanity that lies submerged in the silhouetted preserve of the psyche.

Self Portrait if my parents had called me Irene Sinéad instead of Sinéad Irene

There is also wit and humour explored in certain images. In one photo the artist poses the question what would happen if my names were reversed from Sinéad Irene to Irene Sinéad. Inevitably this minor rearrangement creates a new character of a primary school teacher in a catholic school. Irene Sinead sits primly in a chair soberly dressed correcting children’s exercise books as a statue of the Virgin Mary looks down on high denoting that greater forces than humanity decide our vocation. The theme of naming a child and its consequence is explored in the famous Johnny Cash song where the absent father called his son Sue. He grew up strong, learning to defend himself, fighting all who jeered his name. Irene Sinead on the other hand is not a fighter but a shy introspective school teacher preparing children for exciting possible futures reserved Irene will not achieve since she accepts fatalistically life is predetermined.

Self Portrait if I'd been born an only child

While in a Self Portrait as an only Child she stands confidently erect in a dress suit next to her Audi. She places her hand on the car proudly proclaiming ownership. Her world is ordered but conventional and there is no desire to experience life beyond her middle class existence.

In another photograph she has become a doctor because she accidently walked home in 1989 by way of Camden Street. What mysterious event occurred on Camden Street that helped decide the career of the protagonist is shuttered away unseen but had profound effects similar to Saint Paul on his eventful journey on the road to Damascus. We are left wondering if contrary routes were chosen, divergent outcomes would unfold, changing the course of personal and world history.

In all the photographs the artist portrays her characters with their hair tied up in a ponytail. The presentation of hair typifies the role of each character and becomes a prop in creating new identities. Yet in Self Portrait Working on the Time Machine her hair hangs loosely, flowing uninterrupted over her shoulder. Caught in the present her hair flows undisturbed not yet ready to participate in future characterisations since the time machine is not switched on. The artist stands transfixed anxiously waiting for the time machine to decide her future. The show leaves the spectator pondering many unanswered questions but this is a strength not a weakness. Long after leaving Draíocht the viewer is burdened with lingering thoughts that life’s arresting past may dictate our shimmering tomorrows. 

Self Portrait Working on the Time Machine

Desmond Kenny is an artist based in Hartstown, Dublin 15. He is a self taught painter, since he began making art in 1986 he has since exhibited widely in Ireland and abroad, solo shows include Draíocht in 2001, The Lab in 2006 and Pallas Contemporary Projects in 2008. His work is included in many collections including the Office of Public Works, SIPTU, and Fingal County Council. Kenny's practice also incorporates print making and he has been a member of Graphic Studio Dublin since 2004.

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By Draíocht. Tags: Reviews & Interviews, Visual Arts, Desmond Kenny, Sinead McDonald,

Des Kenny Reviews Gerry O’Mahony - Keepers of Silence

December 8, 2014

08 December 2014 - Our Arty Blogger is back! Des Kenny gives a personal response to our current exhibition by Gerry O'Mahony, 'Keepers of Silence'.

Gerry O Mahony’s paintings occupy the Ground Floor Gallery of Draíocht like dark pools where forms shimmer and float in a primitive state waiting gently for the viewer to plunge into their depths to decipher and reach an understanding of their content. The paintings are immersed in a clear resin on panels of wood and various layers of paint float in the solution, magnifying the illusion of a bottomless interior realm. The wood panels are scoured with calligraphic marks anchoring elementary signs and symbols to a formless subterranean landscape. These rudimentary marks may describe a mountain, tree, sun or moon and signify a primordial language before the use of words. Arcane signs contain the spiritual essence of objects and act as a pathway into the origins of an archetypal underworld that is lost and forgotten.

Searching for a wide embrace, 60x60cm

In Searching for a Wide Embrace a yellow mountain hovers above dolman structures while a white full moon hangs like a pendant of an ancient order as white dots flicker and dance across a boundless sky. Forms and shapes shimmer into being from darkness and return undefined to their source. Blobs of red punctuate the paint surface akin to the flamed torches of acolytes on a pilgrimage through the night seeking solace from a deaf sky.

Changing Shadows 1, 120x120cm

Changing Shadows 1
is a large painting containing four panels where circular and pyramid designs compete with a surface of globular blacks, pale yellows and transparent purples. Forms are etched with a black line pining them to a dynamic formless painterly picture plane. The artist permits the forms discover their own placement in the crammed chaos of shifting space before sinking into complete dissolution and allows form freedom to flutter into life or fade unannounced into silence. The painting attains a dream state where the unconscious dictates a blurred mysterious narrative.

Changing Shadows 2, 120x120cm

Changing Shadows 2 is a more structured painting were the forms find a harmonic balance within the square edges of the picture. A wheel shaped structure has equal placement to an upturned moon and soar above three echoing mountains. Pale yellows and greens lend the painting a serene sensibility allowing the ancient symbols of nature renew a gutted utopia.

Close to the edge, 60x120cm

The two panels in the painting Close to the edge have totem like imagery. The left hand panel contains a single winged warrior bathed in yellow light while the right hand panel contains what appears to be a sickly obese creature. The external reality of a world on the precipice of climatic change invades the internal domain of an inner vision and invokes scorned and forgotten guardians from primordial origins to rise from the bellows of their dreams and heal nature’s wounds. The artist has no control of the unconscious but can consciously remove barriers which impede access to the underthings that dwell in the mind.

The Seed Sank Deep 2, 80x75cm

The Seed Sank Deep 2 is a small painting charged with primitive imagery. A crossed wheel floats in the blue sky marking the hours of the heavens while a ringed form in green and red is surrounded by white dots. Seeds of life and time emerge from the darkness of creation, breaching the edge of emptiness with the caress of life.

Gerry O Mahony’s accumulated images of ancient signs, symbols and mystical fetishes introduce the viewer to an underworld which lies buried beyond folk memory. The understanding of these ancient hieroglyphics and imperishable myths will illuminate contemporary culture.

Desmond Kenny is an artist based in Hartstown, Dublin 15. He is a self taught painter, since he began making art in 1986 he has since exhibited widely in Ireland and abroad, solo shows include Draíocht in 2001, The Lab in 2006 and Pallas Contemporary Projects in 2008. His work is included in many collections including the Office of Public Works, SIPTU, and Fingal County Council. Kenny's practice also incorporates print making and he has been a member of Graphic Studio Dublin since 2004.

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By Draíocht. Tags: Reviews & Interviews, Visual Arts, Desmond Kenny, Gerry O'Mahony,

Tracy Fahey launches Keepers of Silence

December 1, 2014

Gerry O'Mahony's 'Keepers of Silence' in our Ground Floor Gallery was launched by Tracy Fahey, Head of Fine Art, Limerick School of Art & Design on Thursday 27 November 2014. Tracy has very kindly given us her speech for our Blog.

Tracy Fahey & Gerry O'Mahony

I’m starting with a quote from the poet Jo Slade that helps to contextualise the title for the show. 

‘We need to care for our, “keepers of silence” they are the ones who feel the changes in society. They remind us of the power and magic of the image and of the word. They help us to understand, to shape, a form to the unutterable. They remind us that we are willing to explore silence - the empty spaces, the areas between words, between ‘the said’ and the as yet unknown.’

Gerry O’Mahony is one of these keepers of silence, these chroniclers of change. The paintings which surround us are beautiful and aesthetic objects in themselves. These magical, numinous landscapes of the mind recall the best of abstract expressionism, they remind us of the dreaminess of Chagall, the curiosity of Klee, and above all, of the instinctive compositional response of Kandinsky to colour and form.

However, they also have a function similar to Russian icons; they stimulate within us a silent and intense response, they provoke meditation, introspection, and wonder.

Gerry’s works are world within worlds, and are infused by his notion of man’s boundless potential as micro-cosmos, a potentiality as yet only partly visible to the naked eye. The paintings are permeated with a yearning desire for a world that we can almost see and touch, a world of change and excitement, a world of evolution. Earlier this month I had a long conversation with Gerry in his studio about the works he was selecting for this show. As we stood, thigh-deep in the paintings that span his career, he waxed lyrical on the passionate concern for the human condition that infuses his work ‘We are like lamps that emanate light” he told me “we are a realm within a realm, with infinite connectivity with all things that float around us and influence us.’

Beautiful words, and looking around we can see his vision translated - the works vibrate with a charged inner life that is a mixture of gentle spirituality and the sheer delight in scientific discovery. Like Kandinsky and Klee who experimented with a mystical language of forms against a backdrop of atomic discovery, Gerry O’Mahony situates his work somewhere between transcendent philosophy and discoveries of quantum physics. Unusual bedfellows, but in his own words – ‘Spirituality and science are like the wings of a bird. One needs the other to operate.’

This is big work, big work on every level. It deals with large themes – change, evolution, connectivity, cohesion.

This exhibition is made up of two different series of work that map this notion of man’s aspirations and evolution; Changing Shadows and The Seed Sank Deep

Changing Shadows was marked by what Gerry terms ‘a paradigm shift’ in his work. In this he reflects on the value of words, of language, the irrevocable nature of utterance. Like Kandinsky, Gerry’s work revolves around moments of inspiration and revelation – his experience in Israel of having coffee grounds read illustrated for him that language could operate beyond words, that things are written in different ways and that it is possible to communicate in oblique images. The basic forms of mark-making evolved from this experience, the desire to reduce language back to a symphony of simple forms. These works with their stippled dots, palette-knife scratches and organic forms have the immediacy of rock-paintings from the Aboriginal Dream-time or the cave-paintings of Lascaux, the desire to communicate urgently and immediately about life, society, dreams and the human condition.

The Seed Sank Deep took these themes and explore how change in man starts to germinate and grow, while his current series  The Mid-Most Part of the Ocean deals with aspiration, development and the advancement of mankind.

For ultimately, as I said, his work is big. It deals with large themes. It engages head-on with notions of what art should be – its function - to ask questions, to dream, to philosophise. It confronts us with ideas of transcendence of the dizzying, wonderful potential of the human race, of evolution, the journey we have made, are making, and have yet to make.

We see within these paintings, radiant forms, surging movement, and the experienced hand of the artistic conductor. As Kandinsky said - "Colour is the key. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many chords. The artist is the hand that, by touching this or that key, sets the soul vibrating automatically."

Tonight we salute Gerry, the poet of colour and form, the artist, the communicator of change, the conductor of these exquisite symphonies. We salute his passion for change, for evolution, for connectivity and his translation of these ideas into the beautiful, glowing works that surround us here in Draiocht tonight.


Thank you.

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By Draíocht. Tags: Visual Arts, Gerry O'Mahony,

Dr Seán Enda Power Launches Uchronia

December 1, 2014

Sinead McDonalds ‘Uchronia’ in our First Floor Gallery was launched by Dr Seán Enda Power, Lecturer and Irish Research Council Fellow on Metaphysics (2010-2012) on Thursday 27 November 2014. Seán has very kindly given us his speech for our Blog.

Sinead McDonald, Emer McGowan & Dr Seán Enda Power


Most people who hear the word ‘utopia’ will think of it as meaning the best possible world. It is a place where everything is perfect and things are as they should be. However, the word means, literally, ‘no place’--a place which is nowhere. It is not on any map; you can’t get there from here (and you can’t here from there).

‘Uchronia’ could also mean the best possible moment, a time when everything is perfect and things are as they should be—however, again, it literally means ‘no time’. A uchronic time is a time which is no-when. It is not in the history of our world. It is not in the past, present, or future.


Stated baldly, the statement that uchronia is no-when is incoherent. A time which is no-when is no time at all. What could that mean? One way to make it coherent is to say this: uchronic times are times but they are times which do not stand in a temporal relation to real time. They are not in the present moment; they are not in the past; they are not in the future. With a utopian country, you cannot get there from here. Similarly, with a uchronic scene, no one now can get there: it is not happening, did not happen, will not happen.


Many (but not all) of Sinead McDonald’s ‘self’-portraits are uchronic portraits. This could mean they are portraits of the best possible times. It’s clear from the titles, however, that these are not the best times. Instead, they are portraits of her in situations which will never happen. However, the titles of the pieces indicate, although they do not happen, these situations stand in an intimate relation to times in her life that have happened. They are portraits of how things would have been if things were slightly different in the past (e.g., “Self Portrait - If I hadn’t met my now ex husband”).


Shift one thing and these would not be uchronic portraits but real portraits. Being so intimate, one might wonder if these should be called uchronic: surely, at least in imagination, you could get there from here?

This brings us to one portrait amongst the others: “Self Portrait - Working on the time machine”.

We all want to change something in our past. Some of these are things - for example, earthquakes - we couldn’t have avoided. But others seem tied to our decisions and choices. One of the most difficult things in life is to separate these two. But once we do, if we can, who would not want to go back and change things--make the other decision, bring about the other outcome?

Recent research by the Pew Institute of the American public asked them what futuristic invention would they most like. 9% of respondents said they would like a time machine.

According to the show This American Life, what a lot of people said they would then do is this: go back and kill Hitler before he rose to power. (Lots of people regret the second world war, I guess).

The belief that, if you could travel in time, you could also change the past is obviously very common. For many, it is the most interesting aspect of it. We see that in lots of time travel stories; Back to the Future, Looper, Primer (although, not Bill & Ted). But there is a problem with changing the past: it leads to a paradox often called The Grandfather Paradox.


The Grandfather Paradox is this (taken from its description by the philosopher David Lewis in the 1970s): Tom hates his grandfather. He has a time machine and is a crack shot. He travels back in time to before his grandfather met his grandmother and shoots him dead. As a result, his grandfather never meets Tom’s grandmother. So Tom is never born. So Tom never gets to hate his Grandfather, get a time machine or become a crack shot. So, Tom doesn’t travel back in time and kill his grandfather. So, his grandfather meets his grandmother and Tom is born. So Tom is born, hates his grandfather, gets a time machine becomes a crack shot, goes back and kills his grandfather. So Tom is never born …


The paradox is not that Tom can kill his grandfather. It is that in doing so he also ensures his grandfather lives (by Tom ceasing to be born). The contradiction is that Tom both kills and doesn’t kill his grandfather, is born and isn’t born, travels in time and doesn’t travel in time.


However, McDonald’s portraits aren’t of her killing her grandfather (I don’t know McDonald’s feelings about that). Killing Hitler doesn’t obviously stop my grandfather meeting my grandmother. Similarly, the kinds of regrets I have are not obviously things which prevent my own existence. So couldn’t we go back and change the past if we had time machines? If she wanted to, couldn’t McDonald make these imagined portraits real? However, one thing prevents you going back and changing the past. Unlike Tom’s patricidal hatred, it is something intimately tied to going back and changing the past. The desire to change the past creates as much of a paradox as Tom’s killing his grandfather.


What I could call the Desire Paradox is this:

You want to change something you regret. You have a time machine and know how to change it (just don’t ask her out; just don’t cross that street at that time). You travel back in time to before you did the event. You do the other thing than what you originally did. As a result, you never did the thing you regret. All seems now right with the world. So you never regret the thing you did. So you never want to change the past. You don’t get in a time machine. So, you don’t travel back in time and change things. So, the thing you regret occurs after all. So you regret it, want to change it, get in a time machine, know how to change it, go back, change it. So it doesn’t occur; you don’t regret it; you don’t want to change it …

Our desires to change the past themselves prevent their satisfaction. (These paradoxes don’t prevent time travel itself. They just prevent changing the past. We might however still go to the past without changing it. So, perhaps, we might just go there to see times which we want to see, and haven’t seen in a while.)

McDonald’s portraits are uchronic because they really are of times which she can’t get to. The same applies to any similar portraits we have of ourselves. No matter how much we might want to change the past, because we want it, we cannot do it.

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By Draíocht. Tags: Visual Arts, Sinead McDonald,