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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