Alice Maher’s Materials
Field Day Review 2, 2006 , pp.3–17
If ‘compression is the first grace of style’, you have it.
— Marianne Moore, ‘To a Snail’ 1
The allowing of the material, trusting it, allows the memory to work—trusting that the actual material has something in it which causes it to work for the viewer. It’s not a closed thing, it’s not a clear statement. It’s more like peering into layer upon layer of memory and consciousness.
— Alice Maher 2
In August 2005 Alice Maher held an exhibition entitled Rood at the Green on Red Gallery in Dublin. In the Old English dream-vision poem, ‘The Dream of the Rood’, the dreamer sees the tree that became Christ’s cross and it retells the story of the crucifixion—of its own visceral resistance to being used as an instrument of torture and its own necessary acceptance of its role. For the rood this is a matter of when to bend and not to bend, and a matter of the holes and blood left on its body as the crucifixion’s legacy. The idea that materials carry their own narrative histories and that they both co-operate with and resist human impositions might be traced through a number of Maher’s works, as might the Christian iconography of suffering, and the association with a transformed Mariology—for ‘rood’ (virga) was connected to the Virgin (virgo) through Latin lections.3 Moreover those lections regularly associated Mary with trees—olive, myrtle, cedar, palm, cypress.
‘Rood’ is a relatively archaic word and signals Maher’s medieval and early modern interests. The name of the cross in a medieval church, rood also refers to the screen below the cross, which separated clergy and congregation. Perhaps the most notable employments of the word ‘rood’ in Irish writing, are in W. B. Yeats’s ‘To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time’ and in Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘Epic’:
I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided: who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.4
Kavanagh’s ‘rood’ is a term of measurement, etymologically related to the cross, since it is a measure taken by rod or pole. To ask ‘how much is a rood?’ is rather like asking ‘how high is a ladder?’, but less than an eighth of an acre seems to be a rough guide.
‘Rood’ puns with rude, reminding us that Maher can also be a ‘rude girl’—bawdy (see Tryst  and Two Trees ), excremental (The Little Shits ), violent (The Axe (and the Waving Girl) ) and iconoclastic (familiar series ).5 Maher’s Rood explored the space of Green on Red, her ‘half a rood’, playing with the resemblance between art galleries and churches (Rood will later be exhibited in a church in Venice) and—as she has done previously—working with margins and borders, reversing some of the oppositions between inside and outside, urban and rural.
Green on Red on Lombard Street East is a loft-style space, on three floors, with large windows looking out from the gallery onto one of Dublin’s more socially deprived city-centre areas. Part of the exhibition, which made a large feature of Maher’s recent work with snails, was the covering of the gallery’s windows with huge vinyl prints of snail tracks in shades of yellow, green and blue. These prints created a dappled light through the central space where Rood, an upside-down line of beech trees, hung. The season, the weather and the time of day all changed the shadows, which were an important part of the experience of visiting the exhibition. This produced something like the effect of stained-glass windows in a church, and something like a green thought in a green shade. But it shut out Lombard Street, reminding the visitor that galleries are spaces of privilege. Even this blocking is a reversal, since snail tracks on windows are usually an emblem of the outside trying to break in, Maher gives us an inside attempting to break out into the world.
Maher exploits other similarities between Green on Red and a church—its semi-hidden nooks and crannies and its screened spaces.6 Her upside-down trees divided the space along its length, rather than its width, replacing the class divisions of clergy and congregation with that of left and right. While at first glance it might seem that Rood consists of cut branches hung from the ceiling, in fact Maher has carefully constructed these branches by gluing on extra twigs and getting a very deliberate shape to the work. Downstairs, the entrance to the galley featured a wooden ladder with more beech twigs apparently growing from it. In the four corners of the gallery were four globes, each about the size of a soccer ball, constructed from snail shells; these are The Four Directions. Snails, by virtue of their hibernation, are traditional emblems of the resurrection, and sometimes feature on gravestones. By making the snails work for her—Maher had a number of snail paintings on exhibition as well as the window prints—Maher foregrounds the snail as labourer (carrying its own house), its proverbial associations with slowness, and its destabilization of the opposition between inside and outside, body and dress, skin and organs, and (since snails are hermaphrodites) male and female. The body of a woman and a snail are juxtaposed in Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait of herself in miscarriage, Henry Ford Hospital (1932). Although the snail is usually read in terms of the slowness of the miscarriage, its shape also echoes that of the pregnant womb, with its shell, foetus and placenta.
Maher, who has previously collected materials for her work from the ditches of her home in rural Tipperary, found the snails in Dublin gardens and hedgerows. She looked after them in her studio while they painted for her at night, and she boiled some of them to make The Four Directions.
... I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail’s fury?7
The combination of strength and fragility as well as death and resurrection in the snail’s shell suggest that these globes are emblems of the powerful but fragile planet—a contrast as well as reference to Maher’s heavy bronze sculpture The Wilful Planet (1997). Such associations occur in the space of spectatorship and response. Casting one’s eye back over Maher’s career might suggest that she has always been fascinated by the relationship between spiral and circle, and explored this through the creation of works in a number of different media. The Four Directions reprises, for example, the ball of brambles she created in Cell (1991), and the drawing of hair in Folt (1993) and Coma Berenices (1999). In the snail paintings the artist surrenders some of her agency to the materials and the world; she sets the snails in motion, so to speak, but does not determine the patterns they will make. The snail paintings could be seen as the traces of the materials making a break for it, trying to escape in all directions. In The Four Directions the artist re-appropriates agency, making the snails her materials. As a title, The Four Directions is too broad to be pinned down to one or two associations. I might, of course, have asked Maher what she meant by it, but I shall be saying something below about the problematics of such a methodology. Nevertheless, one can notice that attention to an iconography of ‘four directions’ has resonances in both Buddhist and Native American spiritual art. One way to look at the whole space of Rood, then, might be to suggest that it juxtaposes—and mixes together—classical Roman, medieval Christian, Buddhist and Native American symbols. Look through the windows onto Lombard Street, onto one of Ireland’s most ethnically and religiously diverse population centres as well as one of the most deprived, and the exhibition might beg questions as to what are our cultural traditions, and how are we accommodating them in our own half a rood?
Kavanagh introduces Homer into his ‘half a rood’; Maher brings Venus into hers. Also placed in the main exhibition space was a bronze cast of a double-headed Venus, whose two heads are linked by a thick strand of twisted hair. Venus, like the snail, is often associated with a shell. Walter Benjamin suggests that
In allegory the observer is confronted with the facies hippocratica of history as a petrified, primordial landscape. Everything about history that, from the very beginning, has been untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful, is expressed in a face — or rather in a death's head.8
In this re-imagined church, beneath and to the side of the rood, Venus becomes a displacement of and substitute for the two women normally represented at the foot of the cross—the Virgin and the Magdalene. The two faces are the same. The smooth classical faces of the Venus, turned to present her profiles, may not at first suggest the facies hippocratica, or death’s head, so much as Canova’s neo-classical Venus, austere and untroubled. Unlike Canova’s white marble goddesses, Maher’s bronze Venuses are black. And what of the twisted loop of hair, which, following a line something like Hogarth’s line of beauty, connects one head to the other? This is not Maher’s first bronze Venus. In 1997 she cast a series of small Venuses, and the double-headed Venus alludes to other bronze works—Venus Interrupted (2004), Swimmers (1996) and Twins (1997)—as well as to Maher’s installation, Les Filles d’Ouranos/The Daughters of Uranus (1996–97). These multiple Venuses have been read by critics, with encouragement from Maher herself, as a rejection of the focus on the single female beauty or muse, in favour of multiplicity. ‘If Venus did not rise from the waves alone ... [t]he key signifier of an idealized secular femininity would not have existed in painting from the Renaissance onwards, the perfection of her appearance masking the violence of her origins’.9 The rejection of a single feminine principle can be read as a rejection of the female surrealists, with whom in other ways she has a great deal in common, and, in particular, a rejection of their fascination with Robert Graves’s White Goddess, who might seem to have only too obvious an appeal to vulgar ideas of Celticism. Instead, the line that connects the heads of the two Venuses can also be read as an umbilical cord, connecting the birth of Venus with that of Minerva, the other motherless child of classical mythology. If one wanted to trace a debt to surrealism, it might be suggested that rather than opposing Virgin and Magdalene, Venus and Minerva, the erotic and the intellectual, the sacred and the profane, Maher positions them in terms of a dialectic.
So far I have been offering something like a reading of Maher’s work, but it is not at all clear that this is the best approach to visual art, particularly at the point when reading seems to become explication. In a recent article in Third Text, Mick Wilson blasted those cultural critics who prefer art which thematizes or illustrates specifically Irish concerns, insisting that such artworks would almost necessarily lack ‘the kind of unsettling opacity—so often disturbing to credentialized intellectuals—that predominantly characterizes experimental art practices’. Instability, dislocation, ‘the possibility of encountering the not-yet-known and the not-to be-wholly-known’, work that ‘will not be exhausted in a single paradigmatic reading’ are signs for Wilson of ‘value within the discourse of art’.10 At a moment when critical discourse on art is in conflict over the primacy of the visual, Wilson’s critique of representational readings does not call for a return to visual or formal analysis so much as require us to put faith in a notion that art has an effective capacity to produce a non-linguistic form of critique. In the same issue of Third Text, Valerie Connor reproaches feminist criticism for collapsing the significant differences between certain important Irish women artists—her examples are Maher and Dorothy Cross—and attributes some of this failure of discrimination to ‘the liberal use of psychoanalytic theory in rendering into writing critical interpretations of their imagery’.11 On the one hand, Connor seems to advocate a more rigorous historicism—one that would locate Maher’s art practice, for example, in the context of Irish debates since the 1980s over women’s reproductive rights and status as citizens. On the other hand—and there is no necessary conflict between these positions—she advocates the capacity for art to produce shifting standpoints that can be places of engagement and positions from which to articulate dissent. Fintan Cullen distinguishes the work of Maher, Dorothy Cross, and Kathy Prendergast from that of an earlier generation of Irish women artists by pointing out that it ‘offers a more confrontational approach in [its] focus on gender imagery’ and it may be the confrontation rather than the imagery that distinguishes such work as feminist.12
Sometimes Alice Maher’s work seems easy to understand. It appears to invite certain kinds of narrativization. Just as Maher wears hearts around her neck, and moss along her sleeve, she could be said to wear her feminism on her sleeve.13 She places herself in the frame, refigures and recasts traditional artistic representations of the female body, works with female hair and clothing, seems to be offering a familiar feminist reworking of fairy tales, apparently expresses ideas of pain and anger. To Irish viewers her work may invite specifically Irish contextualization; there are echoes of oral tradition and folklore, a distinctive awareness of Catholic iconography and its oppressive symbolic regime, and obvious traces from those aspects of the Irish historical past which trouble so many modes of representation. Her most overtly political work is Cell (1991), a ball of twisted brambles located inside one of the cells at Kilmainham Jail, but it would hardly be over-ingenious to discuss Maher as someone who references poverty, famine, industry, labour, imprisonment, colonial violence, enclosure, partition, environmental destruction, and peace agreements.
Maher is also funny, and although ‘funny’ doesn’t always mean ‘easy’, it is predicated on some shock of recognition, on a moment when something seems—at least provisionally—to be understood.14 At its gentlest, her comedy appears like the doodles in a medieval manuscript. At its most savage, it has echoes of Swift and Rabelais, an interest in the grotesque fuelled by a combination of indignation against social injustice and compassion for human frailty. Her early modern influences stretch from Giotto and Pierro della Francesco to Hieronymus Bosch. Part of Maher’s engagement with medievalism—an engagement that complements a feminist discourse of working from the margins—is an interest in vulgarity, which is an interest in ‘what is held in common’.15
This essay might have been entitled ‘The Vulgarity of Irish Feminism’. Irish feminism is a broad social movement, which, since the 1960s, has played an important part in changing attitudes and laws in both parts of Ireland. It is a movement sensitive to its constituencies and anxious to be comprehensible to a wide range of people. At the same time it is, of course, anxious to do justice to the complexities of human experience; and feminism’s big issues—the body, sexuality, reproduction, the decorums of public and private life, consumerism, labour, interiority—produce almost endless complexity. Irish feminism has been described as having an ‘ambiguous relationship to modernisation discourses in which it has a considerable investment’.16 Feminism’s investment in changing laws to liberate Irish women from modes of discrimination might certainly tempt feminist critics to incorporate the last forty years into a narrative of progress. The rhetoric of progress, of women emerging, of new voices, of coming into visibility, is susceptible of several forms of critique. It occludes the huge differences in access to the benefits of modernity as experienced by women of different classes, ages, languages, ethnicities and sexual orientations and the practice of class analysis in Irish feminist theory remains exceptional.
To map an already problematic progressive narrative from political activism onto the practice of the arts is ridiculous, but it happens. Approaches to women’s writing and women’s art are often celebratory, and often celebrate a notion that women’s artistic practice is subversive and transformative. A study of Irish women’s writing over the last forty years suggests that it has a tendency to polarize between ‘confessional’ modes that are largely rooted in naturalist conventions, and experimental writing, which is self-consciously evasive and/or difficult. The former strategy is more popular (one might refer to Edna O’Brien and Eavan Boland), the latter held in greater critical esteem by academic critics (think of Medbh McGuckian). In many ways this is a false distinction, perhaps the product of a relative failure of much Irish criticism outside the work of Irish-language folklorists and historians to theorize popular culture, or to think sufficiently rigorously about constructions of naturalism’s forms.
In writing about Alice Maher’s accessibility (is she easy to understand?), I may seem to be positioning her along with the more confessional women writers. In fact, l want to argue that visual artists have often been more successful than writers in creating work that is both complex and effective. This success is partly achieved through certain kinds of formalism and certain kinds of engagement with tradition. Form and tradition can both serve as kinds of shorthand that render the artwork at once ‘readable’ and multi-layered, resistant to being read. Or, as one might put it, allegorical. Keep (1992) is a round tower made from braided ropes of human hair. It at once suggests fairy tales, particularly the stories of Rapunzel and Melisande; wild people from the Yeti to the ‘wild Irish’ in their long fur cloaks; images of Adam and Eve expelled from Eden; the long hair characteristic of images of Mary Magdalene, which was used not only to wash Christ’s feet but also, like that of Lady Godiva, to cover her nakedness. The hair used to make the braids in Keep was collected in Cork and Belfast. The piece was first exhibited in Belfast and raises questions about similarity and difference between people North and South. A keep is a prison, but Maher also reminds us that hair was one of the most common of keepsakes, especially in the nineteenth century. What is a keepsake and what attitudes to superstition and to our sense of property in other people’s bodies is suggested by the cutting of a lock of hair off a corpse? Is it possible to see hair in such vast quantities without thinking of those other keepsakes collected in the concentration camps? The shorn head may suggest militarism, punishment, and cancer. The American artist Petah Coyne, who works extensively with hair, relates it both to fairy-tale themes and to her experience of living in Japan and seeing how art there responded to nuclear holocaust.17
At 270 cm high, Keep conjures with gigantism. Maher has made a number of paintings and sculptures that addressed matters of scale. The familiar series made a two-pronged attack on American minimalism, with the figure of a tiny girl coming through or positioned beside bright solid field canvases in red and blue, or with other objects alluding to the feminine placed beside the paintings. In familiar I (1994) skeins of flax, which look for all the world like a giant’s hair, hang from a peg on the wall beside a canvas. Maher has spoken of one aspect of this piece:
The materials are not chosen simply for their physical qualities, but for their inherent histories, which carry multiple meanings through associations of symbol and memory ... [F]lax ... was introduced by British colonial policy. In order to do that they destroyed a once thriving native wool trade and introduced this new industry — the making of linen in Northern Ireland.18
In the early 1990s Maher made a series of pieces using the accoutrements of femininity—clothing and human hair. Bee Dress is constructed from dead honeybees, cotton and wire; Berry Dress from cotton and rose hips; Nettle Coat from nettles and pins. Bronze casts of women’s long hair appear in the heads without faces that make up Swimmers and Twins. In a number of works by Maher the viewer seems to see the back of a human head of long hair, and Maher uses materials including human hair, flax and cotton. She uses ‘the image of the little girl bursting out into the world’ as a way of representing ‘the liberation of the female imagination’19
It is possible to read Maher’s work as interested in traditional strategies for coding knowledge by and about women and sexuality. Her novel forms of dressmaking nevertheless allude to arts and crafts traditionally associated with women. Her use of materials such as rose hips, nettles and thorns allies her work with international fairy tales and folktales, but given an Irish articulation. She uses thorns to construct, in one case, a staircase, in another a miniature house, and in these pieces Christian imagery crosses that of the fairy story. When we look at Staircase of Thorns or Bee Dress I think we all recognize what kind of feminism this is, with its emphasis on the performance or costuming of gender, and the imprisonment of the domestic, its revision of the liberationary as well as the policing potential of traditional narrative, its foregrounding of female labour, and its version of ecriture feminine — a writing of the body. It is the sort of thing done by feminist artists elsewhere but given a local habitation and a local name. What makes these works so effective is not so much a matter of the originality of their conception as the way that the relationship between artist and materials pushes into so many imaginative spaces.
St. Gobnet [Gobnait], who was in charge of a convent at Ballyvourney, Co Cork... used her bees to repel a band of raiders who were stealing the local people’s cattle, presumably upsetting some skeps and shaking the bees out. In one version she miraculously changed the bees into soldiers, and a skep into a brass helmet, which she presented to the defending chieftain O’Herlihy. His family is said to have kept and treasured the helmet until the penal times (when Roman Catholicism was proscribed), and then it was lost. In another version the skep was turned into a bell, and up to the nineteenth century St. Gobnet’s bronze bell was shown, with two holes at the top, where the clapper would have been fixed, through which the bees were said to have come out to sting the marauders. 20
Bee Dress is one of Maher’s most iconic images. At first she planned to make several of these small dresses, covered in dead honeybees. The dress itself is a sleeveless version of the ‘Alice dress’, cut and sewn by Maher from cotton, and stiffened on a wire frame. The bees died in a gale. The work of fixing the dead bees to the dress with beeswax was painstaking. One of Maher’s characteristic procedures is to build into her work the business of a laborious collection of materials and an assembling or making of objects. Nevertheless, she does not regard herself as a ‘process’ artist:
I was brought up in the country... and for me as a child the country represented this vast landscape of the imagination, where everything was boundless and every object had a story of its own. But on the other hand, as a child of people who worked the land, I knew first hand the cold and wet and grinding labour of living on the land. So I have these two kinds of relationship with the land and nature involved in a battle—a battle—for us.21
Amongst the associations provoked by the sight of the bees is the memory of St. Ambrose, patron saint of beekeepers. The tenth-century church of San Ambrogio in Milan has an altar with an image of the infant Ambrose, bees swarming around his cradle. That bees are emblematic of the honey-spoken is also demonstrated in their association with the births of Plato, Socrates and Pindar. Jupiter was supposed to have been nourished by bees in his infancy. Speaking about her necklace of tongues (necklace ), Maher says:
[l]t is an expression of multiple activity and multiple thinking and languages that have been cut out. The Irish language, for instance, is something I have referred to in my work before. It’s not a main theme in my art, but I do feel we have another language, one we don’t speak any more, but it’s there, it’s physically there and part of your tongue or inner ear. 22
Bee Dress may be seen either as a miniature garment, a suit of armour, or the empty dress of a child or a doll. The absent (or dead) child motif, which figures in many of Maher’s works, haunts this piece but does not determine its meaning. In the context of Irish feminist struggles in the 1980s, with debates on divorce, contraception, abortion, the decriminalization of homosexuality, and with the public scandals over the death of Anne Lovett and the Kerry Babies, the rape of Lavinia Kerwick, and clerical sexual misconduct and child abuse, the stolen child had a wide cultural resonance. A spectator aware of Julia Kristeva’s writing about the Madonna and child might feel that in Ireland the empty crib and the missing child is a powerful symbol of a state which has abused rather than cherished the children it was constitutionally bound to nurture. By connecting the lost child with a lost language and, through another metamorphosis, with St. Gobnait’s bell, Bee Dress becomes an indictment of forgetfulness in contemporary culture, and suggests that we ask not for whom the bell tolls. The remembrance and forgetting of a dead child was the inspiration for Maher’s sculpture entitled Mnemosyne after the goddess of memory. A Victorian painting in which the members of a family gather round a child’s bed at the moment of her death inspired it. Maher’s freezing bed hummed and chilled the air around itself.
Helmet (2003) is one of several portraits in which Maher wholly or partially covers her head, a gesture that resonates with conventions from Catholicism but also from feminist controversies over the covering of women in Islam. One also might think of surrealist portraits such as Eileen Agar’s Angel of Anarchy (1936); Agar made a white plaster cast of her husband’s head, then wrapped it with colourful printed fabrics and decorated it beads and shells. If this offers a playful femininity, it also refigures male artists’ preoccupation with nudity, emphasizing the eroticism of mask and disguise. The title refers to anarchist struggles in Spain, and refuses any idea of the intimate as a place of hiding from politics.
Maher, like many contemporary artists and writers, has given a number of interviews about her work and most of these interviews testify to her intellectual generosity as well as to her creative and critical intelligence. Maher is articulate about her own work and about art practices in general, and critics have clearly learned a great deal from her. An artist may also be a critic, as Maher was when she wrote in The Irish Times in 1999:
The lack of trust in things visual has been running deep for many generations. The education system has failed to break the stranglehold of the literal on the imagination, and this is a problem that leads to an ongoing preference for the banal when it comes to art in our lives.23
Maher presses Irish audiences to think about their visual culture and to combine vision and imagination. Critics demonstrate a certain laziness in their tendency to ask artists what works mean. If a critical discourse about art is striving to get away from explication as the primary mode of criticism, then pressing the artist into the role of translator may be counter productive. In interviews Alice Maher has often tried to distance herself from biographical and/or psychoanalytic interpretations of her work, and placed more emphasis on collective memory and collective knowledge. She is willing to relate her work to Irish politics and society but without limiting its meaning to one kind of interpretative strategy.
Every view of things that is not wonderful is false.24
Maher’s response to a commission to make some drawings for the National Library of Ireland was to think about readers, and the imaginative possibilities liberated by reading. Picking up on motifs in the Library’s stained-glass windows, she made a series of charcoal drawings in the style of silhouettes. As in silhouettes, the figures are in profile. In Lectores Mirabilis I the ground is black, and the figure patterned. In the other drawings the figure is in black, and as well as the outlines of face and bust we see remarkable growths emerging from the head, neck and arms. At times these people seems to be expelling fantasies, at other times they are apparently penetrated.
The American artist, Kara Walker, who has worked extensively in silhouette, reminds us that silhouette—a form associated with amateurism and middle-class gentility in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—is a convention of seeing the body racially, in terms of black and white, and is almost necessarily a form of caricature. Walker uses the traditional method of silhouette—the cut out of black paper mounted on pale background—to revisit the notional gentility of the antebellum South and its relationship to slavery. In The Emancipation Approximation (2000), one of the silkscreen prints based on her silhouettes, Walker presents a tiny-waisted curly-haired Southern belle leaning against a chopping block and axe, while nine decapitated heads (including one of a baby) lie at her feet. If the Lectores Mirabiles bring out the magical associations of the silhouette, including its relationship to shadow puppet theatre, they also show strange fruit. Some of Maher’s recent use of the genre has developed the infernal properties of charcoal in creating large and much more sinister figures after Bosch.
The medieval historian, Carolyn Walker Bynum, describes twelfth-century ways of relating to strange and marvellous phenomena in terms of wonder:
All theories of wonder saw it as a significance-reaction: a flooding with awe, pleasure or dread owing to something deeper, lurking in the phenomenon. The wonderer was situated, wonder was perspectival (even if miracles were not)... Wonder was a response to something novel and bizarre that seemed both to exceed explanation and to indicate that there might be reason (significance—not necessarily cause) behind it.
Thus medieval theories of wonder made the case that wonder is nonappropriative, yet based in facticity and singularity. The opposite of admiratio is not only to investigate, it is also to imitate and to generalize. To wonder is emphatically not to consume and incorporate; it is, as Bernard of Clairvaux said, to give back the goblet after draining the potion…25
Maher’s ability to reinvigorate a sense of wonder around certain objects is an historicist act. It is harder to explain why her own art goes so far beyond simply suggesting what is already known about women, history and tradition.
1 From Marianne Moore, ‘To a Snail’, in The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore (London, 1951), 91
2 Interview with Alice Maher in Katy Deepwell, Dialogues: Women Artists from Ireland (London and New York, 2005), 128
3 Sec Éamonn Ó Carragáin, Ritual and the Rood: Liturgical Images and the Old English Poems of the Dream of the Rood Tradition (London and Toronto, 2005), 107–08.
4 Patrick Kavanagh, ‘Epic’, Come Dance with Kitty Stobling and Other Poems (London, 1960), 23; see also W. B. Yeats, ‘To the Rose Upon the Rood of Time’, in The Poems. A New Edition, ed. Richard Finneran (London, 1983), 31, a poem whose references to ‘under the boughs of love and hate’ and ‘the common things that crave’ find resonances in Maher’s Rood.
5 Speaking of Berry Dress (1994), Maher says: ‘The fact that it’s exhibited on a glass shelf is important. It’s displayed above the viewer’s head and actually puts the viewer in the position where he or she has to look up at the dress, which is a socially—sexually—unacceptable thing to do. The actual act of looking at the work would be bold, or naughty, or subversive, if you know what I mean.’ Alston Conley, ‘Interview with Alice Maher’, Éire-Ireland Special Joint Issue: The Visual Arts, 33, 3–4 / 34, 1 (1999), 198
6 See Billy Leahy’s review of the exhibition, ‘The Space of the Poetic’, Village Magazine, 26 Aug. 2005.
7 From Thom Gunn, ‘Considering the Snail’, in My Sad Captains and Other Poems (London, 1961), 39
8 Walter Benjamin, The Origins of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (London, 1977), 183
9 Fionna Barber, ‘unfamiliar distillations’, introductory essay in Alice Maher, familiar, a catalogue for the Orchard Gallery and the Douglas Hyde Gallery (Derry and Dublin, 1995), 16
10 Mick Wilson, ‘Terms of Art and Tricks of the Trade: A Critical Look at the Irish Art Scene Now’, Third Text, 19, 5 (2005), 537
11 Valerie Connor, ‘Feminism, Democratic Politics and Citizenship’, Third Text, 19, 5 (2005), 513
12 Fintan Cullen, ‘The Visual Arts in Ireland’, in Joe Cleary and Claire Connolly, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Modern Irish Culture (Cambridge, 2005), 316
13 See Collar and Limb from Maher’s portraits series (2003).
14 I agree with Barber, ‘unfamiliar distillations’, 11, that ‘Maher’s work tends to distance itself from the processes of irony and pastiche by which [postmodern practices] are characterized.’ A comparison of Maher’s portraits with Cindy Sherman’s series of photographs of herself hased on Renaissance portraits highlights Maher’s bias towards early modern comedy rather than postmodern jokiness.
15 ‘Maher’s explicit assault on good taste… starts to invoke the positive power of the vulgar, using the word etymologically to signify what is held in common—think of the Vulgate Bible. Valuing the vulgar, in this specific sense, admits ideas and materials usually excluded from “good practice”. Medb Ruane, Alice Maher (Dublin, 1997), 8
16 Joe Cleary, ‘Introduction: Ireland and Modernity’, in Cleary and Connolly, Modern Irish Culture, 19
17 See Lynne Tillman, ‘Petah Coyne’, Bomb Magazine, 80 (Summer 2002), accessed at www.bombsite.com/coyn e/coyne.html (5 Jan. 2006).
18 Conley, ‘Interview with Alice Maher’, 199, 207
19 Ruane, Alice Maher, 14
20 Eva Crane, The Archaeology of Beekeeping (London, 1983), 216
21 Conley, ‘Interview with Alice Maher’, 201
22 Sheila Dickinson, ‘Multiplicity in Art Practice: Alice Maher in Conversation with Sheila Dickinson’, Womens Studies Review, 8 (2002), 56
23 Alice Maher, ‘The Celtic Tiger has No Eyes’, Irish Times, 28 Dec. 1999. Thanks to Vic Merriman for drawing my attention to this piece.
24 Caroline Walker Bynum, ‘Wonder’, in American Historical Review, 102, 1 (Feb 1997), 26
25 Walker Bynum, ‘Wonder’, 24