VAI News Sheet 3, 2018 , pp.20 - 21
20 How is it Made?
Visual Artists' News Sheet | May – June 2018
Installation view, 'Vox Materia', The Source Arts Centre; photograph by Lee Welch
TINA KINSELLA INTERVIEWS
ALICE MAHER ABOUT HER TOURING EXHIBITION, ‘VOX MATERIA’.
Tina Kinsella: Your artistic practice consistently circles around themes of otherness, becoming, change, transformation, meta- morphosis and shapeshifting, which are investigated through material processes and the capacities of the artist’s body. In your current exhibition, ‘Vox Materia’, how do your chosen materials – and the processes you have subjected these materials to – relate to this interrogation of the body, through the actualisation of what we might call ‘alchemical processes’?
Alice Maher: As with my exhibition ‘Familiar’ in the Douglas Hyde Gallery in 1995, ‘Vox Materia’ creates a dialogue between 2D and 3D forms of expression. Two distinct elements are brought togeth- er in this exhibition: 23 small bronze sculptural objects and a se- ries of wood relief prints which are tinted with watercolour. The hand-sized sculptural objects were first made in wax, then dipped into molten wax to give a sleek, glossy surface, before being cast in bronze. The wood reliefs were first cut directly from plywood, then printed onto paper and overlaid with a watercolour wash. For the wood reliefs, I was photographed moving and contorting my own body. From those embodied movements came a series of pencil drawings which I scaled-up and cut out in silhouette from plywood – the commonest and cheapest type of wood that retains all its own ‘mistakes’. The knots and whorls are a material part of the plywood itself, and thus become part of the finished work. The sculptural objects also register movement as a material and embodied gesture, being pressed and squeezed through my fist as wax to begin with, before being dipped, cast and patinated in the foundry. In this way, both the sculptures and the prints went through many, layered ar- tistic and corporeal processes, which were subject to a number of material and alchemical changes.
TK: In previous works – such as Necklace of Tongues (2001) and Cassandra’s Necklace (2012) – you have undertaken a persistent
investigation into the absent, missing, or lost female voice. The title, ‘Vox Materia’, suggests both the materiality of the voice and the voice materialised, or rendered into material. How does this work relate to your previous investigation of the female voice? AM: In ‘Vox Materia’, the silenced female voice is materialised to create embodied forms of the missing sound: an expression of the recalcitrant transmutation that might take place from the body of a woman. Laid out like a 3D alphabet, the voice is pressed out, spat out, shat out, pushed out, bled out. The bronze forms are a solid, material expression of the missing or absent voice that arose from that initial pictorial recording of my own body.
TK: The processes you describe rely on your body as medium and material to begin with. Yet, your body is absent from the finished works. Do these works therefore suggest an alternative to figura- tive art (based on an impossibility to represent the body) whilst making the absent body somewhat present?
AM: The female body is so often appropriated and highly coded in rep- resentative art, becoming a screen onto which certain ideals and tropes of ‘otherness’ can be projected. The female figure in representative art is frequently devoid of subjective states, emotional states, and the senses, as well as the material processes of the body itself. I have an ongoing interest in alternative ways of making figurative art that is not about ‘making pictures’ of the body or representing the surface of the body, but which is about a bodily approach that addresses the interconnectedness between the interior and the exterior of the body. This is not just about making the interior of the body external, but about placing doubt over and disturbing, that divide between interior and exterior by expressing the connection between the body and the senses. The body considered in this way is a hybrid figure that can change into vegetal, animal or mineral states. In the works for ‘Vox Materia’, the use of wood brings the bodily form closer to a human/vegetal hybrid.
Visual Artists' News Sheet | May – June 2018
How is it Made? 21
Top: Alice Maher, Vox Hybrida 7, 2018, wood relief, hand tinted; photograph by Matt Gidney
Bottom:AliceMaher,VoxMateria3(detail), 2018,patinatedbronze, unique, 10 x 8 x 4 cm approx (sizes variable), 23 pieces; photograph by Michael McLaughlin
Alice Maher at Parrallel Editions, Limerick; photograph by Suzanne O'Reilly
TK: The initial inspiration for ‘Vox Materia’ seems to have come from a series of graphite rubbings you made of a twelfth-century mermaid that you found carved into a wall at Kilcooley Abbey in County Tipperary. The mermaid is heavily represented in art and in mythology – sources that you constantly drawn on in your own work. Being some- where between human and non-human, human and ani- mal, land and sea, the mermaid is a feminine figure refer- encing those ideas of otherness, strangeness, becoming and transformation that your work addresses. I was thinking of mermaid-like mythical figures, such as the Sirens who sing to find the lost daughter of Demeter, Persephone, and was also reminded of the Selkie, or seal-girl in Celtic mythol- ogy. Do these figures play some part in your engagement with the mermaid carving for ‘Vox Materia’?
AM: Yes! But don’t forget about Hans Christian Ander- son’s The Little Mermaid, who had her tongue cut out – a vi- olent theme which also underpins my 2001 work, Necklace of Tongues. The Little Mermaid gives up her voice for legs and human form. So, for these hybrid others, there is always something that is given up or taken away to become fully human. The Selkie gives up her seal skin. She is flayed, like Marsyas. There is a price to be paid for otherness. I did not go looking for the mermaid in Kilcooley Abbey, which is an area that is entirely inland, away from the sea. The mermaid was always there, within a landscape to which I am entirely connected, a Norman landscape, very near where I was born.
The face of the mermaid at Kilcooley Abbey is grimacing. She is more like a Sheela-na-gig than any popular represen- tation of a mermaid. She is accompanied by two beautiful fish – a salmon and a carp – and has fish fins of her own,and a huge manacle encircles her tail. She is positioned beside
a doorway on the way into the church, like the Sheela-na- gigs that were often positioned at threshold points and pas- sageways. These threshold spaces also relate to the themes of hybridity, subjectivity and female identity that I have worked with over years, as well as speaking to the realities of bodi- ly boundaries and female bodily autonomy, which relates to my work with the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment in the Irish constitution.
TK: You seem to take a lot of time researching your work whilst you are making it. This care also seems to inform the ways in which you create the final installation. What particular research inquiries have you undertaken for this work and how has this influenced the final installation? AM: Reading always plays an important role in the develop- ment of my work. In my practice, there is ongoing movement between reading, research, sketching and notetaking. These processes are not separate, but work together to inform each other, and I would be back and forth with the curators, Pluck Projects, on all of these readings. For ‘Vox Materia’ I have consulted a wide variety of texts, from feminist and psycho- analytic texts – such as Audre Lorde’s ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’; Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cy- borg Manifesto’; Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch; Julia Kristeva’s ‘Within the Microcosm of the ‘Talking Cure’’; and Griselda Pollock’s After-affects/After-images: Trauma and Aes- thetic Transformation in the Virtual Feminist Museum – to works on literature and folklore by writers like Gregory Darwin, San- ja Bahun-Radunovic, V. G. Julie Rajan and Cary A. Shay.
I have always been interested in how things are framed, seen and experienced and this informs my installations. In ‘Becoming’, a retrospective held at IMMA in 2012, each
room was given special care for its display and associative properties.The objects in ‘Vox Materia’are displayed in a spe- cially-made cabinet and lit from the inside. You cannot see the objects when you first enter the gallery space, rather, you need to approach the cabinet and peer down into it, as you would look into a pool.
TK: What other projects are you working on at the moment? AM: I am working on an experimental short film with the artist Aideen Barry, titled The Sixth Skin. This work is inspired by a medieval tapestry called La Dame et L’Icorne and it will be shown at the Cork Film Festival in November 2018. I am also working on the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. At this year’s EVA International – currently showing across various venues in Limerick city – there is an information hub presenting the archives of this campaign, as well as an exhibition of our handmade silk banners. We also paraded the banners through the streets of Limerick during the launch of the biennale on 13 April.
Tina Kinsella is Lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies (Art) at IADT Dún Laoghaire.
Alice Maher is a visual artist who works across media and disciplines.
‘Vox Materia’ continues at The Source Arts Centre, Thurles, until 5 May and will subsequently be present- ed at Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, from 7 September to 24 November. Both exhibitions are curated by Pluck Projects – a curatorial platform by Sarah Kelleher and Rachel Warriner.