Photo: Matt Gidney
Vox Materia comprises a multi-part installation of sculpture and eight large works on paper at the Crawford Art Gallery. Stemming from Maher’s consideration of a twelfth century mermaid carving, this show meditates on voice, silence and materiality.
The mermaid is a hybrid creature that transgresses boundaries between human and animal, and appeals to the artist’s long interest in transformation, or that area of intermingling, where new forms and ideas emerge. Historically understood, the mermaid has had to give up her voice in order to become human – a silenced figure that is at once irresistibly seductive and also a harbinger of disaster. Maher deploys the mermaid not as a motif, but as an ambiguous and powerful conceptual tool to explore ideas of language, embodiment, agency, and autonomy.
The work for Vox Materia exploits the tactile, contingent qualities of woodcut and watercolour to articulate amoebic, inter-elementary forms, while hand-held sculptural forms create new material and corporeal vocabularies. Beginning with her own body, Maher adopted and documented contorted postures, which she then transcribed into pencil silhouettes. In their final stage, the silhouettes were translated into wood relief prints, creating densely grained monstrous shapes, which were then hand coloured by the artist. The resulting images are semi-abstract but gesture towards a language of the body in extremis.
The 23 bronze objects were cast from wax forms that Maher squeezed in her fist, so that each shape retains the memory of her gesture. Like the wood reliefs, the bronze forms refuse easy identification; they are finished with a mottled, pinkish patina that suggests coral, or something more fleshy. Both the strangely visceral bronzes and knotted abstract figuration of the wood reliefs extend Maher’s career-long interrogation of the modes of depicting the female body. Intensely physical, yet not immediately recognisable, the body emerges in unexpected and insistent forms.
Space has always concerned the artist, and the site of this exhibition is of personal significance. “The history of place never ceases to resonate. This show originated in my home landscape of Tipperary where I wandered amongst those abbey ruins and broken sculptures. In Cork, Vox Materia will be installed in the beautiful attic drawing rooms of Crawford, where I first attended formal classes in 1980, and began the journey to a personal visual language.”
This new work is presented alongside Cassandra’s Necklace (2012), Maher’s first live-action film, in which the mythical protagonist wanders an arid, glittering landscape in search of her voice, literally a necklace of silent tongues. Both bodies of work demonstrate Alice Maher’s ongoing reclamation of mythic narrative to explore themes of language and silence.
Vox Materia is curated by Pluck Projects.
Vox Materia was commissioned by The Source Arts Centre, Thurles, with support from Creative Ireland and Tipperary County Council.
Crawford Art Gallery
Emmet Place, Cork
021 490 7855