Migration, Memory, Mimesis, at Linen Hall Library, Belfast, September 5-28, 2018

Displayed on the walls of the stairwell and in cabinets on landings are photographs by Lynne Connolly, Moira McIver, and Mo White.

Lynne Connolly manipulates her lens-based or digital images by stitching and texts, some end up like small books or paper houses. Her work focuses my eye on the charming and sensually rich crafts,  even when dealing with a hostility experienced by her central subjects, citizens of Northern Ireland’s “absence of representation of identity”. (see https://lynneconnollyphotography.wordpress.com).

Significantly, in one of her reviews, she proposed that the visual is better than words in slipping into viewers’ consciousness and staying in their memory,  in the sense that and how it rejects questioning of the image’s truthfulness.  I cherished her addition: “… only if we really see, what we are looking at”.

“Everything can be taken from a man,” Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his  treatise on the search for meaning“but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  Even the political simplifications of reporting do have their visual equivalent. So the choice of one’s attitude is open-ended.

This is my first contact with Connolly’s visual art. An overwhelming saturation of memory with familiar modes like boxes made by stitching together old photographs and leporellos and other kinds of folded pages came swiftly to my aid.

Her folding books (looking like my childhood leporellos)  are also toy houses, one exhibits an image from her other work


Printed on the pages are both words an images, aiming to exhume hope from under despair. She says she likes a “happy ending”. Connolly is a writer of stories, some of which she then “translates” into images, that are aimed to be not just “added”  illustrations.

On her university page she states inter alia: I am interested in the use of constructed imagery to explore meaning….  

While her objects and images slip into a world of playful sweetness through an assembly of not-quite-from this-world-high-keys they are rooted in fragments of that intention.

For me, she visualises kindness in its many appearances and stages.  Perhaps because she indeed aims at “happy endings”.


are records of a performance to a camera held by Lynne Connolly (see the artist’s handout).

The series entertains a visualization of similarity and difference as if reading Plato on Demiurge in Timaeus.  The sameness of the set-up introduces a rigorous, cold examination room only formula. It does not explore all the methods of creation Plato mentions.

The words printed under the serene visual composition appear to be superfluous, a sign of unnecessary dependency on the verbal.  On the other hand, they are meant to protect the integrity of the artist’s intention, thus ensuring competition with the dignity of viewing.

White writes that the series has roots in the Irish diaspora to England, specifically the 1950s generation “who were unable to assimilate”.   This claim is not otherwise supported by the images.

(It is also not supported by my experience of teaching in the Middle school where the majority of staff and pupils were recent additions from Northern Ireland, escaping from the Troubles.  They assimilated easily, whereas the treatment of  children from Jamaica drove their fathers to leave the UK.  The Irish boys ruled.)

There is a fundamental dignity in the openness of visual art (not necessarily the artist) to various interpretations and not every intention succeeds without being challenged by real life.

Remy Debes offers elucidation of our problem with dignity:

 And yet, the idea of human dignity is beset by hypocrisy. After all, our Western ethos evolved from, and with, the most violent oppression. For 200 years, we’ve breathed in the heady aspirations of liberty and justice for all, but somehow breathed out genocide, slavery, eugenics, colonisation, segregation, mass incarceration, racism, sexism, classism and, in short, blood, rape, misery and murder. It shocks the imagination.  (https://aeon.co/essays/human-dignity-is-an-ideal-with-remarkably-shallow-roots)

White chose the severe classicist discipline of clarity and order.  In a row on the wall she mimes small acts while sitting behind the table.

I value the intensity and power of visual thought, of what is made visible while preferring to ignore the verbal directive.  The text dilutes the meaning of the visual thought, it directs my response.  It curtails my freedom to relate to the visual directly.  There is a strong symbolic meaning issued through the choice of colours: green background, pristine white empty page,  and the gray subdued I of the sitter.

White’s severe discipline of planning, of order, and the clinical cleanliness evoke clear, incisive images –  the exactitude  compared by ancient Egyptians to  the “fundamental note of the flute” ( as in Italo Calvino, Six memos , p.55)

In practical life it feels like a call to start again from the blank page.


The two of her photographs have words in Irish attached.  That means that I do not know what they mean. An experience  similar to my looking at Chinese ink paintings, Japanese woodcuts, Arabic illustrated manuscripts etc.

However, for Irish speakers those words have strong emotional associations, I observed.

Making a particular language a condition for “getting” the tenor of a visual / aesthetic trope is a dubious advantage, connected to an inherited divide. McIver tailors words to memory, moreover, uses them sparingly. She kindly translated some for me – they had an easy power to subvert expectation signalled by the image of the child, or of the celebrating a religious rite. Issued a light touch.

In the vitrine, she arranged images from different periods of her practice.  All are visual equivalents of known and anonymous, two of her preferred dualities.

In her thesis submitted for the Higher Research Degree  she writes:

…present and absent elements are equally valid, moreover, they are necessary for diminishing integration and emphasising oscillation and cross-over.  (see Moira McIver, Traces of Self, Between Practice and Theory, May 1996: 180) It is the same open-ended character familiar from poetry.

Her art does live within the riches and confines of visual thoughts, which overcome at least some of the boundaries that divide people and lifetimes.

In a vitrine (above)  she installed some older work for surprisingly up-to-date- realism infected by whimsical framing, e.g. the cowhide morphs into a  view down through the gaps in clouds when the flying or viewing snow on rocky mountains from above…

The animation is as spontaneous as seeing may be, and perception, at times, is.  The gently enjoyable reminder of the richness of play.

McIver demobilizes habit by juxtaposing different found images, or, in the image below, by adding a restricted comment.  A few painterly touches on the girl in white look like being made by time collaborating by chance with the atmosphere.

Her focus on memories started in her undergraduate work. It was her fascination with and respect for her family roots in Donegal that nourished her lifelong devotion to memory and history as a subject for her art practice.  Early on she selected four strategies for visibility:  overlap, oscillation, merging and obliteration.  Not to get drowned in Self she fondly cherished dualities, eg unique versus similar, and singular versus multiple, and further eight pairs of expressive dualities to match the visual code to the source.

The photographs in the vitrine illustrate flattening of the depth of space – the cowhide is almost flat, so is the “necklace” of fish.  They also revive the older strategy of the juxtaposition of the fragment as a whole (hands),  favoured by McIver both in her videos and photography.

Her work refuses to fit its own date, in a sense that the decades between the take and the current print do not influence the meaning.  Such a light touch of time, this frivolous play with uncertainty, is never allowed to dissipate the whole.  Her mastery of these complex phenomena is visible both in her close-ups and video loops.  It seems appropriate to summarise her art practice only with the complex concept entertained by Leonardo: mute poetry.   McIver never betrays that.


Images courtesy the artists. Installation shots by Moira McIver.




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Slavka Sverakova

writer on art

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