Siobhan McDonald has been working on a Creative Ireland commission to address the late prehistory (Bronze Age) linear earthworks in Ireland called the Black Pig’s Dyke. Her research for this new project is documented here:
In this new exhibition at Limerick City Art Gallery, titled Hidden Monuments, McDonald presents a series of artistic enquiries to remind us of the Cairns, standing stones and Megalithic structures that foreshadow our architectural histories.
Since 2017, the artist has been working with archaeologists on a series of breakthroughs made from a recent radiocarbon dating programme. An extremely interesting aspect to this project is that because of the unprecedented rise in global temperatures last summer there was a drought, which magically drew henges in Ireland to the surface for exploration.
Art critic Cristin Leach says of the work Connections, links, signs even, are intrinsic to McDonald’s way of working. One piece of research leads to another investigation. The art is an interconnected body of work that grows each time she displays it. Her new paintings, on 24 carat gold-plated copper plates look abstract, distressed, a word she uses when talking about other images she has made. It’s a word that speaks to the fragility and the anxiety inherent in the work. Despite it all she is optimistic. Her art is not deeply negative, although it is urgent, pensive, and full of thought-provoking beauty.
Thirty years to fix it? Zooming in and out of the Black Pig’s Dyke.
Written on the occasion of ‘Hidden Monuments’ By Cristín Leach
With all the media attention about hard and soft borders, post-Brexit, the Black Pig’s Dyke, is an interesting subject as it is an ancient and mysterious series of earthworks that stretches across Ireland from Donegal, via Roscommon and Longford, to Down. One of the many theories advanced to explain the dyke over the centuries is that it too was a border: a stone-age predecessor of the current one, protecting Ulster from rampaging southern hordes.
Borders of one kind of another have been part of the human story for thousands of years. When you think about it, land is really an aggregate of thousands of different borders: provinces, counties, baronies, parishes, townlands, field boundaries and so on. Many of the borders we experience today can trace their origins as far back as the medieval period, but there are certain boundaries that can be traced back further in time: For instance, many of the Neolithic tombs and Bronze Age standing stones may have acted as territorial markers, with natural features also playing an important role.
These sites extend low and wide into the Irish landscape and, as the earth changes, the deep paths of their excavation are likely to work their way to the surface. The big problem before now is that there has been a complete absence of contemporary historical records relating to these linear earthworks. With the approach of Brexit, McDonald is exploring Irish borderlands to ask basic questions that remain unanswered: What was their purpose? What was it that motivated prehistoric societies to go to such enormous efforts to build these monumental structures? When precisely were they built? To address these questions McDonald is investigating a line geology across Ireland. The work explores the fact that whether intentionally built as ritual sites or not, we get a glimpse of how our ancestors dealt with the climate crisis and widespread concerns of their time. In the years 100 – 200 AD, Ireland was suffering from unprecedented changes in the weather and the archaeological remains left in the landscape from Donegal to Co Armagh, point to a collective response and action, to activate rituals while also communicating ideas of power and status.
Apollo’s Tom Jeffreys added “McDonald commemorates the vast diversity of the environment we inhabit and explores our equally diverse responses to it. She does so deftly and with an aesthetic that is at once coherent, understated and quietly powerful.’
An article by art critic Cristín Leach, on Siobhan McDonald and her work on geology, time and the Anthropoce can be found here
All images copyright and courtesy of Siobhan McDonald
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