A trip to Connemara
The new Dorothy Cross exhibition at the RHA takes you to the wild, wild west
Water has always been an important canvas for Dorothy Cross. From her enigmatic Ghost Ship which moored off Dun Laoghaire in 1999 to Jellyfish Lake, her film from an isolated lake in Micronesia where millions of jellyfish migrate across daily, to the swimming she was hooked on from her youth in her native Cork (hear her talk about this with her brother Tom on an Aoibhinn & Company radio show last year on RTE Radio One), the sea, ocean and bodies of water have all featured naturally in her work.
She has been based in Connemara for the last 12 years and, as she explained to Aidan Dunne in a recent interview, it was the ocean not the landscapes which drew her to the west. Her new exhibition at Dublin’s RHA, named for her surroundings, focuses on what Cross terms “these bits of things” which the Atlantic washed up on shore around her. There are flippers and sandals, the eerily beautiful skeleton of a whale and, hidden in the model of a submarine, a shark’s heart. Bones, parts and briny detritus.
The most striking piece in the exhibition is an installation in the centre of the room. Tabernacle features an upturned currach as a roof for a rough wooden shed with three benches and a bunch of assorted paraphernalia. When you gaze through the porthole, you can catch a glimpse of Cross’s film of a cave near her home which is only accessible on a few days every year.
You could spend ages (indeed, Gemma Tipton writes today about how Slow Art Day encourages you to do such a thing) parsing Tabernacle’s title for religious overtones – the bottle of holy water tucked into the side of the currach might encourage that – but as Cross noted the word also means the groove into which the mast of a sailing boat is slotted. It also implies a sanctuary, a refuge from the sea and its rough, rugged dangers. Words can mean an abundance so you take one and leap with it, a bit like what the sea drags and drops to shore.
(Here’s Cross speaking at TedX Dublin in 2012 about her work)