Life on the water
Dockers and international crews haven’t traditionally mixed, and the increasing speed with which ships are turned around means crews only briefly come ashore, if at all. “There’s a little mariners hut,” says Sweeney. “It used to be packed with seafarers, but now there’s half a dozen there over a week – coming in to do emails, and then going back on board.
“What surprised me most,” she continues. “Is how much I enjoyed the rhythmic quality of the work. And I really enjoy the dockers, I didn’t expect to form friendships and enjoy chatting with them. I wanted to bring to life what I love down there: the sound, the movement, the activity. It’s a world I thought was completely gone, and it has gone from thousands to handfuls; and the work practices are more stringent, but I love the constant sound of cranes lifting, engines, the beep beep beep of lorries.”
Sweeney isn’t alone among artists in turning her eyes to sea. Joy Gerrard has made a stunning series of etchings of urban docklands; Gary Coyle’s Lovely Water photographs and At Sea performance look at his fascination with the sea at Dún Laoghaire where he grew up; Dorothy Cross’s underwater explorations have been exhibited around the world; while Donald Teskey and Mary Lohan are two of the contemporary artists to have captured the moods of the sea in paint.
Like Gary Coyle, who based At Sea on a year of daily swims, Fergal McCarthy takes his fascination to new levels (or depths). McCarthy is the artist who put Monopoly houses in the Liffey in 2010 for Liffeytown, and who lived for the duration of the Dublin Fringe Festival 2011 on a specially constructed desert island on the river for No Man’s Land.
The artist, who is planning the final chapter to his Liffey Trilogy for the Fringe Festival this September, wants to draw our attention back to the river. “I’m fascinated by the Liffey, for the most part it has disappeared behind the traffic that chokes the quays and curtails pedestrian access. It has also disappeared in our collective conscious, devoid of a role or function, it feels very much unloved except for the odd new bridge that spans its mass.”
At the Tall Ships Festival, he will be showing and talking about his film The Swimmer, originally commissioned by the Science Gallery in 2011. Taking as its basis the 1968 Burt Lancaster film of the same name, McCarthy attempts to swim around Dublin city in a single day, through a series of private pools, canals, rivers, and finally the Irish Sea. “I grew up near a river,” says McCarthy, “I like the movement, they bring you places.”