Through the looking-glass with Alice
Even those familiar with Maher’s work will find Becoming full of surprises. Working with curator Seán Kissane and lighting designer Aedín Cosgrove of Pan Pan Theatre, she has done much more than merely assemble a selection of her existing pieces. She has reimagined them and designed the exhibition so each room is a distinct installation in itself. There’s also a new film, Cassandra’s Necklace, and a site-specific installation, L’Université.
Cassandra’s Necklace stems from a previously unpublished script by Anne Enright. At the beginning of the project, curator Seán Kissane asked her to name a writer she really liked. She immediately thought of Angela Carter. “He said he was thinking of a living writer who might contribute to the catalogue. I said Anne. I like her because she’s a very visceral writer who mixes the contemporary with the weirdly ancient.”
They approached Enright. “She came up with a short, unpublished script she’d written in the 1980s about the mythical prophetess Cassandra.” The revised script is included in the show’s accompanying publication and was the starting point for the short film. Spurned by Cassandra, Apollo’s revenge was to ensure no one would believe her infallible prophecies. Maher has visualised this by reworking an image from Portraits, a fairly grisly one in which she wears a necklace of tongues. In the film, actor Charlie Murphy, adrift in a strange, subterranean realm, dons the necklace.
Crucial to Becoming, Maher says, is the fact the show occupies Earlsfort Terrace and not the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. “I’m thrilled to be here. Kilmainham is a series of identical rooms; here virtually every room is a different size and shape, and I’ve even been able to use the lecture theatre and the real tennis court.”
Kissane echoes the sentiment, describing it as a labyrinthine exhibition for a labyrinthine building. Even the accompanying publication, designed by Peter Maybury, follows a labyrinthine pattern.
Maher is definite on one point: “I really don’t want anyone to visit the exhibition and be told: ‘Well, this piece means such and such.’ There is no simple key to meaning. I hope they really engage with it and see what they get from it, and in a way that depends on what they bring to it themselves.”
Alice Maher: Becoming is at Imma at NCH, Earlsfort Terrace, until February 3rd