Mark Garry’s show of many threads

The artist’s exhibition at Sligo’s Model incorporates thread installations, photographs, film and a musical collaboration featuring Cillian Murphy


The artist Mark Garry is most closely identified with his thread drawings: fragile, painstakingly made installations built up from tightly spaced bands of coloured thread. Spanning gallery interiors, they can virtually disappear into the background, only to burst into kaleidoscopic life when touched by the light. You’ll find several at the Model in Sligo, where Garry, as artist in residence, has made an exhibition, A Winter Light , partly based on a response to the gallery’s Niland Collection.

Nora Niland was Sligo county librarian from 1945. Almost single-handedly, she set about establishing a collection of work by artists with links to the region, including Jack B Yeats and his father, John. From its beginnings in 1959, the collection has grown to include fine pieces by Paul Henry, Mary Swanzy and many others.

“I’d never researched it in any detail before,” says Garry. His exploration left him with two ideas that inform the work he is showing. “One is class. Looking back, you get the sense that only a certain layer of society has a voice in art. So you think of what’s not there, who’s not heard or documented. The other idea is that, with so much work made prior to or following independence, I thought of the kind of Ireland people at the time had in mind, and how we, as citizens, could have been more careful, more considerate of the country we were making.”

Photographs and sadness
Among the works he shows is a series of photographs of the moon and streetlights in Sligo. They are muted images, filtered through heavy mist. There’s a sadness, a sense of loneliness and estrangement to them. He agrees with that reading. It reflects, he suggests, a lack of consideration, on all sorts of levels, from the political to the personal, an ongoing failing in Ireland. It’s clear that in his own work he aims for care, attentiveness and patience. Any virtuosity – and there is often a level of virtuosity in what he does, not least in his beautiful basswood carvings of blue-eyed grass – is lightly worn.

“There’s no smoke and mirrors,” he says. “I like it that people can see how things are made.”

For the most part they are made very slowly: each pin, each strand of thread, is fixed by hand. It’s incremental, and often social, involving working co-operatively with others.

“I think the fact that you can see what’s involved, that a lot of labour has gone into it and that it is fragile, affects how people treat it,” he says. The work invites care, like the canary in a wooden cage that shares a room with silk-screened images of singer Karen Dalton. “She was a musician in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Bob Dylan described her as his favourite singer at the time. But she was troubled, she had a difficult life, and she didn’t manage to do all she should have. I had this idea of the song of the canary with the silenced singer.”

His approach to visual art is consistent with his musical activity. He’s a fan of the musicologist Christopher Small, who died in 2011. “He came up with the idea of ‘musicking’, which is the title of one of his books. His argument is that music is really a process, not a thing, a verb not a noun, and that it’s all about the entire network of relationships around it, not just a score or a performance, and that it’s fundamental to how we experience the world, and each other.”

Garry has consistently made music, and A Winter Light incorporates a musical dimension. A few years ago he and a group of collaborators put together an album, Sending Letters to the Sea , which could be loosely described as acoustic ambient, under a Fingal Arts scheme. Many of the same musicians are reunited in Sligo this week to develop another album-length body of work over just four days. They include Nina Hynes, Sean and Eileen Carpio and, less predictably, Cillian Murphy and his musician brother Padraig (they once had a group called the Sons of Mister Green Genes).

“I’ve known Cillian for a long time and we always had it in mind to do something together musically. But he became so incredibly busy that we’ve never had a chance until now.”

Garry is excited, as well, by the participation of American multi-instrumentalist Robert Stillman. One can see why. Although apparently poised for a high-profile mainstream career as a saxophonist, Stillman instead veered away to pursue his own unorthodox vision, and he became involved in musical education.

“The rule is,” Garry says, “everyone brings just one idea.”

Having started from that point, on Saturday evening the group will record a performance in the gallery space before a public audience. “I’ve no idea what it will be, but that’s what’s great about it: it emerges from the generosity of everyone involved.”

A Winter Light by Mark Garry is at The Model, The Mall, Sligo until April 20. A Winter Light Recording is at 8pm on Saturday, tickets €15 071-9141405

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