The persistence of the feminine, embodied in the witch, demonised, and hounded
Jesse Jones’s Venice Biennale exhibition proposes an alternative, feminist creation and foundation myth
Tremble Tremble, Jesse Jones, installation view, Project Arts Centre
Jesse Jones: Tremble Tremble ★ ★ ★ ★
Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar, Dublin
The title, and to a large extent the spirit of Jesse Jones’s Tremble Tremble, which represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale last year, and is now embarking on an Irish tour, derives from the International Wages for Housework Campaign in the 1970s. The campaign was initiated 1972 by the International Feminist Collective in Italy. At protests, the participants chanted: “Tremble, tremble; the witches have returned!”
One of the collective’s founders, Silvia Federici, has been particularly influential for Jones. She articulated a Marxist critique of capitalism’s annexation of women’s bodies, with the aim of serving its own productive ends. This involved discounting the whole domestic sphere: the labour of reproduction, nurture, care and domesticity generally was – and is – rendered economically void. Developed with curator Tessa Giblin, Jones’s work can also be seen in the context of the Repeal the Eighth movement, and in the wider institutional treatment of women in Ireland (and beyond), from historical exclusion to entrenched inequalities and exploitation.
One interpretation of Tremble Tremble is that it proposes an alternative, feminist creation and foundation myth. In the darkened arena of the Project’s capacious Black Box, which has the aura of a sacred space prepared for a ritual, video projections and sculptural objects outline the general thrust of this myth. Modelled human bones, on a gigantic scale, evoke one of the most famous set of fossils in the world: those fossils make up about 40 per cent of Lucy, a hominoid female whose remains date back three million-plus years. In the context of her work, Jones seems to co-opt Lucy as an origin and archetype, a gigantic presence literally and metaphorically, and the source of a putative legal code “In Utera Gigantae”. Suppose we had proceeded on the basis of this feminine idea rather than male deities and patriarchies, is the speculation. But rather than enacting this alternative, the installation, which hinges on a central, committed performance by Olwen Fouéré, suggests the persistence of the feminine as a parallel, subversive reality – embodied in the witch, demonised, hounded and suppressed. One implication of the title of Tremble Tremble is that the ground is shaking, we may be on the verge of a radical shift, a restoration of pre-patriarchal authority, as witness the recent referendum vote.
How ironic is Jones’s approach in her installation? She is not being ironic in what she intends to signify, in its meaning. There are intimations of Brechtian alienation technique, and there are apparent Brechtian references – specifically, in Fouéré’s persona, to the ambivalent figure of Mother Courage (Brecht’s appraisal was emphatically critical but she has consistently been interpreted as a positive feminist model).
Fouéré’s monologue veers over into the kind of broad staginess that is often associated with the Abbey Theatre of an earlier era, and much of the text and mise-en-scène is clunky, yet the tone is earnest, reverential, even solemn. Is Jones perhaps evoking the conventions of the Abbey ironically? It’s never clear that she is.
The abiding impression is that, despite its breadth of reference and the unassailable integrity of its sentiments, Tremble Tremble does not cohere into a work that amounts to more than its many scattered references and intentions. It is sketchy, perhaps intentionally so, throwing out possible lines of development but not delivering on them, and relies too heavily on an appeal to the sheer worthiness of its message.
- Tremble Tremble is at Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, until July 18th; projectartscentre.ie
Joe Dunne: Bruach ★ ★ ★ ★
Molesworth Gallery, Dublin
The title of Joe Dunne’s exhibition, Bruach, translates from the Irish as “border or brink”. He has in mind two locations from which he habitually draws subject matter: the edges of the south Dublin suburbs where he lives and works, and the coastline at Ballycastle in north Mayo, where he spends time at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation.
A leading academician, Dunne is a measured, careful, technically skilled painter, with egg tempera as his preferred medium. He works in traditional genres: landscape, still life, figure and portrait painting. When he tends towards abstraction, the mellow, poised compositions he devises are usually based on stylised representation, often derived from suburban facades. He is especially attentive to the fall of light, its temperature and how it modulates colour and tone. There is an architectonic quality that is hardly surprising in the more overtly suburban pieces but slightly more so in the Mayo coastal landscapes.
In fact, there is a quasi-geometric character to the coastline at Ballycastle, as the sea dismantles layer on layer of densely stratified rock, an incremental process startlingly evident in the Dún Briste sea stack. Another bruach relevant to his work is the in-between space where any one of his paintings fits on the sliding scale between representation and abstraction. He is such a quiet artist that it is easy to underestimate or overlook what he does, which is flawlessly well done. His panoramic Spring beyond the city, a large-scale view looking back across the city and Dublin Bay to Howth Head from the uplands, is an exceptional piece of work. It’s also meticulously accurate. The other largest piece in the show, Winter Tree I, a spare, stylised composition, is also impressive. Marley after the festival is one of a number of fine smaller works. Dunne’s reticence, his caution, is clearly part of his artistic identity. He aims for and usually achieves a mellow evenness of tone. If anything is lacking it’s the grit in the oyster.
- Bruach is at the Molesworth Gallery, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2, until July 11th, molesworthgallery.com