Helen Kirwan will present a screening of Memory Theatre (2017), followed by a short talk and Q&A with the artist, and drinks at the Close-Up bar. Kirwan will discuss her practice as a performance artist and filmmaker, as well as her research into mourning, memorial, fragment and trace. Over many years, this line of enquiry has taken the artist on long journeys across Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Q&A will be led by the artist and filmmaker Dr. Jane Madsen.
Memory Theatre began as a series of outdoor performances by the artist Helen Kirwan in Kent, Morocco and the west of Ireland. Filmed live, the video footage was subsequently edited into a two-channel video. Dressed as a widow, in black, the artist endlessly undertakes futile and absurd tasks such as measuring the sea with buckets at Joss Bay and counting stones on the vast shingle beach at Dungeness, Kent. In the desert of Merzouga, Morocco, she documents the passing of time by pouring grains of sand into the dunes. These endless repetitions express ‘the physical traces of mourning, which manifest themselves through absurd and futile activity,’ says Kirwan. The artist is informed by the concept of the philosophical fragment as posited by the Early German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schlegel: a dynamic practice which aims at fragmentation for its own sake. The essential incompletion of Kirwan’s futile reiterations is itself the mode of fulfilment. A sound piece by the award-winning Dublin-based composer Tom Lane was commissioned for the video and is the product of a long-standing collaboration between the artist and musician.
The elements of earth, fire, wind and water are at play in the outdoor sites of Memory Theatre: Morocco’s hot desert sand dunes, Kent’s beaches, and the ancient bog in Connemara, Ireland. Kirwan’s performances involving contact between the body and environment are intensely haptic. They serve as a metaphor for a system of mapping and attempted navigation through what she calls the wilderness and ‘fog’ of bereavement. Repetition and journeying are part of the endless searching and yearning which some psychologists identify as intrinsic to the bereavement process. The artist’s intuitive connection with the soil, stone and sea, conjure up the intensity of grief and, as she awaits her own death, she marks with infinite futility, the finitude of human existence. There is also a personal significance that stems from the landscapes of Kent, where the artist has lived for 30 years, and Ireland, where she is from.
Memory Theatre was first unveiled as a video installation at the ‘Personal Structures - Crossing Borders’ exhibition at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017) and presented at the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne. Recently, Kirwan has combined this video project with a series of live performances in the sea. The first two took place on the Sunny Sands Beach in Folkestone, scheduled according to the tide tables, as part of the Folkestone Triennial Fringe. Memory Theatre was also performed this year at The Space Arts Centre, London. Here, multiple projections (seven) were combined with live performances by Kirwan and the composer Tom Lane. Using lumps of charcoal, Kirwan endlessly made repetitive marks on large boards whilst Lane performed simultaneous, improvised sound.
About Helen Kirwan
Helen Kirwan is a British - Irish conceptual artist. Born in Ireland where she lived for many years, she now divides her time between the UK and Brussels. She practised law as a barrister in Dublin and London for nearly twenty years before becoming an artist full time. She took a B.A. (First Class Hons.) in Fine Art at the University for the Creative Arts Canterbury in 2000 followed by an M.F.A. in Fine Art Practice from the University of Middlesex, London in 2002 and in 2004, and an M.A. in Aesthetics and Art Theory (Merit) at Kingston University, London. Kirwan’s recent exhibitions include the ’P