WEST Cork-based artist Marie Brett is exhibiting at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh until October 15, where she is featuring a number of works that look at loss, trauma and different forms of human suffering, as well as a new commission that offers a place of healing.
Marie’s practice sees her making films, installations and performances. She also works on “engagement projects” with local communities.
‘The Hidden Mountain, the Fort and the Five Trees’ is Marie’s first survey show, covering a span of over ten years of her work, including an exhibition of paraphernalia from a cannabis grow house busted by the gardaí. While loss is a big theme in the show, Marie also looks at conflicts and different forms of control.
“Some of the work is very much about personal individual stories about loss, while other works are about a global reading or a reading of a country regarding issues of control. I suppose the unifying factor is hope, finding a way through in really difficult times.”
Marie’s focus is on “things that are very hidden, whether it’s cultural, social or individual.”
Her work looks at the suffering “that society shuns, fears, ignores or tidies-up; perinatal death, infant mortality, state-run residential care, degenerative brain disease and human trafficking... They impact upon the human psyche in both known and unknown ways, shaping who we are and what we have or will become.”
She adds that simultaneously, in contemporary Ireland, “our rite and lore practices are shifting substantially. At the beginning of Covid, I made a work that was very much about cultural lore. It was called ‘Day of the Straws’. I approached people online across different sectors and asked them how they were coping. The work looked at the many ways people get and give some sort of sustenance.
“I realised that people were beginning to look at nourishment in terms of the natural world and in things like cooking, crafting and gardening. People were going out walking a lot. They didn’t have the distractions of shopping or going to the pub. People were beginning to question what life is all about.”
For the exhibition, Marie has made a new large-scale work, commissioned by the Sirius and presented in the Centre Gallery. It consists of a scaled-down replica of a grain silo, a structure that is often to be found across Ireland’s countryside. It is painted orange and inside, there are a variety of elements including light, haze, sound pieces, flickering images and quartz. This work is based on the idea of a holy well. It’s a portal that is said to project into and receive messages from another world. It also functions as a place for renewal or healing.
As part of the Sirius exhibition, there was a visit to a holy well during the summer led by Amanda Clarke, who has carried out research into the phenomenon.
“Some people might have a religious association with holy wells, others might be curious and might be complete beginners at holy wells. I did a lot of research into holy wells. That work is about what we are looking for when we visit them. Amanda, who is a blogger, has researched holy wells in Cork and Kerry. She has visited 400 of them and logged them into her blog. She has an interesting approach. Not only does she visit a well and record what she finds but she also meets the custodian of the well. It could be a farmer. She finds out what the traditions associated with the well are, whether there’s an association with a cure. I think the holy well we’re visiting with Amanda has a cure for sore eyes.”
Marie has been reading about young people visiting holy wells in their locality to help them with the Leaving Certificate.
“They think there’s no harm in it if it brings them luck. They bring bottles of water back with them and keep it as holy water. I was thinking in terms of people coping in difficult times. They might visit a well and look for a blessing and some sort of protection, or a cure.
"I think that’s really appropriate for the times we’re living in, times that are really uncertain at the moment. The work I’ve made talks in visual terms about the holy well.
“You go into this replica of a grain silo which represents symbolically the holy well. In it is a huge tree trunk to sit on. Along the floor is quartz crystal with all the symbolism of that, benefitting people’s health and spiritual well-being. There are speakers and a sound system and a woman singing. The woman’s song tells the story of going to the holy well, looking for protection. It’s very atmospheric and science fiction-like. I worked with a lighting designer for this.”
The varied exhibition, with podcasts made around it, will include the results of a paranormal investigation carried out by the Cobh Supernatural Investigators.
“They are really interesting, taking quite a scientific approach, as they call it, to the paranormal. I have worked previously with people who identified as psychics who are very much in communication with aspects of the other world through themselves. But the Cobh Supernatural Investigators communicate through equipment and technology. They say their approach is scientific.
“I thought it would be really lovely to invite them to do something. They’re saying categorically that there’s evidence of a presence in Sirius, of past lives.”
Sounds ominous for this former yacht club with subterranean spaces in the building. The exhibition runs until October 15.