Éigse Carlow Arts Festival
Carlow County Museum
. 7th - 28th June 2013

Solo show of new work in response to the museum collection at Carlow County Museum
and programmed as part of the visual art strand of Éigse Carlow Arts Festival 2013.

Mixed media on wood. 

Mixed mixtape
Plastic, film, snail shell.

Organised white fibres
Cotton, metal, card.

Lichen gilt
Ceramic, lichen.

Bark, lichen, card.

The Visual Artists' News Sheet

September - October 2013; pg. 25.


The raison d'être of Objects
Saidhbhín Gibson discusses her project 'Sojourn', which comprised OF a trail of works installed amongst the displays at Carlow COUNTY Museum (7 JUNE - 3 July 2013).

My recent exhibition 'Sojourn' was the outcome of a longstanding interest in showing my work in a Museum context. The project was installed amongst the displays at Carlow County Museum (7 June - 3 July), based on the premise of creating a trail of artworks through the building that the visitors would discover - and offering juxtapositions between my artworks and the historical artefacts on show.

The venture appealed to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I saw an affinity between my practices' concerns and the setting of a museum. My work has a sense of 'antiquity' and 'preservation' to it - I make fragile constructions from delicate materials such as lichen, twigs, feathers and leaves. Secondly it was an opportunity for me to exhibit in a different way than I might in a gallery space. I was interested in creating an opportunity for viewers to happen upon something that they weren't intentionally seeking. What happens when you come upon an artwork where you are expecting to see an artefact? I set out to present an engaging exhibition for those who wouldn't necessarily visit an art gallery.

Foraging and happenstance is part of my making process, collecting organic matter: dead birds, insects, leaves, feathers, along with rocks and stones. It's a process dictated by the seasons and what is available. I also collect man-made elements, which I pair with more conventional art materials and the foraged organic elements, employing thread-based techniques.

Various sites in the vicinity of my studio provide a basis for collecting and researching, including the River Barrow and the Blackstairs Mountains. Artist residencies and site-specific projects have also provided valuable opportunities to collect and work with materials that aren't available in my locale.

The incorporation of organic matter into my process seeks to questions our relationship with nature. In my work, natural elements and are brought indoors; they become preserved and removed from the location we would ordinarily encounter them in. For me, the act of exhibiting such objects in a museum suggests the threats facing the natural environment.

In March of this year I approached Sinéad Dowling, Carlow Arts Officer, about the possibility of making a project for Carlow County Museum. In response to this she organised a meeting between Dermot Mulligan, the curator of the museum, and myself. At this stage, I had a good sense of the venue. The museum holds a wide range of artefacts of local interest, including archaeological finds recently recovered from excavation sites on the M9 Carlow by-pass scheme and other artefacts from former local industries such as the Carlow Sugar Factory.

I introduced Dermot to my work and outlined the specifics of the project. I received a positive response and proceeded with the planning and realisation of the works for the exhibition. 'Sojourn' was supported by Carlow Arts Office and was launched in June during the 2013 Éigse Carlow Arts Festival, as part of the visual art strand. While the exhibition was manifested in a comparatively short timespan, a prolonged period of forethought had preceded it, which was integral to the success of the project.

An important consideration in the planning of the installation of my works was to place them amongst various artefacts situated throughout the museum in order to create intentional and different dynamics around each piece.

Another aspect to this project was to explore what would happen to particular works when the negative framing space wasn't a 'white cube' but one inhabited with displays of objects, whose raison d'être was very different from that of an art exhibition. For example, the piece 'Organised white fibres', which comprises three silver frames containing different fossil-like forms crocheted in white cotton thread, was initially going to be placed in a geology cabinet, amongst various rock samples and other calcified relics. However, noting that the museum also had a display that outlined the use of flax and fibre in early plumbing, I decided that a less obvious and more contrasting setting would be in the vicinity of these natural fibres in a 'Trades' display case. This juxtaposition provided an alternative take on the practical application by man of natural materials.

'Allure', the piece I did choose to place in the geology cabinet, took the form of two pocket-sized limestone rocks adorned with false eyelashes, sitting flirtatiously side-by-side - human habits imposed on the inanimate objects. The piece stimulated confusion and curiosity, especially as it was one of the first pieces that visitors encountered upon entering the museum, and some visitors may not have been immediately aware of the exhibition.

In total, I placed 14 works throughout the three floors of the museum. These were all presented in the same fashion as the artefacts. I hoped to encourage a sense of discovery. Visitors had to actively seek my pieces out. While there was an information sheet available, listing the titles of works and providing information on materials and location, there were no obvious 'signals' (numbers, labels etc) placed next to my works to indicate to whether they were artworks or artefacts. My exhibition also aimed to encourage a closer inspection of the museum artefacts. The show presented an opportunity for a surprise engagement with art, which mirrors other themes in my work: looking at outdoors discovery-like experiences and chance encounters with nature.

While compiling the selection of work for 'Sojourn', I began thinking about the value we place on objects and what we hold important in public and private contexts. Some have social and historical value and belong to the civic domain; others have a personal significance and relate more the domestic sphere. Natural objects seem to span both - they speak of the wider environment and ecology, but also relate to the personal realm, in terms of plants as foodstuffs or horticulture.

Suggestive of these latter themes was my piece entitled 'Tucked I', a maple leaf contorted into a cubic form. This work was placed in the company of sugar cubes and other artefacts relating to the history of the Carlow sugar beet factory, which was decommissioned in 2006 after 80 years of operation. My shaping of the leaf in 'Tucked I' echoed the equally unnatural manmade forms of the sugar lumps.

Tucked I

Looking at objects in a museum is clearly different to the experience of looking at art in a gallery. A gallery exhibition can provide visual stimulation and cultural discourse that provokes and question, while a museum aims to educate, inform and present facts from and about the past. Each context certainly has things in common - they are sites for observation and contemplation - but the fundamental question I wanted to explore was: Is our mindset as viewers dictated by the location of an exhibition?

The feedback I received from the museum invigilators indicated that the project was well received by the public. Interestingly though, individuals visiting the museum specifically to see the exhibition presumed that my work would be in a designated area.

Overall, I felt the project was successful. I did have initial concerns that the artworks wouldn't read as lucidly as they would in a conventional gallery space, but I was willing to take the risk of working in the museum display context. It's too soon yet for me to assess if this project has led directly to other opportunities for me, but I would show my work again in a 'non-art' space if the location was pertinent to the work or the work was made in response to a space. The planning and research I had carried out for 'Sojourn' has proved informative in my ongoing practice.


Supported by Carlow County Council Arts Office and Carlow Arts Festival.
With thanks to Dermot Mulligan and all museum staff and invigilators at Carlow County Museum.