Artist Sarah Lewtas responds to ‘Other Worlds’ exhibition

Wednesday January 31, 2024

On being asked to respond to the ‘Other Worlds’ exhibition with thoughts on my favourite work and how it resonates I was challenged to name  just one work as there are so many that call out to me in different ways. In the end I returned to the piece that spoke to me so powerfully on my first viewing.

Maria Mc Kinney’s Health/Toxin, Cahirmee Gino (GZA) immediately took all my attention  and juxtaposed a multitude of questions and responses. The work is in two parts, a large 2 .25 metre by 1.25 metre photograph of a magnificent black bull wearing a harness supporting a woven assemblage . This is composed of  coloured semen straws. On the floor  beside the photograph is the actual woven piece supported on a metal stand at roughly the same height as it must have been on the bulls back.

The bull is restrained by a pole that attaches to the ring in his nose and he is foaming a little at the mouth, so slightly  stressed but steady none the less . I notice the harness supporting the straw assemblage has one strap slightly twisted,`this suggests to me that perhaps it was enough to get the harness onto the animal and that further rearrangement would cause annoyance . This slight imperfection adds to a sense of subdued tension. 

This bull is looking directly at the viewer and it is in his eye that the real power of the image resides. Its as if he is silently speaking of all the bulls that have preceded him and their status in the history of Ireland and saying “This is what I have become”

Mc Kinney has created a circular dialogue between the crafting of the straws with reference to traditional corn dollies and their use to invoke fertility and abundance and the semen straws that are actual containers of fertility . Their  different colours suggest  scientific diagrams of DNA coding but at the same time there is something almost atavistic or invocational in their configuration . The shape is vaguely phallic and being open ended also suggests a spent cartridge . 

I recognise something of my own creative narratives echoed in this work which is also drawing me in I’m sure. I’d probably describe it as allowing  the material to explain itself. In Mc Kinney’s work she looks to science whereas I work more with chance events in my environment; but I think the resonance she’s created in this work is what I seek in mine.