erasing HER history

Sinéad O'Donnell, 'erasing HER history', Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast.
Fri 6 Sep 2013

In September 2012 I was exhibiting my work as part of the CAUTION project in Gallery II at the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast. During the evening of September 6th I made a performance that was about finding horizon lines. I suspended a piece of wood to act as a screen for a looped short video clip that exposed my work on the Markawasi plateau in the Andes mountain in Peru, 4,000m above sea level. 

In the video I scrambled naked along the cliff of rock, trailing a length of red ribbon behind me, laying down my body to meet the surface of the rocks. While this video looped on a screen suspended from the ceiling of the gallery I worked over a duration of two hours and chiselled out a line across the screen that identified the horizon line between the sky and the mountain.

During this process, I could not erase from my memory the words of Iraqi artist Poshya Kakil who was also working in the gallery that night. Earlier that day she had said to me something like this, and already the words are erasing from my memory now as I am writing this text :

“When a woman gets married in Islam people say to her, ‘I hope your face will be red’ and, if her face is not red, they will honour killed her.”

I wrote this text onto the wall of the gallery while I was chiselling the horizon line on the suspended board with the video playing on it. The next day, when the video projection was off and there were fewer live actions, the space felt painful and unresolved so, in the days following, I requested that the gallery allow me to chip and chisel into these words on the wall.

As I processed the space and worked into the wall I found a different work, a work that maybe I had scratched the surface of in the past but those days in the gallery gave me the time to process something else.

I have titled this something erasing HER history. It is a working title for this work from 2012 onwards.  

At times my work is so intuitive it takes something like the experience in the gallery at the Golden Thread to trigger memory and trigger a recognisable discourse that evolves and erases, surfaces and reappears, visualises itself and then disappears. I find myself constantly asking why things are so visible that they become invisible or so invisible these ‘something’ processes take so much time to trigger into actions to form performances.

The only remaining word that stayed on the wall of gallery II in the Golden Thread the week I chipped and chiselled into the walls onto the text was the word HER.

In March 2013 I was invited to present my work in Mexico at the EXTRA Festival, In_Situ, Primer Festival De La Ciudad de Chihuahua, Terminal Santorini Gallery, Chihuahua, and Performance O’Morir, Noragachi, Chihuahua.


‘EXTRA’ festival, Academia de San Carlos, Mexico.

With abstracted thoughts following me and reflecting upon the Christian and Muslim possibilities of female erasing and eroding of histories  - where women or anything female has been manipulated or taken out of history. I found myself in Mexico at the Academy of San Carlos invited to make new work at the ‘EXTRA’ performance art festival. The Academy of San Carlos was the first major art academy and the first art museum in the Americas founded in 1781. The festival performances took place in the main lower floor foyer, a space that is surrounded by statues of what I believe originated from its art collection that began with plaster casts of original Greek, Roman and European works used as teaching aids in the university.

Surrounded by marble statues that towered over me such as fallen angels, nude male figures and tangled women their glances didn’t seem to quite meet each other. I decided to place large loose stones onto the floor in the shape of a mount. For a time before the performance began I lit incense in between the rocks, it smoked for a while and I watched the passers by study the rocks smoking of incense as intensely as they studied the statues.

The action

I placed myself behind the rocks and crouched down so I was hidden from the audience that gathered before me. The rocks were raw in comparison to the marble statues surrounding the hall. I took one rock from the pile and cradled it carefully I then approached the audience and showed them the rock whilst I hushed it like a child gently and gradually the hushing sound became more of a struggle, angry, violent, I put the rock back in its place. I stooped down behind the rocks and applied red paint color to my face I jump upwards again appearing with a red face this time. I stooped down again behind the rocks and pulled a balaclava onto my head. I jumped upwards and downwards from behind the rocks shouting ‘si’ ‘no’ ‘si’ ‘no’ and my face appearing with and without the balaclava. I stood up on top of the rocks and poured a bottle of water over my head and it spilled into the rocks. I released colored ribbons that flowed onto the rocks and gently they found a place to settle. Sounds came from my mouth in which I cannot recall without going back into the performance again but they where sounds that surfaced and came out of my mouth. I stood on top of the rocks attempting to mirror the mounted statues surrounding me, finally I lifted a jar of gold glitter held it over my head and it poured down covering my head and face creating a living monument.

‘InSitu’, Primer Festival De La Ciudad de Chihuahua, Terminal Santorini, Mexico.

The Action

I decided to use the main entrance of what was an old style Mexican house converted to an artist run space. The front door was not used as a public entrance. I requested that the audience view my performance from outside the garden gates on the street facing the door. I decided to use a selection of materials that I held in a belt bag strapped around my waist and some others where laid out on the ground in front of me. I worked gradually releasing the materials into actions, the actions informing and layering up an image similar to how I work in collage.

‘Performance O’Morir, Noragachi, Chihuahua, Mexico, 2013.

Organized by Gustavo and Magda Alvarez I was invited to stay in the Noragachi mountain of Northern Mexico to produce performance in response to the surrounding local customs and landscape. There I experienced the Easter rituals of the Raramuri people. The Raramuri believe they are God's chosen people, and that their mountain home is the center of the world.

The Action

The Raramuri are very shy people and day by day they gradually showed themselves to us as their festival came to its peak. I made a series of actions in this landscape with the color red. There was always a sense of not seeing people in this remote location yet knowing that you were being observed very closely. I did not work to a fixed time and place I decided that I wanted to use the time and experience of how the days unfolded from place to place. I worked with 100 meters of red ribbon and slowly unraveled it so that formed a temporary line through the sandy landscape. Later on some of the other artists worked on a higher plain of land and I quietly released a red balloon the wind carried it low and then it disappeared out of sight. At a river we visited there were families of Raramuri women washing their colorful clothes. I took out a red piece of fabric rectangular in shape and I stood in the river. I raised the fabric to symbolize a flag in my right hand. I noticed a group of children watching us from behind a big rock that was across the river. I stood at the edge of the river and unraveled red ribbon around my head until it was covered. 





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