Siobhan Mullen Wolfe
Siobhan Mullan emailed me the following:
Performance – 7 Artists
- Time: 7 hours
- Materials :Boiler suit, hand-crafted chair, potato peeler, aluminium bucket filled with raw coal and remains of burnt ash of financial records.
- Actions: Continuous peeling of lumps of coal, walking to shoreline with bucket of coal balanced on head at intervals of approx 1/2 hour. Breathing with the rising tide.
- Site: Ballymacormick point: ASSI, Intertidal communities, rare communities and species, breeding colony for Arctic Tern.
- Sightline: Kilroot Power Station, Antrim basalt escarpment (eocene period), Belfast Lough, peripheral vision of the actions of 6 fellow artists.
The performance actions are site responsive, labour intensive, transitive by encounter, exploring value systems, labour practices and models of power.
3 days later, I wake to excruciating pain in my neck and back – body responsive to the performance. My finely balanced frame has been knocked off its axis by the actions in the performance.
The co-existence of coal and ashes of financial records inside an aluminium bucket are both timely reminder of climate change and needs for sustainable energy, made particular and site specific by the artist facing the sightline to the Kilroot power station that used coal in the past, is using gas at present, and, is slowly/hesitantly moving to the sustainable renewables.
The performance was centred visually on the physical, on eroding the body’s energy, punishingly ending in pain. The physical was allowed to lose. Two of the images appear to me locking in themselves two important ideas: something that is continuous and something that has ancestry.
The continuity of existence is treated as connectivity between the natural world and human species, while not denying differences, insisting on similarities: the need to be in an environment that allows for future generations, be it people or Arctic Tern. (image courtesy: http://www.birdforum.net)
Sharing her breathing with the sea waves Mullan signifies belonging to the same life supporting system as the bird. Her silent, nonintrusive performance exudes respect for the area she works in. As Naomi Klein warned – the need for fossil fuels sacrifice the area were it is found. The industry is damaging to the environment that already supports life, advancing the belief that fossil fuels are necessary for supporting life. Indeed,the 20th C Western culture established that so swell, that many people believe it is inevitable.
Mullan looks back for how to be an ancestor- to tribal societies- she uses as a token, the link to the mode of carrying a load on their heads.
She looks in the direction of the power station – holding the coal and ashes of the money documents -not advancing just accusing quietly – or questioning ?… or holding it back ?H Naomi Klein asks that we become “good ancestors” by making sure that fossil deposits are left in the ground for the future generation’s use, which could be better than just burning them as we do.
Mullen highlights two strategies: become a good ancestor and seek alternative sources of sustainable energy.
Hers is not a shortsighted campaign – it is a moral decision. Her performance insists on sharing, caring and practical wisdom. Even if she includes dadaist disregard for protecting herself against damp and cold and the sheer fatigue of the ongoing labour.
She leaves no physical traces of her being there, working there. The environment was not hurt or degraded.
A symbolist poet of the early 20th C spoke of trees as brotherhoods kneeling to pray for the future. Watching Mullan’s performance made me focus on the ambient peace surrounding her as if saying something in unisono with her. Silently.
Images courtesy of Jordan Hutchings.