Eanna Mac Cana: Och Ochon, Crescent Arts Centre Gallery, Belfast, March 19th – 31st 2018

Multitude of caps of tea.  Disposable plastic. Ocean full of plastic and dying whales may not have been in this artist’s intended context

– but they are, as the erosion of the  anthropocentric model of life progresses through our consciousness.

This exhibition is about  death of people, members of family, community –  in isolation from the rest of life on the Earth.    The overwhelming traumatic power of  unbridgeable loss  of one of our species  exercised invention of traditions that include lament, keening, wailing, as well as  wake, processions  and memorials: ” Keening is to lament over the deceased, usually taking place at a wake, but sometimes at a funeral” (Artist’s handout)

The artist wrote a poem/ lament and filmed an actress and story teller Frances Quinn performing it in Irish.  English version is provided on the printed  handout, for later reference.  Thus the simultaneity of the visual and verbal is dedicated to Irish speakers only.

Shot on one faulty and one working DCR-TRV33E it includes a short found sequence of the artist in graveyard as a small boy, shot on Canon XHA1.

The analog camcorder was set to night light which determined the dominant “mythical” hue. The vertical scratches visible across frames  are necessary results of the deteriorating equipment, left deliberately behind.

Both the sound and image are, in different ways,  disabled in the range of communication, but not in expressiveness.  The language makes it private to the initiated – which raises a question why people speak different languages and why sorrow increases that need for protection.

Exhibiting sorrow publicly therefore contradicts any hope  promised by a fortress mentality.

In the furthest gallery room an installation of cups of tea  evokes sharing as a response to trouble.  Sharing tea.

That could be a specific tradition, slavonic communities prefer hard alcohol and lot of male singing. Whereas, in Ireland, and Arabic countries it is the noise of female lament announcing the bereavement.


The installation is silent, dominated by an order of the related shapes.   Relentless.

Day after a day the invisible bacteria make visible signs of decay. Inescapable betrayal of the intended use.  Or – a testimony that intentions do not lead to expected result?

The duration of the installation thus determines the “tenor” of the aesthetic communication,  order and decay become concomitant qualities of being.

The teabags on a table with a tablecloth   – colour and texture reminiscent of the earth excavated for the burial and returned after the interment.  Child like size.

Displayed on its own in the large gallery  the installed object exudes anxiety both about    the direct associations and its own substance.



An anxious object as described  eloquently by Denis Donohue (b 1928) who advocated the range  and multiplicity of viewpoints as well as the value of the silent place in people’s  heart.   I stay with him a little longer.   The tea bags in both installations are  visual metaphor, more precisely synecdoche.   Denis Donoghue turned his attention to the practice of metaphor , simile, metonym, and synecdoche in language. It is applicable to visual metaphors.  Metaphor  replaces something habitual, ordinary by something unexpected (see Metaphor, 2014, Harvard University Press).

The magic of a synecdoche depends on another “ordinary”  to become the “unexpected” as in a believable lie.

The point of a metaphor is to enrich the experience by bringing different associations to mind.  The essential character of metaphor, Donoghue says, is prophetic. Metaphors intend to change the world by changing our sense of it. Metaphor celebrates imagination.

Synecdoche then uses a part of the whole ,  e.g.tea bag standing for  making tea at the time of a distress, to permit greater freedom to construct feeling and  meaning.

The installations, the tea cups and tea bags each occupy a gallery  on one side of the  video installed in the middle gallery.

Thus   forging three stages of the keening:  gathering of the people ( sharing a cup of tea), listening to the lament, and leaving after interment.  Hence the three rooms forge one exhibit.  Like a triptych.

The Lament is intensely personal as the video includes shots of living world standing for humanity and nature.

The anxious objects  are abandonned, left to decay. What will and will not be after death is left to free thought,  to different association of each of us.

This artist retreats from preaching.



Images courtesy the artist.


Apology for not having the “fada” for this artist’s  first name and the exhibition title.  One should be above E  and the other  on the penultimate letter of the title.




About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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