Orla Barry at Mother’s Tankstation

In her exhibition ‘Nought Ytaught to speke by craft nouper by kinde’, Orla Barry has hung felt things. There are nine altogether, arranged on the inner gable wall of Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin. In the ante-chamber of the gallery rests The Shepherd’s Triangle, its peak brightly tipping into the grey wall; a white, wooden triangular board, inscribed with black letters fit mimetically into its acute shape. The letters make up words that are indices of occupations. Words like Spouse, Prophet, Tramp, and Landlord make up the base, and at the very apex; Shepherd. The figure of the Shepherd is not one that looms large in the contemporary social imaginary. Orla Barry, however, has come home to Ireland, to find that her occupations have become unexpectedly triangulated as artist, teacher and shepherd.[1] This estranged figure of the Shepherd, poised on the ‘onwards and upwards’ trajectory of the triangle, invokes Wassily Kandinsky’s seminal text ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’: “At the apex of the top segment stands often one man, and only one,” writes Kandinsky, “His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman.”[2] It is this figure which opens up the nine felt-things hanging noisily within the mute gallery space, allowing a deeper and more troubling consideration of what is tricking about in Barry’s work.

Orla Barry’s Shearling Felts (Marilyn, Patsy, Iris, Ivy) are physical and psychological artefacts, yielded through a Wexford flock of pure-bred Zwartbles sheep. They are literal-metaphors. Felt-Things. They tenderly parody a wooly language shored up into its own lyric. Heaving with animal personality and the labour of human hands, Barry’s felt-things are rendered, paradoxically, through fierce and violent gestures of erasure; rubbing, beating, rolling, washing in all directions. These felt-things have no smell.

shaved_rapunzel_orla-barryBarry is not uncomfortable with metaphor. She is not uncomfortable letting her ‘props’ indicate what to do. In this case, her felt-things hang a kilometre away from where they had been intended as props for the set of Barry’s performance work MOUNTAIN, staged recently at Project Arts Centre on the 20th and 21st of June. They were deemed “too porous”.[3] Too leaky, or too wild, or too domestic perhaps. Needing their own field. It would be straightforward enough to read Barry’s work as a kind of expression of affinity with home, a reconnecting with land and language; with a sense of vocation. “When I go back to the countryside where I am from,” says Barry, “the language always amazes me, how my friends and family speak, the roundabout way they go about saying things…”[4] But there is a darker and more intensely engaged activity going on within her felt-things. The nine hangings evoke an impression of muffled tongues, smothered mouths, and seem further to incite something of Kandinsky’s elegy: “The night of the spirit falls more and more darkly. Deeper becomes the misery of these blind and terrified guides, and their followers, tormented and unnerved by fear and doubt, prefer to this gradual darkening the final and sudden leap into the blackness.”[5]

There are ill-formed questions disturbing the rural and material narratives packed into this work, most particularly for this visitor: How fares the artist in the 21st century? How fares the Shepherd?


Orla Barry’s work runs at Mother’s Tankstation until July 5th 2014.

Jessica Foley is a writer and PhD. researcher at CTVR.


[1] Exhibition Text, Mother’s Tankstation, http://www.motherstankstation.com/pages-exhibitions-2014/0614ob02.htm

[2] Kandinsky, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912/1946, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. pp. 9-14

[3] Exhibition Text, Mother’s Tankstation, http://www.motherstankstation.com/pages-exhibitions-2014/0614ob02.htm

[4] Barry, Orla, Portable Stones, Camden Arts Centre, London, 2005/06.

[5] Kandinsky, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912/1946, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. pp. 9-14


One thought on “Orla Barry at Mother’s Tankstation

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