Thursday, January 28, 2010

What's left behind

Christian Boltanski's installation in The Grand Palais, Paris

I read a really great article last Sunday about an artist called Christian Boltanski. This is a photo of his installation which is running in Paris. Yes, that is a mountain of clothes. He has made up 69 quadrants of clothes as well as the gluttonous jumble of clothes at the top of the room. As well as it being every hoarder's dream, the article gave me pause for thought about the house I'm living in at the moment. Have a look at the article here if you have the time.

Two Summers ago my two sisters and I moved into a house that belonged to our grand aunts. Our grand aunts were also three sisters who had lived together all their lives. So there was an element of a Grimm fairytale about the three of us moving in. Like a sickening game of Here We Go 'Round The Mulberry Bush. But we were immeasurably grateful, all being broke to the ropes and giddy to have the chance to live with each other again.

We swept out the cobwebs, cut the grass, put a new lick of paint on the face of the house and a fresh load of washing out on the line.

And then..we had to address the remnants left behind. The ladies' clothes and hairbrushes, perfume bottles and letters, diaries and photographs and all the in between treasured items which were held on to preciously, wrapped up in layers and layers of old newspapers, made into wallpaper parcels.

Stacks of their silent treasure made into mountains over so many years.

It was so like our Granny's house, their sister. Their crockery, the formica table, the layout of the house, even the back garden and the carpet protector in the corridor. But particularly, the same impulse to hoard everything, even the elastic band from around a chicken's waist.

A dusty cardboard box, softened with age, would let out a sigh and an all too memorable smell when opened. Letters inside from their brother on the Missions or beautiful John Hinde postcards sent to their mother (our Great grandmother), who had also lived in the house with them.

Laura Cumming, who wrote the article about Boltanski, writes beautifully about the effect such objects can have:

...these objects and images, no matter their provenance, were inevitably powerful for the sympathetic mind can hardly help but reconstruct a life from the smallest and most trivial of relics. Pawned brooches, lost umbrellas, dogeared telephone books with their intensely intimate yet resolutely impersonal listings: your mind would rush in, imagining all these other people in other places. It did not matter that the evidence was meagre, partial, perhaps entirely specious, because the objects themselves were real, had once belonged to real livings beings. That their owners were unknown equated very precisely with the universality of the evidence – a watch, a coat – and the poignant truth that one could only mourn the unknown through an act of the imagination.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cher Ami

During a bout of recent fevery illness, my addled mind fixed itself on carrier pigeons; their tattered wings and messages buttoned onto their ankles flapping around my head.

I found myself, hunched back, propped up by a rake of hot water bottles and pillows, trawling the internet looking for story after story of carrier pigeons. I thought my intrigue couldn't be sated until I found this daft story about a pigeon called Cher Ami.

Cher Ami was a pigeon used in World War I. He's got his own Wikipedia page and seems to be quite the hero in American primary schools. I made this drawing of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey and Cher Ami.

The following is the story of Cher Ami. I loved the register used in the website so much I'm just going to quote it here verbatim if you don't mind.

Good man Cher Ami
Stuffed and preserved for posterity

On October 3, 1918, Charles Whittlesey and more than 500 men were trapped in a small depression on the side of the hill behind enemy lines without food or ammunition. They were also beginning to be bombed by their own troops who did not know their location.

Surrounded by the Germans, many were killed and wounded in the first day and by the second day, only a little more than 200 men were still alive. Whittlesey dispatched messages by pigeon. The pigeon carrying the first message "Many wounded. We cannot evacuate." was shot down. A second bird was sent with the message, "Men are suffering. Can support be sent?" That pigeon also was shot down. Only one homing pigeon was left: 'Cher Ami'. He was dispatched with a note in a canister on his left leg,

We are along the road parallel to 276.4.
Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us.
For heaven's sake, stop it!

As Cher Ami tried to fly back home, the Germans saw him rising out of the brush and opened fire and for several minutes, bullets zipped through the air all around him. The men of the Lost Battalion saw Cher Ami tragically shot down, but miraculously, he was airborne again soon. He managed to arrive back at his loft at division headquarters 25 miles to the rear in just 25 minutes, helping to save the lives of the 194 survivors. In this last mission, Cher Ami had delivered the message despite having been shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood, and with a leg hanging only by a tendon.

Cher Ami had become the hero of the 77th Infantry Division, so army medics worked long and hard to save his life. They were unable to save his leg, so they carved a small wooden one for him. When he recovered enough to travel, the little one-legged hero was put on a boat to the United States, with General John J. Pershing personally seeing Cher Ami off as he departed France.

Cher Ami died of his multiple war wounds on June 13, 1919--less than a year after he had completed his service to the United States Army Signal Corps. Upon his death a taxidermist preserved the small pigeon for future generations, a bird with a story that became an inspiration to millions over the years.

And there you were thinking this post was going to be all about writing cringey letters to French penpals.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Culchie Bogman

I recently went to visit my friends Michelle and Richie in their lovely home. (I'll point out here that Michelle is also my bridge partner!... Yes it's finally happened, I spun a full oscillation of the wheel of fortune and landed on You've become an old lady!)

The icing on the culchie cake. Wheat malt in the mouth

Richie brews his own beer in their garden shed. During the course of the (largely ale-y) evening we hatched a plan to pair up his beer enterprising with my drawing enterprising. And so a label for his next beer was born! It would be named Culchie Bogman. A clever pun if ever there was one. Go and learn of its beery wit at Richie's wonderful blog here.

The final beer label

Above is what the final beer label actually looked like. I spent some time pouring over other beer labels to see what the best ratio of name to image should be. I'm sure I looked like a complete boozer. My poor neighbours. Stacks of empty beer bottles built like a toppling fortress around my sketch book. Ah look, the wheel of fortune has made an unexpected settling click to You've become a boozy old lady!

farmyard unity

Here's the original drawing. I like this farmer. He's got his sheepdog, his aran jumper, his billowing fields of wheat and a pot bellied, three-footed stool. What more does he need? Nothing. Precisely. What would he need with the city?

Culchie sheepdog..looking alarmingly like our old dog Scamp

Richie's beer will be ready in 3 - 4 weeks. I'm very excited to see what 'pale, dry and hoppy' tastes like. The question is will my Guinness and toastie taste buds be ready by then? Let's hope so!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Smithfield Horse Market

One man with his mut and mare

Now here's a time when I wish I was a morning person. The Smithfield Horse Market is on at the crack of dawn the first Sunday of every month. I managed to horse myself out of bed one such Sunday and went down with my sister Julie to take some photos.

My God, there's nowhere else you'd find such a proliferation of patterny jumpers and wild children on miniature ponies. We had to mind out for galloping young bucks with their shell tracksuits caught taut in the wind like the sail of a boat.

geansaí nollag den scoth

We had great chats with some of the people there. One Roscommon farmer was selling a miniature pony called Paddy. Most of the roll of film went on Paddy's dusty blond forelocks and pink bridle. We were told that the farmer's grandson once managed to fit Paddy into his wardrobe!

This is not Paddy. Paddy's about 15 hands smaller than this beast

Turns out though that when I went to get the photos developed, the wind on in the camera hadn't worked at all. So all I got back was smooth brown negatives and a dejected feeling in the pit of my stomach. I made this drawing from the pithy pits of disappointment. There's nothing else more satisfying that that.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Xiǎo xióng māo (apparently meaning Red Panda in Chinese)

This is a small post for my very good friend Brendan.
He's just back from Hong Kong and while he
was there he went to the

I can't tell you enough how much I'd love to go there.

xiǎo xióng māo

These are a little something to remind him of the best panda of all: the red panda.

It's frightening what I wouldn't do for one of my own.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Soapy city

ice flakes

On the very first day of this brand new year, in the very early morning,
I discovered how quickly rain can change to friendly snow....
can change to a heart-racing snowball war...
can change to frozen mounds of ice..
can change to compressed ice
can change to slippery death-paths!

treacherous tumbles

An elderly gentleman, armed with a crutch, stopped to give us tactical advice about how to get across Grattan bridge (the best of Dublin's bridges...a horse-mermaid at every lamppost!)

the sickening slip

I hope he got home safely. I assume he did. Although, the above is what flashed through my mind as he skated away.

useless crutch

the texture of the paths

Slippery as dancing on bars of soap, we slid separate ways back to warmth, clutching at pillars of snow, elbows and railings that stick to exposed, pink hands.

This has nothing to do with the topic really....I just love these hats.