The Lay of the Land
An exhibition by Array Collective
The Lay of the Land is an exhibition by Array Collective with members Laura O’Connor and Thomas Wells and invited artists Emma Brennan, Marta Dyczkowska, Méabh Meir, and Sally O’Dowd.
As is often the way with ancient history and folklore, multiple theories surround the purpose of the Black Pig’s Dyke. Some regard it as an example of Ulster always being divided, others see it as a barricade for enclosing animals, or even as a display of power. In folklore the dyke was torn up by a raging headmaster and piled by a mythological worm. And just like these interchangeable stories of the dyke, borders too interchange and shift in meaning depending on who tells the story.
The Dyke was one of the themes explored in Array Collectives 2021 Turner Prize winning show The Druthaib’s Ball. Utilising a variety of approaches such as protests, rallies, public talks, exhibitions and social media the collective’s work focuses on human rights and identity. The group uses themes from Irish folklore and mythology to reimagine identity, where binaries are eroded leading to fluid and nuanced characters.
The Lay of the Land takes the form of a gallery exhibition at the Townhall Cavan, where six banners hang, a sigil for the Dyke created by each artist. A day of performance art at the Cavan Arts Festival at Con Smith Park will present each artist's response to the folklore surrounding The Black Pig's Dyke. Drawing on identity politics, queer histories and the body as a border, the artists in The Lay of the Land take multiple approaches to responding to the ancient earthwork.
All photos by Sally O'Dowd
The Lay of the Land Performances
Cavan Arts Festival
May 20th 2023
Cavan Arts Festival
May 20th 2023
Emma is drawn to the journey of the pig through the landscape, its mark made in our earth, its entrance and exit points. Contributing her own musings on the story, Brennan is offering the notion that the pig may have left through this western coastal point to enter the otherworld of Mag Mell; a pleasurable paradise and mythical realm achievable through death or the glory of battle. The appeal of pain for pleasure's sake is very enticing to Brennan as a conclusion to her own narrative of the beast’s story. In her performance Emma will walk from the Townhall to Con Smith park cloaked in layers of latex, transforming as she goes by shedding her skin.
Emma's performance is dedicated to Mark Newell, CEO of Live Art Ireland Tipperary.
Donations can be made to the NET Patient Network Charity Ireland in his honour netpatientnetwork.ie/
Marta identifies strongly with the version of the tale which emulates her personal circumstances, at the centre of which is a mother of two boys whose overbearing school headmaster punishes them by turning them into animals. In a confrontation with their headmaster, the mother turns him into a Black Pig. Furious at being unable to return to his human form and the power and dominance that the position afforded him, he carved out enormous ditches throughout the land using his tusks. In her performance Marta will ring a bell, marking out her territory, symbolically conquering the pig and claiming the land as her own, she simultaneously questions the ego of those in power then and today.
Inspired by WB Yeats’ last poem “Cuchulainn Comforted” (1939), Méabh’s work draws on the suspicion that Cuchulainn’s death place may have been located somewhere along the Black Pig’s Dyke. Using the black pig’s dyke as a symbol of a threshold space between life and death, reality and fantasy, truth and myth, Méabh will sing a keen for loss and the lost truths about the dyke at the fire. She will then use performance and song to signify a shift from mourning into acceptance and change, chanting as Gaeilge, “ní bhíonn in aon ní ach seal” - “things are only as they are for a time”, and sharing objects inspired by the poem.
Lines of Power
Laura’s performance entails casting red wax acorns along Con Smith Park. The row of acorns will form a permeable barrier or boundary, people can walk across or around, whatever they choose. The acorns will be cast from a mould throughout the performance. This slow action of creating and producing aims to nod at the people who were tasked with creating the 3 metre high palisade along the dyke in the late Iron Age (40BC-200AD).
Pigs Tits Gold Nips
Sally’s work reflects on the challenges of breastfeeding and/or being a woman, revealing the abject beauty and horror of the experience. Perhaps the folktale goes, that having fed her brood, the Big Black Pig tore through the land with her big dangly knockers, carving out ditches as she raged through the landscape. In the performance Sally will wear an apron with teets, spraying milk and working out. Simultaneously, trying to be glamorous while poking fun. Being body positive!
Thomas’s performance draws on their research of how ancient monuments conceive time. The banner at Townhall was created as part of Belfast International Festival of Performance Art in 2023 during a performance called ‘Buffet’, the beginning of the creation of an artefact inspired by a visit to the Black Pig’s Dyke. The performance begins at the Townhall where Thomas will undergo their sacrifice to the Black Pig, the banner will then be removed and processed to the park where it will undergo another transformation using fire, copper and mushrooms.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Emma Brennan is an interdisciplinary artist who works predominantly in performative practices to include multi-media installation, moving image and collaborative processes. Based between Belfast and Dublin she is a former Co-Director and Chairperson at Catalyst Arts Belfast and a current studio member of PS2 Studios Belfast. She was chosen as one of the BBeyond performance collective’s new commissioned artists of 2021 and remains an active member of the collective. She has performed as part of the multiple exhibitions and festivals locally and internationally including the Belfast International Festival of Performance Art (BIFPA), the Live Art Biennial, FIX21, as part of Black Kit Performance Archive in Cologne, Livestock Dublin, Dublin live art festival, on residency at Live Art Ireland and more. In December 2021, Brennan performed in collaboration with singer Meabh Meir to ring in the solstice as part of Array Collective’s Turner Prize winning exhibition The Druthaib’s Ball
Marta Dyczkowska is a visual artist who predominantly works in video, photography, installation, and live performance. Her work explores themes such as identity, memory, loss, trauma, and migration. Marta often links past and present producing multiple narratives. Although highly personal in nature, her work also serves as social commentary. Marta is a keen collaborator and advocate of socially engaged art. She is a former co-director of Catalyst Arts, and a current member of Vault Artist Studios, Belfast.
Méabh Meir is a visual artist, singer/vocalist, and art therapist from Belfast. She is a member of traditional singing group Landless, and of HIVE Choir. Recent performances include “The Druthaibs’ Ball” for Array Collective’s winning Turner Prize exhibition, Belfast, July 2021; “Swimming a long way together”, a durational art project by Vanessa Daws, Dublin, August 2021-2022; “Two Miles of Earth for a Marking Stone” commissioned by Solas Nua for International Women’s Day and the 15th annual Capitol Irish Film Festival, Washington DC, March 2021; and a singing performance at an exhibition of Alfred Wallis’ work at the MAC, Belfast, December 2021.
Dr Laura O’Connor is a visual artist, lecturer and festival coordinator based in Belfast. O’Connor’s work combines performance, sculpture, installation, video and digital media to look at the representation of “women'' in the media and through cultural narratives. Recent works include Cultural Methods an ongoing project researching the digital surveillance of fertility and its links to cultural narratives and the treatment of reproductive autonomy in Ireland; Uncomfortable State (2017-2019) a series of live performances, sculptural works and video installations based around abortion rights in Ireland; The Druthaib's Ball, with Array Collective. Array won the Turner Prize in 2021. O’Connor is also co-director of WANDA:Feminism and Moving Image, a film festival that works alongside industry organisations and individuals to expose inequality and underrepresentation in the film industry.
Sally O’Dowd is a visual artist and curator with a socially engaged practice. As a politically aware artist, her research is concerned with identity and in particular intimate female ritual and investigating the role – self selected and enforced – of women in contemporary Irish society. Her artwork also focuses on authenticity in documentation by way of performance, film and drawing. She creates often absurd, socially awkward performances, in which costumes and props amount to an abject beauty. She frequently works collaboratively in both her artistic and curatorial practices.
Thomas Wells is a multidisciplinary artist and curator based in Belfast, their practice is socially engaged often involving spaces of collective experience. These are often situated in the intimacy of domestic spaces and use layered imagery to elicit feelings of nostalgia. Originally from Manchester, they have been working in the north of Ireland since 2017. Formerly a co-director of Catalyst Arts, they have gone on to work as a curatorial assistant at the MAC and is currently a programmer for National Museums Northern Ireland. Thomas is a studio holder at Array Studios and member of Array Collective and in 2021 were the recipients of the Turner Art Prize.