Mary Modeen is an artist/academic whose research links creative practice with interdisciplinary academic studies in the humanities, particularly philosophy, literature, feminist and indigenous studies. Her research has several threads: perception as a cognitive and interpretive process, and place-based research, which tends to connect cultural values, history and embodied experience. As such, this work usually combines creative art practice and writing.
Her PhD supervision is also characterised by these interdisciplinary investigations, linking studio practice with academic enquiry. International research networks, three of which Modeen co-convenes, are central in conducting the critical discourse which address, challenge and strengthen these research insights. She is also the DJCAD Associate Dean (Internationalisation).
Healing Earth, looking upwards
During the summer of 2005 I was sponsored by Manx National Heritage in a residency at Cregneash, the preserved living-history crofting village. There, I was able to acquire a vast amount of information, images, video footage, photographs, interviews, drawings and sound tapes upon which to build.
This material was extended to include free access to the Manx National Heritage archives. Questioning island residents, visitors, summer dwellers, tourists, children, retired folk, academics, travellers, university students and public servants.
The first awareness of “home” as a distinction for people on the Isle of Man occurs in a manner similar to a young child drawing an apple: a line goes around what is “apple”, keeping it separate from all that isn’t apple. In the same way, as soon as the boat leaves the harbour, the plane leaves the airport, or the child contemplates the distant horizon from the shore, he or she knows already what it is to be quintessentially Manx. The line has been drawn. Invisibly.
An island insists on its definitions: the geography of water and land are incontrovertible. For an island that is also a nation, more than shorelines defines distinctiveness. The Manx pound, the three-legged triskele flapping smartly over public buildings and the annual TT races whizzing past attest to a people who are justifiably proud of their island nation and its modern as well as ancient legacies.
But what makes it uniquely home? Is it the happenstance of birth on the island that defines a home? Or is it elected as, say, one is born with brown hair but can chose to have it coloured auburn? The island has attracted incomers of all types -- English, Scottish and Irish in large numbers, and also those who were born further afield. Is the island less home to them than the long-term residents by accident of birth?
These questions are some of the many that underlie my research, and are at the root of my curiosity about--and creativity with--place and identity, culture and memory, experience and perception. Perhaps the use of the word ‘research’ by an artist is momentarily confusing, as it is more often associated with the parlance of scientists or sociologists. Artists however are usually interdisciplinary creatures, combining perceptions, insights, observations and learning in non-linear (and often arational) patterns of visual response. Some, as do I, use their artwork to point to both the immediate and the larger, more universal questions. I reflect on questions about what it means to be in a place, and then respond with art based on both traditional and contemporary island life.
This is an excerpt, to read the full essay please click the link:
Wicker, wood, iron, glass.
what is this place called home?
The exhibition What Is This Place Called Home? is, in part, a creative response to the Isle of Man as seen through an artist’s eyes. Large format digital prints layer photographic and traditional print techniques (etching, monoprints, lithographs, etcetera) in images which reference landscape, interiors, domestic objects, and dwellings. Artefacts (samplers, rag rugs, quilts, boats, baskets and farm implements) have inspired the sculptural objects in homage to traditional folklife. The use of materials in these works freely combines and contrasts digital and ancient technologies, such as wickerwork and a horse collar, using each for its aesthetic possibility as well as for referent associations.
Reflection and consciousness of place are the central in my work as well, as in my installation Healing Earth, for example. In this work, three sculptural forms are located on three separate sites across the island - Niarbyl, near the Laxey Wheel, and the gardens at the Grove House, Ramsey.
Niarbyl is a coastal location on the western side of the island, with a view southward toward the high cliffs and the Calf of Man, which is a small island across the Sound. The Laxey Wheel is the largest working water wheel in the world, constructed during the mining era on the island. And Grove House in Ramsey on the north end of the island, managed by Manx National Heritage, was the stately home of the Gibb family, and is representative of the living style of wealthy landowners.
The sculptures at each site are 16 foot high steel forms that pierce the earth’s skin and resonate with overlays of sound. The audio tapes are tapestries of sound, made in collaboration with Mark Wallace, woven together to create a mixture of ambient recordings, old Manx Gaelic, contemporary voices, rhythms, and snippets of music.