Donna Troy Cleary

16. Meanwhile, back at the farm...

Donna Troy ClearyComment

First, a news flash!  Next week, I'm taking on pedagogic responsibilities at Mildred's Lane, the residency and brainchild of J Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, during the Wilding Wasting Workstyling II Session from June 5th - June 11th.  I've been asked to present my work, discussing how I've taken on the role of healer as a subversive response to profit-driven Big Pharma and dissociative medical practices.  I'll discuss how my art represents a reclamation of an ancient feminine power along with the power inherent in the domestic space, one of many themes at Mildred's Lane.  Such an honor. Can't wait.

And now, more about my residency at Cill Rialaig.

My first day at the residency was cold and a shock to the system.  After figuring out the wood stove I stopped shivering and realized the magnitude of where I had landed. At the southern tip of County Kerry, the residency occupied a pre-famine village, lovingly restored by a generous art patron.  On the edge of a cliff, its front lawn was the Atlantic Ocean. The raw temperatures were easily tempered by turf and firewood, purchased at the local convenience store, unlike in years past, when heating the home meant months of labor.  Pol, pronounced Paul, another resident, had grown up in Northern Ireland and shared stories about digging turf as a boy. His family would spend at least a month cutting the turf with a spade into stove-size logs. These would be formed into a teepee for drying and then stacked in storage for winter.  Ireland is trying to bring this practice to an end.  Turf is the precursor to coal. Thousands of years of plant debris were compressed, sealing within it a history. Perhaps you've heard of Bog People, unearthed in recent decades.  It is theorized that these bodies were left to mark the edges of territory, were sacrifices or were left as sacred burials. The pH of the bog preserved the bodies, leaving skin, hair, bones and organs intact. 

If you've never smelled burning turf, you have missed one of life's pleasures.  It's earthy scent permeated the island and was part of the air I breathed for weeks.  Since the center for smell is adjacent to the center for memory in our brain, burning turf will forever commingle with images of my life on the edge of this island.

I decided I was not going to be making permanent sculpture during the residency. Instead, I constructed sculptures and apparel for performances out of local plant materials.  My first sculpture was a diminutive vessel woven out of lily-like leaves and the herb Usnea, found in a forest on my trip South from Cork.  It became the locus of many photographs - marking, accenting, sitting in the foreground of spectacular landscapes, just as the Megaliths did.

Next I took on brambles - raspberry vines - that formed tangled barriers along the road. I was drawn to them, not yet knowing their connection to the feminine and healing properties related to reproduction.  I wove several large, loose baskets and immediately took to the cliffs below the village for a performance.  It was still quite cold so I donned my rabbit fur hat and winter coat.  The hat lent a primal element to the performance, the coat was practical - a combination I would use in future performances since I am a modern woman referencing ancient rituals.

A large rock protruded from the cliff.  As I approached I realized it was a miniature creche filled with hay for sheep that grazed this land.  This seemed a perfect place to sit and gaze meditatively at the ocean and rocky terrain. My intention as I sat was to conjure my ancestors who left during the famine and earlier in response to an oppressive occupation of the island.  I recalled their stories, passed down to me as a child.  Stories of loss.  The unresolved loss that comes from leaving all that was familiar.  Memories of arriving in a country that both welcomed and shunned them.  The next group of immigrants, they took menial jobs and were feared for their hungry spirit as they fought for footing in their new homeland.  

I placed the basket on top of my head, first upright, to capture the essence of my ancestors whose memories were forever tied to this place.  I then turned the vessel over onto my head, allowing their spirit to enter my body and mind, filling me.  I chanted intuitively, asking the land to embrace and release me simultaneously, allowing loss to flow into and through the vessel, into and through my body and back into the ground, solid below me, finally home where it could heal.  

A storm was overhead when I began.  Raindrops, like tears flowed down my face and bare hands, cleansing. By the end of the ceremony, the clouds had moved off the coast and hung darkly over the ocean.  I imagined sorrow, cleansed from my body, flowing out into the vast Atlantic, perhaps making its way back toward the Eastern Coast of the US, transformed as water is, in its constant evolution from rain, to stream, to ocean, mist, condensation, cloud and rain again.