A bit of a change for Meet the Maker this time the focus is on an exhibition. We are delighted to feature Old Haunts by Michael Wann. This exhibition is on at The Hyde Bridge Gallery Sligo until May 15th. Opening hours Tues – Sat 10am – 5pm
A back road across the Ox Mountains where the telegraph poles end, then nothing, only bog and weather; a junction in North Sligo, one road leading up to the Horseshoe Valley; ruined dwellings in a grove of trees at the foot of Benbulben; interior spaces of derelict cottages – a bicycle, a bed, a clock still ticking, a broken record player on a dusty floor. Michael Wann’s Old Haunts is preoccupied with places left behind, the remnants or traces that suggest the narratives of that place.
Over several months, Michael visited with older people in health centres across County Sligo, sharing his work and having conversations. Initially, he thought he would make work connected to their lives and the stories they told him; instead, he started to journey back to the places where they had once lived. He describes an afternoon on the bog road near Lough Easkey, searching for the house of a man who had lived there. ‘I couldn’t find his house,’ he says, ‘and I suddenly realised I was on the wrong track. That wasn’t the point.’It wasn’t about individual stories. On the road the telegraph poles just end, and that image profoundly expressed the isolation and experience of living in a remote place.The story was already embedded in the place.
The truncated telegraph lines appear in the exhibition as a series of photographic transfers on used canvases.The stains and evidence of previous marks and rubbings on the canvas are integral to the work. ‘A lot of my drawing process is about allowing error and failure,’ says Michael. ‘There is as much to do with flaw or the false-start within the mark-making as there is in depicting a representational landscape.’ Applying the transfers, errors also occur, there are blemishes and folds. We are left with ‘a weather–beaten image that tells us something, but we’re not just quite sure what it is,’he says.This process of layering, overwriting previous marks or inscriptions, is deeply connected to the approach to landscape in the work.
The landscapes and interior views of derelict buildings in this exhibition approach place as time-layered spaces. Landscape, like Michael’s canvas, is marked by changes over time, each change interacting with a surface already inscribed. His work documents material evidence of previous human activity on the land –ruins, roads, telegraph poles, decay, left objects. Superimposing these relicts on the residue of previous marks makes a powerful metaphor because these works are also about displacement. The people have left.The work documents what remains.
Age and time are again referenced in the drawings from the Horseshoe Valley on the side of Benbulben.‘I spoke to people who lived up there all their lives, and it seemed impossible to talk about their experiences.’ Several times hesat in his car at a junction where the road leads up to the Valley. ‘I was looking up and seeing a place of importance to people and a whole community.’ Back in the studio, he made a drawing of that access road,which led to other drawings and to a whole different way of thinking. ‘I just had to go up there and get my own sense of it, a way to distance myself from the lives of specific people, and find my own way to approach the work.’
That work includes drawings of the ruined dwellings of the miners who once worked in the baryte mines on Benbulben. Rendered in red chalk, also mined from the earth, the drawings reference not only time and decay but the history of drawing – the Masters used red chalk. Again, the canvases are old, with accumulated residue, documenting both the physical traces of history and its erasure.
Old Haunts connotes not only places visited in the past but the predicative sense of the word, the active experience of being haunted, that encounter with something that still resides there, that lingers or recurs in consciousness. For the past months, Michael has visited these sites so meaningful to the people he spoke to.It is in the landscape that he connected most with their narratives, as if the landscape sublimates a collective unconscious with its series of writings and over-writings.‘I couldn’t and still can’t find a way of making work about other people’s experiences,’ he says, ‘in my work, landscape acts in some way as metaphor, providing a window or portal of sorts to think about memory and time. I saw things in the landscapes that somehow moved me.’
Text by Una Mannion, writer and teacher, programme Chair of B.A. Writing and Literature, IT Sligo.
Artist Michael Wann’s exhibition has been commissioned by Sligo County Council Arts Service for the Bealtaine Festival Sligo, with funding from Sligo County Council, HSE West and the Arts Council of Ireland.