Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Beckett & company

Beckett & Company

A Centenary Conference on Samuel Beckett and the Arts

6- 8 October 2006

Tate Modern, the London Consortium, Birkbeck and Goldsmiths, University of London, in association with LCACE, are hosting an interdisciplinary conference to celebrate the importance of Samuel Beckett's work for the arts in the twenty-first century.

One hundred years after Samuel Beckett was born, his work continues to inspire artists of all kinds. Uniquely for a writer, Beckett is as significant today for those working outside the forms of which he was such an extraordinary innovator and master - the play for theatre, radio, television or film, the novel, the prose fragment - as he is for writers, the possibilities of whose practice Beckett vitally transformed. Beckett was passionate about art and music, and their importance to him is reflected throughout his critical and creative writing. His plays were described by one director as 'choreography', and Beckett himself described the movement of his characters on stage as 'balletic'. Beckett's work has provided a lasting and provocative influence on contemporary art. International artists like Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman, Steve McQueen, and Doris Salcedo have have indicated their indebtedness to Beckett's work. Composers like Philip Glass, Morton Feldman, Mark-Anthony Turnage, filmmakers like Atom Egoyan and dancers like Maguy Marin have all worked with Beckett's writing to produce pieces of extraordinary power.

Beckett and Company, an interdisciplinary conference to mark the centenary of Beckett's birth, will situate Beckett in the company not only of writers and philosophers, where he is most often to be found, but also of visual artists, composers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, architects, and other artists. It will provide an opportunity to explore, question, celebrate and debate Beckett's continuing relevance for the arts in the twenty-first century.

We begin on Friday 6 October, with an event in the Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern, 14.00-18.00. The artists Dorothy Cross, Atom Egoyan, Michael Craig-Martin, and Shahram Entekhabi will discuss their relationship with Samuel Beckett in a series of discussions chaired by Dr Derval Tubridy of Goldsmiths, University of London. Tickets cost £8 (£6 concessions), and can be booked by calling 020 7887 8888 or online.

On Saturday 7 October and Sunday 8 October we migrate to the award-winning Ben Pimlott building at Goldsmiths, University of London, where academic papers will be interspersed with award-winning film screenings, musical performances, and artistic interventions by Balázs Kicsiny, Santiago Borja, c.cred, Michael Rainin, Jenny Triggs, Manuel Sosa, and others. Speakers include Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes (author of Joyce in Art), Séamus Kealy (curator of 18: Beckett at the Blackwood Gallery, Toronto), Catherine Laws (Dartington College of Arts) and Professor Steven Connor (Academic Director of the London Consortium). Among the contemporary contexts to be considered are minimalism, theories of theatre and the body, and those provided by such artists as Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman, Manuel Ocampo, Damien Hirst, Orlan, Stelarc, Francis Alÿs, Ugo Rondinone, John Barbour, Morton Feldman, and Woody Allen.

Tickets are available for the three-day event (including tea/coffee, lunch on Saturday, and a reception on Saturday evening): the price is £45 (£35 for studentsconcessions). If you prefer, you may also buy tickets for Saturday and Sunday only, at £37 (£29 for students/concessions).

For further details, contact beckettandco@hotmail.co.uk


Beckett & Company


Friday 6 October 2006

Starr Auditorium, Tate Modern 

13.00-14.00 REGISTRATION 

14.00-18.00 Dorothy Cross, Atom Egoyan, Michael Craig-Martin, and Shahram Entekhabi in conversation with Derval Tubridy 

Saturday 7 October 2006

Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths, University of London 

9.00-9.30 TEA/COFFEE 

9.30-9.45 Welcome and Introduction, Dr Laura Salisbury 

9.45-10.45 Panel: Beckett and Contemporary Arts 

Dr Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes (University of Ulster), 'Reciprocity: Beckett Interpreted in the Context of Contemporary Art' 

Dr David Cunningham (University of Westminster), 'Beckett as Literalist: Minimalism Across the Arts' 

10.45-11.00 TEA/COFFEE 

11.00-12.30 Parallel Panel: Bodies and Minds 1 

Dr Kathy Smith (London Metropolitan University), 'Abject Bodies: Beckett, Orlan, Stelarc and the Politics of Contemporary Performance' 

Dr Russell Smith (The Australian National University, Canberra), 'Walking… Stumbling… Falling… Lying Down: Beckettian Operations in the Work of Ugo Rondinone and John Barbour' 

Dr Nikolai Duffy (Goldsmiths, University of London), 'The Anonymous Company of Samuel Beckett' 

Parallel Panel: Bodies and Minds 2 

Ondrea E. Ackerman (Columbia University, New York), 'Beckett's "Relentless Cycle of Configurations": Nothingness and the Iterative Moment' 

Jorge Gutierrez Burgueño (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid),'Grammatical Bodies: A Reading of Physicality in the Beckettian Stage and Contemporary Plastic Aesthetics' 

Dr Daniel Watt (Loughborough University), '"We must have thought a little": Beckett's Legacy of Fragments' 

12.30-13.00 Christopher Poulson, There's a bucket in my hole (performance) 

13.00-14.00 LUNCH 

14.00-15.00 Séamus Kealy, 'Samuel Beckett and Contemporary Arts: Organizing 18:Beckett' 

15.00-15.30 c.cred, Beckett Borderwords 

15.30-16.00 TEA/COFFEE - (including Waiting for Woody Allen, (dir. Michael Rainin, 2004) (16' film) 

16.00-17.00 Panel: Music and Sound 

Dr Catherine Laws (Dartington College of Arts), 'Beckett - Feldman - Johns' 

Steven Barfield (University of Westminster), '"All the dead voices": Samuel Beckett and Bruce Nauman's Raw Materials

17.30-18.30 RECEPTION 

18.30-19.30 Manuel Sosa (The Julliard School, New York), in-Sounds (for clarinet, reader, and tape) 

Rhian Samuel, Flowing Sand (for baritone and piano) 

Sunday 8 October 2006

Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths, University of London 

9.30-9.45 TEA/COFFEE 

9.45-10.45 Balázs Kicsiny and Dr Garin Dowd (Thames Valley University), 'Time Unhinged: Experiments in Navigation and Chronometry in Samuel Beckett and Balázs Kicsiny' 

10.45-11.00 TEA/COFFEE 

11.00-12.30 Parallel Panel: Breath, Death, Film, and Failure 1 

Takeshi Kawashima (Waseda University, Toyko), 'What Does a Ghost Mean? Beckett and the Spectral Imagination' 

Lee Scrivner (London Consortium), 'Excavating Zeno's Heap: Breathing, Burial, and Beckett' 

Cristina Cano Vara (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid), '"Concomitant Relationship": the Spanish director Javier Aguirre adapts Samuel Beckett's Company for a film version entitled Voz (Voice)' 

Parallel Panel: Breath, Death, Film, and Failure 2 

Richard Cope (South Bank University), 'Is the failure to express its expression?: Manuel Ocampo and Samuel Beckett's Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit 

Dr Matt Paproth (National University of Ireland at Galway), 'The Death of the Author: The Problem with Beckett on Film' 

Sozita Goudouna (Royal Holloway, University of London), 'Theatricality and the Look of Non-Art in Beckett's Breath' 

12.30-13.00 Siobhan Tattan, Brilliant Failures (lecture/performance) 

13.00-14.00 LUNCH 

14.00-14.30 The Unnamable (dir. Jenny Triggs) (film plus discussion) 

14.30-15.30 Santiago Borja, Said and Done (film, paper, and questions) 

15.30-16.00 TEA/COFFEE 

16.00-17.00 Steven Connor and Co. (London Consortium and Birkbeck, University of London) 


For further details, contact beckettandco@hotmail.co.uk

The Unnamable (1999) Jenny Triggs


MP3 recordings of this event

Beckett and Company

Samuel Beckett, 1976
Samuel Beckett, 1976
Photo: © Jane Bown
Friday 6 October 2006, 14.00–18.00


Listen to MP3 recordings of this event
Listen to MP3 recordings of this event
Part 1 (84.9MB) Part 2(84.6MB)

Samuel Beckett was an acclaimed genius in both the literary and theatrical realms and is acknowledged as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Beckett's brutal, sometimes even blasphemous rendering of suffering, loneliness and deprivation caused shock and sensation. He was also a radical and remorseless experimenter, whose influence on contemporary visual art has often been overlooked.

Beckett's continuing impact is the subject of this discussion between artists Dorothy CrossAtom EgoyanMichael Craig-Martin and Shahram Entekhabi, chaired by Derval Tubridy from Goldsmiths College.

Part of the 2006 global Samuel Beckett Centennial celebrations and in collaboration with the London Consortium; Birkbeck, University of London; and Goldsmiths, University of London

Tate Modern  Starr Auditorium
£8 (£6 concessions), booking required

Beckett and Company is part of a three-day celebration of Beckett's work and contemporary art. Further events – academic papers, film screenings, musical performances, and artistic interventions – take place at Goldsmiths, University of London on Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 October 2006. Among those participating are Balázs Kicsiny, Santiago Borja, c.cred, Manuel Sosa, Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Séamus Kelly, Catherine Laws, and Steven Connor. For further information about these events and registration details, please visit www.beckettandcompany.co.uk, or email beckettandco@hotmail.co.uk.

Balázs Kicsiny poster photo

18:Beckett—Séamus Kealy

Bruce Nauman, Clown Torture, 1987, four-channel video installation, G00159, 
The Art Institute of Chicago

Gary Hill, Wall Piece, 2000, Single-channel video/sound installation

Dorothy Cross, Chiasm, 1999 Single-channel video of performance Courtesy of the artist & Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

Allison Hrabluik and Zin Taylor, Samuel Beckett and His 18 Eye Balls, 2007

Stan Douglas
Win, Place or Show, 1998 
Two-channel video/ four-channel soundtrack. Installation dimensions variable 
Courtesy of the artist & David Zwirner, New York


March 31 to May 27, 2007

Opening Reception: March 31, 2 – 5 p.m.
Curator’s tour:  March 31, 2 p.m.
Curated by Séamus Kealy
News release

Beckett, Contemporary Art, Film, and New Media: May 19, 2 p.m.

18:Beckett explores the legacy of the work of Irish writer Samuel Beckett as it appears in the contemporary visual arts. This exhibition concentrates on how contemporary artists have applied methods that Beckett worked with — not so much Beckett plays as “readymades” nor literal re-workings of his work per se, but revitalizations of a number of themes along with an algebraic, austere clarity associable with Beckett’s writing and productions.

Although it is misleading to identify them, these themes include: using repetition to unmask constructions of reality; expressing determination in the face of despair; generating observations on perception and philosophy; giving desires free expression; employing irrationality; rejecting the principle of knowing more as a way of creatively understanding the world and controlling it; focussing on poverty, failure, exile, and loss; applying Democritus’s credo that “nothing is more real than nothing”; and generating an elegant, stylized, often irreverent scepticism of the world at large.

Beckett’s iconoclastic, evolving aesthetic of impoverishment — however conversant he was with more grandiose questions in art, history, philosophy, or psychoanalysis — acts as a withdrawal from modernism’s promises of grandeur and happiness. It continues to provoke and splinter humanity’s idealizations, which themselves arguably trap thought delusively. With Beckettian space and “tableaux,” identifiable in his plays, teleplays, and novels — at times identifiable in this exhibition — one may find an opening beyond questions of ideology and rationality. This aesthetic is rarely beatific or redemptive, but consists of radical doubt; fractured precision; crippled bodies in muck; obsessed, vanquished minds; traumatized, sputtering voices; the shades of the real and the unreal; and most of all onwardness: the lost, forsaken, and unredeemed, within an unwinding, questioning order.

—Séamus Kealy

Artists: Martin Arnold, Dorothy Cross, Stan Douglas, Stéphane Gilot, Gary Hill, Bruce Nauman, Nikos Navridis, Michal Rovner, Gregor Schneider, Ann-Sofi Sidén, Magdalena Szczepaniak, Zin Taylor, and Allison Hrabluik.

Organized by the Blackwood Gallery at the University of Toronto at Mississauga




15 February - 17 March 2002
Former Museum of Mankind, Burlington Gardens, London W1

An obsolete machine in a forgotten room of the former Museum of Ethnography. An old man eavesdrops on a younger man: we watch through glass. Cannisters of celluloid and audio tape combine in a forest of memory. Rewind. Play. Shuffle. Delete. Random storage on shelving systems and in book-racks, exit past the technician's room. A ledger that tails off in 1974; a complete card index; foreign classics; someone's pram. And then the old man's voice, re-formatted. Atom Egoyan's Steenbeckett wasa labyrinth in miniature; a route round an archive of personal history, down empty corridors and up flights of stairs to the abandoned projection booth of a hidden cinema.

Steenbeckett was a monument to analogue. It demonstrated two increasingly obsolete technologies, film and tape, in all their cumbersome glory.

We used to record on spools. We filmed on reels. Our memories fell out of cans, unspooled on the floor, got caught in projectors.

They used to sound scratchy. They would dim with age. Now digital technology, bearing none of the signifiers of our natural mental process, is erasing the 'graven image' in the recording of experience and the function of memory. 

Steenbeckett is a monument to the thousand natural shocks that analogue was heir to.

Steenbeckett launched a sequence of ambitious new projects for 2002, marking ten years of groundbreaking Artangel commissions. Steenbeckett had the full support of the Royal Academy of Arts, which now owns 6 Burlington Gardens, and the British Museum, whose ethnography department is still based in the building.

Atom Egoyan


‘Behind every hot new working computer is a trail of bodies’, writes Steward Brand in The Clock of the Long Now (1999): ‘… extinct computers, extinct storage media, extinct applications, extinct files.’ Atom Egoyan’s Steenbeckett (2002), installed in the former Museum of Mankind in central London, addressed this issue of technological obsolescence, taking Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) as its starting point and muse. In Steenbeckett, Egoyan’s own film of Beckett’s play was employed as one of several linked elements which he framed and reframed in a complicated meditation on the nature of memory, technology and the preservation of the past. 
Steenbeckett took its title from a combination of the playwright’s name with that of the Steenbeck editing table, a much-respected machine employed, before the advent of digital technology, in the preparation of processed film. Beckett’s play, which Egoyan has manipulated using this device, concerns the musings and confusions of an old man, Krapp, as he listens to reel-to-reel tape recordings of himself speaking, 30 years earlier, about a highly emotional moment in his life. Sitting at a table stacked with tapes, Krapp scans mental and aural images of his past in an attempt to muster the energy to make, in the present moment, one more tape. Memory and recording do not, however, entirely coincide; the unreliable nature of human memory is thus emphasized, but the frailty of the recording medium - its thin and insubstantial form - is also brought to the fore. Loading the tape is an act lovingly carried out, existentially connected to the brute physicality of the recorded voice and the actions and persona it describes.

Once inside the defunct museum, visitors are directed through a door labelled ‘Film theatre’. They pass into darkness, before emerging among piles of chaotically stacked canisters, photocopied instructions for threading film, tables and shelves supporting broken tools, and a number of apparently discarded editing and recording machines. Small rubber balls, discreetly placed, recall the ball in the play, a trivial gift for a long dead dog: ‘In the end I held it out to him and he took it in his mouth, gently, gently. A small, old, black, hard, solid rubber ball.’ The empirical nature of this object, its mundane but persistent state, acts as the anchor or literal trace of a reality remaining only as memory. In the second space Egoyan’s now digitized film fills an entire wall, one side of a narrow corridor through which we may either hurry or pause. Although benches are provided, it is difficult to sit and focus on the screen, and to read the huge images with which it is filled, as the viewer is forced up close against the flickering pixels. A sharp contrast is provided by the third and final section of the piece. In this much larger room Krapp’s Last Tape is again the implicit centre of attention, though this time its tragicomic plot is being spun out on a Steenbeck editor, its screen a small glowing rectangle at the far end of the set. Marking the distance between viewer and machine was a series of runners and pulleys through which the 2000 feet of film were threaded relentlessly into the Steenbeck.

Exposed as it is to the air and dust of the musty museum, the sensitive film sustains ever-increasing surface alterations, which will in time result in a deeply distressed, potentially illegible print. Next door the digital image will, in contrast, continue on its course, immune to the vagaries of temperature and dirt, a pristine but doubly distanced encoding of Beckett’s earthy, recursive script.

These variously stacked, cleverly contrasted versions of Beckett’s text, out-of-date or up-to-the-minute containers of cryptic prose, raise, in their emphatic alignment, many questions: on the nature of memory and its mechanical reproduction, on trace and reference, on the allegedly authentic voice and its historical transmission, and also, inevitably, on the problem of the staging of Steenbeckett itself. Egoyan is intrigued and deeply affected by the hands-on attributes of the fingered reel, the vivid physicality of celluloid and metal. One feels he loves this technology even as he realizes it has entered its decline. But the project, expensively entertained by Artangel, is somehow overloaded, too spectacular, too intense. If this is a meditation on how less can equal more, concision, I feel, should be the order of the day.

Peter Suchin

Dorothy Cross and the Chiasm

CIRCA 112 Article


Dorothy Cross: Virgin shroud , 1993, cow hide, satin train, steel structure; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

Four exhibitions of the work of Dorothy Cross in the spring and summer of 2005 provide the opportunity for an overview of the diverse career of this prominent international artist. A retrospective at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, a survey of site-specific projects at McMullen Museum in Boston, a show of new work entitled L'Air at Frith Street Gallery in London, and Cross's collaboration with Fiona Shaw on monte notte for the Cork 2005 culture festival - all illustrate the strength of her past work and her ongoing creative process.1

The dynamic evolution of her career over the past twenty years makes it difficult to categorize an artist like Cross. Simon Morley has described her as an "artist of the 'optical unconscious'"2 who explores the blindspots that distort human perception. She has also been recognized as an artist of the "trace," who creates beauty out of memory and absence.3 One might ultimately characterize Cross as an "artist of dispossession," because although the Dublin and Boston exhibitions serve a valuable archival function, Cross herself is more committed to dissemination than to preservation.

In her dedication to an artistic practice that is transformative, that "confirms uncertainty,"4 Cross has turned her attention to what is destabilizing in our common psychic experience - of repression, desire, and loss - and to what is disorienting in our encounters with the complexities of nature. Further exploration of these themes will reveal both their constancy and the richness of their variation in Cross's work.

Dorothy Cross: Amazon , 1992, cowhide and tailor’s dummy; collection of Avril Giaccobi; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

Cross first began to explore the return of the repressed in relation to gender and sexual identity, most notably in a series that came to be known as her 'udder' works. During the 1990s, Cross covered a variety of familiar objects with cowhide, udder and teats intact. Using sexual ambiguity as a deconstructive tool, she cleared a path within each gender stereotype for the return of the repressed other / udder.

In Virgin shroud (1993), for example, she draped a tall form in a cowskin, with four teats crowning the figure's covered 'head', and the artist's grandmother's silk wedding train extending onto the floor from beneath the hide. The refined wedding gown that seals the fate of the virgin bride is dominated here by the return of an animal body traditionally denied by that white silk purity. The feminine ideal represented by figures such as the Virgin Mary is superseded in Virgin shroud by the horns of the virgin goddess that restore to the figure a more aggressive and powerful aspect. In Amazon (1992), a dressmaker's mannequin, another emblem of female domesticity, is metamorphosed into a warrior bearing on her chest a huge udder with a single erect teat. What emerges in these works is an image of primitive female fecundity, aggressive sexuality, and power.

It is important to note, however, that Cross used the transformative power of the udder to perform the same liberating, subversive work on stereotypes of masculinity: the workman's boots (Spurs), the gymnastic 'horse' (Vaulting horse), the dart board (Bull's eye), Rugby ball, and even Pap, a Guinness bottle fitted with a teat - all these accoutrements of masculinity are returned to a dependence on the nipple. Cross insinuates into each gendered image the potential otherness of the udder - which becomes phallic on the dressmaker's dummy, maternal on the Guinness bottle. It is not Cross's intention simply to reverse these stereotypes but to dismantle and confuse sexual dualism itself.

Dorothy Cross: Spurs , 1993, cow teats , string, boots; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

In her site-specific work, Cross often shifts her attention from individual psychology to collective memories buried in public sites. For the Edge Biennial (1992), held simultaneously in London and Madrid, Cross sought out in each city an architectural site where the culture's repressed fantasies lay buried. Pairing a nun's residence in Madrid and an abandoned men's public urinal in London, Cross brought together church and state, private and public, spiritual and corporeal, female and male. As she bridged the geographical and ideological distance separating these sites, the artist also discovered a breach deep within each one, where everything designated as 'other' had made its secret habitation.

La primera cena (1992), or The first supper, installed in a twelfth-century convent in Madrid, consisted of a table draped with cowskin, udders uppermost, and twelve silvered glass chalices arranged in a circle on the floor below, each with a small hole for sucking its contents. This humorous play on the Last Supper set the stage for the viewer's encounter with a pre-Christian fantasy of maternal sacrifice. In this melancholy crypt something cherished, but long lost, quietly came to light.

For the London installation, entitled Attendant (1992), viewers entered a male preserve where rigid definitions of masculinity and national identity were exposed. Signs at the entrance directed visitors not to "Gentlemen" or "Ladies" but to "English" or "Irish." Both choices led to the same lower region where Cross had installed a pair of bronze urinals in the shape of England and Ireland, each country's central bowl draining out through a penis-shaped pipe. Contrary to above-ground hostilities, the penises inclined toward each other and aimed at the same hole in the floor. In these and related works by Cross, the ideologies of church and nation are laid bare, revealing at their secret core the very elements they were constructed to exclude.

Dorothy Cross: Bull’s eye , 1992, dartboard, cow’s teat, 26 darts, 46 x 8.5 cm; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

The repressed always returns - not just in the form of buried histories but in resurgent desires as well. Cross often turns to nature for images that evoke the dynamic energy of the sexual drives, the vulnerability of love, and the impossible desire to immerse oneself in the other. The sculpture Passion bed (1991), for example, is a fragile and inaccessibly high woven wire construction within which glasses that have been sandblasted through with images of man-eating sharks are precariously arrayed - dysfunctional objects that remind us of the dangers of desire. These deadly sharks also appear in the site-specific installation Slippery slope (1990), where steel shark silhouettes were suspended by chains down the side of a spillway, straining to reach the river below. Here the sharks figure vulnerability and frustration more than danger. Attached to their source in a sewage outlet at the top of the two-hundred-foot gorge, the sharks will never reach their desire, and their bodies are gradually eroded by the contaminants that are endangering the natural terrain.

Dorothy Cross: Attendant, 1992, cast bronze, underground toilet, 46 x 25 x 20 cm; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

The impossibility of desire is given its most complex elaboration in a site-specific work entitled Chiasm (1999). This multi-media piece was performed in Galway, in a pair of abandoned open-air handball alleys onto which Cross projected mirror images of a limestone tidal pool, the Worm's Hole, filmed on the Aran Islands. This image of nature in embrace, water penetrating stone and stone containing water, suggests the potential transformative interaction of beings in desire, yet its power is constrained here within the man-made structure of the handball courts.

Dorothy Cross: Rugby ball, 1994, mixed media, 30 x 18 cm; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

On this transformed stage, a tenor and a soprano sang fragments from ten tragic romantic operas. The shifting juxtapositions of the collage text, the random blocking of the singers' movements, the open seating that offered viewers different points of view - all of these effects highlighted the role of misunderstanding and accident in the vicissitudes of love.

Dorothy Cross: Passion bed , 1993, steel wire, sandblasted wine glasses, 254 x 53 x 170 cm; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

When the voices of man and woman come together across different plots and languages, love seems to triumph. Yet the singers remain on opposite sides of the dividing wall, blind to each other despite the fact that they stand within the same projected landscape. Chiasm dramatizes the limitations of our ability to know and be known by the other. The natural cycle of the ebb and flow of water in the tidal pool is repeated in the inevitable alternations of love and loss.

Dorothy Cross: Chiasm , 1999, performance in handball alley; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

Cross's video Come into the garden Maude (2001) also brings together nature and the limitations of desire. This work draws on the documented and imagined life of Maude Delap, a late-nineteenth-century self-taught scientist who succeeded in breeding jellyfish in bell jars in her father's house. The story of her experimental and scholarly achievements, against all odds, is interwoven with fragments of the story of her unrequited love for an English zoologist to whom she sent wild violets on his birthday every year until his death. This chiasmic intertwining of science and passion, of knowledge and its limits, is also central to the related video Medusae(2003). Made in collaboration with her zoologist brother, this project documents the scientific illumination of the fascinating mechanics of how jellyfish swim, but never eradicates the persistent mystery of this almost bodiless creature. Desire and the desire for knowledge both encounter their limits.

Dorothy Cross: Medusae, 2003, DVD; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

That sense of limitation invariably brings desire face-to-face with absence and loss in Cross's work. Influenced early on by Beckett's unflinching view of the death we inherit at birth, Cross created a composite image of an X-ray of an adult human skull overlaid with an x-ray of a fetus curled up within the womb-like brain cavity. Death lurks in our brains and in the most banal activities of daily life - a shark fin cutting across the surface of a bathtub, a scene of imminent shipwreck projected into a fine china teacup.5

Dorothy Cross: Teacup, 1997, DVD; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

In her sited works, Cross turns from the individual's intimacy with death to explore the broader cultural means by which we try to evade its inevitability. In the Texas installation CRY (1996), Cross explored different attitudes toward death: a large freezer filled with frozen snakes alludes to a belief in the science and technology ofCRYonics, and a nineteenth-century Irish apocalyptic painting, Francis Danby'sThe Opening of the Sixth Seal, printed onto sheer fabric and kept in motion by a pair of oscillating fans, depicts an immersion in narratives of salvation and damnation. All scientific and religious efforts to preserve life against mortality collapse, ultimately, into the six-foot vertical tomb dug by the artist into the gallery floor, concretizing what she describes as the "rot and reality" of death.

In what is probably Cross's best known work, Ghost ship (1999), the beauty of loss is stunningly realized. This project involved coating with phosphorescent paint a decommissioned lightship discovered by the artist in a Dublin dockyard. The ship was set afloat in Dublin Bay where every evening for three weeks it was alternately illuminated and left to glow and fade. Cross's goal was not to recreate the ship's outmoded function, but rather to illuminate its disappearance. Ghost ship offered viewers the gift of time slowed down for the contemplation of loss - an ongoing process with its own poignant beauty.

Dorothy Cross: Ghost ship , 1999, decommissioned lightship, paint, Dún Laoghaire harbour ; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

In her study of melancholia and art, Julia Kristeva proposes that "beauty emerges as the admirable face of loss, transforming it in order to make it live."6 This seems a fitting description of much of Cross's work, including her staging of Pergolesi'sStabat Mater in a cave on Valentia Island (August 2004) - an unforgettable spectacle in which mourning was transformed through art so that passion might be retrieved and shared.

Cross's video Jellyfish lake (2003) creates a very different representation of shared passion: a naked woman floats in turquoise waters of Palau with hundreds of jellyfish, her undulating hair in harmony with their pulsating bodies in an erotic underwater ballet. And most recently, in Antarctica (2005), a video premiered at the artist's Frith Street exhibition, several anonymous figures submerged in Antarctic waters dive amongst the icebergs. These images are projected in negative, a fantasy world of black ice illuminated from below and haunted by spectral divers in white.

Dorothy Cross: Untitled, 1995, black-and-white photograph, 81 x 61 cm; courtesy Kerlin Gallery

In the context of the religious austerity of CRY, the tropical paradise of Jellyfish lake, or Antarctica's world of icy darkness, passion demands the same self-annihilation of the desiring subject. But that sacrifice is repaid, in Cross's work, by the promise of a temporary immersion in the fragile and awesome beauty of nature.

In her explorations of repression, desire, death, and nature, Cross's aesthetic practice of transformation and transmission remains enigmatic. Somehow her art makes the return of the repressed productive rather than merely repetitious, keeps faith with desire even in the face of desire's impossibility, and renders the wounds of loss bearable and communicable to others. No matter how conceptual her work becomes, Dorothy Cross never loses sight of the materiality of history, the complexities of nature, and the 'bursting into beauty' that can occur in the most unexpected places.

Robin Lydenberg is Professor of English at Boston College; she is the author ofGONE: Site-specific Works by Dorothy Cross (Boston: McMullen Museum and University of Chicago Press, 2005).

1 The Dublin and Boston exhibitions have each produced a substantial catalogue, richly illustrated and with extended critical commentary: Dorothy Cross (Milan: Irish Museum of Modern Art and Charta, 2005), including essays by Enrique Juncosa, Patrick Murphy, Ralph Rugoff, and Marina Warner; and GONE: Site-specific Works by Dorothy Cross, by Robin Lydenberg (Boston: McMullen Museum of Art and University of Chicago Press, 2005). Other catalogues with important critical essays on Cross's work include: Dorothy Cross: Ebb, edited by Patrick T. Murphy and Tom Weir (Dublin: Douglas Hyde Gallery, 1988); Dorothy Cross: Power House, edited by Melissa Feldman (Philadelphia: Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Philadelphia, 1991); and even; recent work by Dorothy Cross, edited by Tessa Jackson and Josephine Lanyon (Bristol: Arnolfini, 1996).

2 See Simon Morley, Irish art internationalArt MonthlyUNo. 196 (May 1996), pp. 13 - 16. Morley borrows this concept from Rosalind Krauss's The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993).

3 See TRACE: 1st Liverpool Biennial of International Contemporary Art, curated by Anthony Bond (Liverpool: Liverpool Biennial of International Contemporary Art and Tate Gallery, Liverpool, 1999).

4 Cross quoted in Libby Anson, Cross talk, Art Monthly( No. 203 (February 1997), pp. 20 - 21

5 The x-ray composite (Untitled) was part of a solo exhibition entitled Inheritance (1995); the shark in the tub isBath (1988), and the video work is Teacup (1999).

6 See Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).

Article reproduced from CIRCA 112, Summer 2005, pp. 24 - 33