with a history that was not delineated in any meaningful way. Nobody knows where or when they were born in Ireland, they survived the potato famine and later appeared as virtuoso artisans in Oxford in the late 1850s, where John Ruskin befriended them. They carved monkeys on the façade of the Oxford Museum, just as Darwin’s theories of human evolution were gaining momentum. When the University tried to censor these carvings, James O’Shea changed the monkeys into a grouping of fierce cats, referring to an old Irish myth about the Kingcat of Keshcorran, who guarded the entranceway into hell. They effectively labelled the creation of museological culture inside as a hellhole – it’s institutional critique on an epic scale, a hundred years before the term even existed.
Later, the O’Sheas ended up in more fights and covertly made more illicit carvings. You can still see all these features when walking down the street in Oxford today, yet they are frequently ignored and certainly not part of a wider discourse on individual agency, the public realm, and the accumulation of knowledge. The thing for me is to draw these themes out and not become an expert in the material, but shunt it along and pull it into contexts where it can add to the weight of the world and push towards more liberal understandings.” Inevitably we return to Flann O’Brien and an on-going project. “On Carauntoohil, the highest mountain in Ireland and the closest place to heaven, a crucifix was erected in the 1950s to signify
Ireland’s great relationship with God. In 1983 some folk superseded the cross by dragging a bicycle up to the top of the mountain and erected it there as an unofficial monument to Flann’s The Third Policeman, another of his books that features pushbikes prominently. I’ve been investigating this incident and try to meet as many people as I could that were involved in the erection of this monument, assembling a projected slide show and gallery presentation around it that changes as more information is uncovered. The desire is to find the bicycle that has fallen down the mountain, somewhere near the summit, left in a rocky crevasse. The symbolism here is important for me – imagine replacing the hierarchy of the ‘word made flesh’ from the top of the mountain with Flann
Venice Biennale interviews: herman de vries, Katerina Gregos, Song Dong, Sean Lynch. As well as conversations with Laura Ford, Sammy Baloji,...