‘Through the Looking-glass’ – a response to the exhibition ‘Half Way To Falling’ by the Just City Collective led by Kate O’Shea. Text by Sarah Long

Through the Looking-Glass

Faces pressed up against the glass, my friends and I breathed our desire out onto the window. My nose was smooshed, hard against the cold pane, in an effort to absorb all the colour and life in the room. Looking through the glass, the exhibition Half Way To Falling, appeared as a wonderland. I was reminded of the studio of Francis Bacon. There seemed to still be a chaotic presence; a life force beating within the walls. It was as if the artist, Kate O’ Shea, had just stepped out and would be back soon to continue her furious activity.

Household items, kitchenware and a bed, hallmarks of domestic life, were engulfed in the chaos of contemplation and communication. The walls were plastered in prints that cited all sorts of conversations, ponderings and quotations. Even the pillow covers swaddled the ideas of Ursula K. Le Guin’s utopian, science fiction The Dispossessed. Handwriting, at times crabbed and confused, wallpapered the room alongside the perfected, preaching, printed word. The space was emblematic of our reduction – life and all its frenzy sitting within four walls. A year of rolling lockdowns had led to the cocooning of the thinking mind.

My friends and I chatted excitedly about what galleries we would first visit once the Public Health restrictions were eased, but there was almost a tone of make-believe fancy to our conversation. Half Way To Falling, we were frozen in this period of non-movement, of time standing still. In fact, it felt more like we had been swallowed up by Time, been swallowed up by an Age. A grand scale narrative that swept away the tick tick of our tiny clocks. We wouldn’t hit the ground there was no time, no; Time was treating us with complete indifference. Like Alice through the Looking-glass, running and moving just allowed us to stay stationary.

Weeks later I returned, the glass wasn’t as cold and the weather was warmer now. ‘It will be open next week to the public’ I said triumphantly. ‘Will it look different then?’ my boyfriend wondered. A little worry began to creep across my window-pressed-face. ‘Will all those post-it notes still be on the floor?’ I don’t know, maybe it would look different.‘Will you be allowed to walk on the prints?’ These were questions I didn’t have the answers for. Would things be different when we re-opened? Would what was created and reflected upon in this domestic space have somewhere to go? Would everything be back to front through the looking glass?

The exhibition was open to the public for three days. Life was once again begging to be lived and so I arrived at the Pavillion on the final day by myself; in its dying hours. Unsure what shell of the exhibition I would experience, I stepped inside the open door. The sounds of footsteps greeted me. A man was walking through the space, making a path through the post-it notes that still littered along the floor. The room contained more life now than ever.

For the first time, I was able to look up to the ceiling and see the rolls of film draping down like curtains; a space for dreaming. ‘Time is an onslaught’ read a giant printed text displayed above an armchair.

Time keeps marching on.

Half Way To Falling is a collaborative and collective response to Common Ground’s The Just City – Counter Narrative Neighbourhood Residency Award 2020 – 2021. This exhibition presents a series of collaborative printworks, sculptural work, a film piece and responses by The Just City Collective.

Common Ground awarded Kate O’ Shea the Just City – Counter Narrative Neighbourhood Residency Award in March 2020, when Ireland entered its first period of lockdown. In April 2020, Kate O’ Shea established an online reading group of international activists, community workers, artists and academics from eight cities around the world. This has evolved into The Just City Collective.

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