DDF News — 18 Apr 2019

Liz Roche on I / THOU and iconic visual artist, Brian O'Doherty

Liz Roche on I / THOU and iconic visual artist, Brian O'Doherty

Inspired by the work of iconic visual artist Brian O'Doherty, Liz Roche shares more about her work I /Thou which will be presented at the Samuel Beckett Theatre as part of Dublin Dance Festival's 15th Edition.

Sirius Arts Centre sits on the water in the harbour town of Cobh in Cork, a small gallery with big light. In the middle gallery space, three large windows open out onto an Italianate veranda, which opens out onto the sea. There is quiet here and it feels a little bit like the end of the world. Built in the 1850s as a yacht club, the building now hosts artist residencies and a programme of exhibitions and events. There’s mystery about Sirius, like it houses secrets - the clarity of the light is misleading.

Beneath layers of paint and liner paper on the walls of the gallery, are murals by the Irish critic and artist Brian O’Doherty, created in the 90s while O’Doherty was resident at Sirius himself. Last year, these murals (One, Here, Now) were uncovered and restored to be displayed to the public, alongside a programme of talks and performances, a year of responses to O’Doherty’s work by artists from different disciplines. The interdisciplinary nature of the programme makes sense in the context of O’Doherty’s long career, which saw him constantly engaging with questions around the nature and responsibilities of art, and of art audiences, and definitions of form.

Liz Roche was one of the artists commissioned to respond to the murals, along with a number of visual artists and musicians. Roche had been interested in O’Doherty’s work since 2016, when Christina Kennedy at IMMA drew her attention to it – this was after Kennedy saw Roche’s Bastard Amber, a commission for the Abbey main stage that drew on the work of artist Patrick Scott. Roche began researching O’Doherty’s work, striking up an email correspondence with him and, after the commission, visiting his home in New York, where O’Doherty, now in his 90s, has lived for much of his life.

I-THOU-Liz Roche Company-2

© Clare Keogh

“He’s [O’Doherty’s] quite enigmatic, and would have worked under different pseudonyms, and there’s this idea of a fluid identity throughout his work. And I think that can be found in I/Thou - a sort of fluidity, a lack of grasping for identity and categorisation or classification, but just looking at the idea of a fluid body.”

O’Doherty has had a number of pseudonyms throughout his life, most famously Patrick Ireland, which he adopted after the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, continuing to make work under this name until the persona was ‘buried’ at IMMA in 2008. As part of the commission, Roche was in residence at Sirius, where she created a gallery-specific work in response to the murals, called Pilgrimage. I/Thou came from the same creative ground, but was designed to be presented in a theatre space, premiering at Cork Opera House last year.

“’I/Thou’ is one of Brian O’Doherty’s paintings, the yellow paintings. And I was also influenced by this Martin Buber text, written in the 20s, that talks about the relationship between the ‘I’ and the ‘Thou’. Buber was a philosopher and in the text he talks about the difference between the ‘I’ and the ‘it’, the it being the objective viewpoint, experiencing the world from outside yourself, and then the I/Thou is a melting into presence. I suppose there’s something of that that’s really strong in the work, because with Brian, I always imagined the I/Thou was him talking about his relationship with the audience and trying to create a specific, tailored relationship with each audience member, depending on where they were in relation to the art. Which isn’t so easy to do in dance, but we tried, and we looked at this idea of how to communicate. And there’s always this question in dance - do you make a piece about trying to communicate, or do you just try to communicate in a particular way? So I think I/Thou is one of those pieces that tries to be something. The dancers are in a particular state, they’re not with the audience telling them about a state, they’re just in it.”

I-THOU-Liz Roche Company-1

© Clare Keogh

O’Doherty was a central figure in the richly experimental New York art scene of the 60s, a period when dancers, musicians and visual artists were collaborating and upending artistic convention. He was the editor of issue 5+6 of the experimental journal Aspen, which contained work by some of the most recognisable names in postmodernism, including playwright Samuel Beckett, artist Marcel Duchamp, writer Susan Sontag and musician John Cage. It was Cage’s work that inspired the experimentation of Merce Cunningham in the context of the Judson Church group. Aspen 5+6 also included Roland Barthes’ groundbreaking essay ‘The Death of the Author’, commissioned by O’Doherty, which re-imagined the audience’s role in creating meaning in an artwork. For Roche, this historical context to O’Doherty’s work was richly influential on her own.

“When they opened the murals in Sirius, we went down and there were lots of talks on, which placed his work in that 1960s postmodernist context. As a dancer, it’s nice to be able to sit in those times, that period of the Judson Church. We’re always under so much pressure to spring up away from that, but working on Pilgrimage and I/Thou afforded a time to sit in those texts of Cunningham - the absolute truths, and the things I still believe, and loads of people still believe, that sense of connecting back with history and a lineage that we’re all connected into.”

Words: Rachel Donnelly. Rachel is an arts writer, and co-founder and editor of DRAFF. See here for more on DRAFF’s Cube Takeover during the festival.

I/Thou runs at the Samuel Beckett Theatre on Wednesday 8, Thursday 9 and Friday 10 May at 7.30pm. Tickets available here.