A response

Below is a short text that I wrote recently in response to the work of painter Kathy Tynan. Her exhibition The Sky is all Changed, opens tonight at Hendrons Collider on Dominic Street Upper. It will be well worth adding it to the itinerary on this particularly exhaustive night of art openings in Dublin.


It was a typical lunchtime in the year of my junior cert, I think. Just the usual hour passed idling in our classroom, which was in fact but one section of a larger room bisected, thriftily, to create two rooms from one. At certain times, we could hear the noise from the adjoining class come seeping under the thick plastic partition, which was plied open up from a central point for exams and the like. This lunchtime, as always, groups of girls huddled in clusters around small desks that cluttered the room, with a rustle of crisp packets and gossip. I sat in one of these groups. For us, conversation hinged on an affected ambivalence towards everyone else in the room: thus, music, alongside a smattering of noncommittal bitching about teachers and other girls, who had the ignominy to be oblivious of the Pixies. Negotiating the line between ‘studious’ and ‘studious yet nonchalant’ was a fine line indeed, and it demanded our constant and deliberate assertion.

I can only guess this posturing to be key as to why, at a certain point, we came to talk of bombs. I’ll speculate that we arrived at bombs via politics, or a particularly memorable history class: the ‘how’ is essentially insignificant. One of my friends let the word slip in conversation, naturally and with utter ease: bomb. I will always remember it. I saw her lips move, could hear her say the word and make out its shape, and yet: nothing. I simply could not recognise the word; in that moment it was shockingly foreign. I asked her: “what’s a bomb?” She looked at me with a definite bewildered amusement; “yeah you know, a bomb? A bomb!!!’” Cautiously, I repeated the word over and over in the attempt to glean some shred of sense: nothing. My friend generously even mimed its action, with some wild gesturing and sound effects. The others joined in too, confident, I’m certain, that I was playing an inexplicably un-funny prank. But still I was at a loss: the word had merely ceased to mean anything at all.


After what seemed an eternity of grasping, its meaning of course came back. There were no triggers, no rationale behind it. I did not, for example, have any traumatic experience regarding the word, which spontaneously asserted itself, there in that lunchtime classroom. Rather, meaning – for whatever reason – simply broke down. In structuralist parlance, I can say now that the yoke of signifier and signified had, in that instant, become utterly eroded. The word held the uncanny ring of bare signifier: a brute senseless lump meaning nothing.

Rendered strange, the word at the same time became instantly more interesting. In its blankness, there was potential and a kind of vertiginous thrill. By appearing anew and in the absence of a past, the word – like the object and like the place – might be rethought as a site of latent inspiration, and of action. Things, places and even people can emerge, ‘bomb’-like, as it were, and ripe.


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