Dorothy Cross

Often working in series, Dorothy Cross has amassed a body of work since the late ’80s that ranges across a variety of media including sculpture, video, photography, installation, and musical performance. She has gradually shifted focus from a acaustic examination of gender constructions (sometimes within the specific cultural context of late-twentieth-century, post-Catholic southern Ireland) to a broader exploration of the passion and poetry within human nature, especially as released by our interaction with the rest of the natural world. This retrospective included signal sculptures from two extended groups of works from the mid-’90s that used cured cowhide and stuffed snakes, respectively. The “Udder” series, 1990–94, is an extended exercise in “self-othering” (the pun is, of course, intended), frequently involving the incorporation and transformation of objects rich in sentimental value that were inherited or gathered from close family members. These works include Amazon, 1992, a hide-covered dressmaker’s dummy sporting one outsize breast; Spurs, 1993, a beat-up pair of men’s work boots sprouting nipples from their heels; and Pap, 1993, an ancient Guinness bottle with a tied-on nipple for a top. These works draw much of their darkly humorous power from their ambiguous echoes of human sexual organs. Like the stuffed-snake works, however, they also draw on a particular animal’s accumulated wealth of symbolic associations across many cultures. Some oddly ethereal “drawings” on pillowcases and sheets turn out to be imprints of slowly dehydrating bodies of jellyfish.

To fit this generous selection of over forty individual works, including quite a few projections, into IMMA’s relatively narrow corridors and modestly scaled rooms required considerable ingenuity as well as the construction of a number of temporary walls and rooms. In this it recalled the 2002 midcareer retrospective of Cross’s friend and contemporary Willie Doherty at this same venue. Crucially, the selection did equal justice to the gallery-based sculptures and videos and to the large-scale, temporary, site-specific projects that have become a more and more important part of Cross’s work. (The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College recently devoted an entire exhibition to these fugitive events, which have often taken place in isolated venues.) One room housed film footage from Ghostship, a decommissioned lightship treated with phosphorescent paint that haunted Scotsman’s Bay near Dublin for three weeks in 1999, and Stabat Mater, 2004, a performance of Pergolesi’s impassioned eighteenth-century composition in a deserted grotto—part industrial quarry, part religious shrine—on the remote island of Valentia, off the southwest coast of Ireland. Also featured was footage from the most ambitious and accomplished of these projects, Chiasm, 1999, for which Cross stitched together selections from ten Romantic operas, sung in French, German, Italian, Russian, and English. The resulting hybridized duet, an intense aural patchwork of heartrending love and loss, was sung by a tenor and soprano in two disused outdoor handball alleys divided by a wall that blocked each singer from the other’s view. This sense of dramatic disorientation was heightened further by flooding the floor of each alley with projected images of the roiling waters of a sea pool known as Poll na bPéist, The Worm’s Hole, which lies at the foot of the cliffs of Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands.

Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith