Abigail O‘Brien »The Rag Tree Series«

Abigail O'Brien (* Dublin, 1957) exhibited at the Haus der Kunst in Munich in 2002, in the group exhibition, Stories - Erzählstrukturen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst. Early in 2004 (Jan.20 - Apr.12), the same location will present her first solo showing in a museum, comprising the newly completed cycle of work, The Seven Sacraments. Now, Galerie Bugdahn und Kaimer follows Kitchen Pieces - Confession and Communion, shown in 1998, and Extreme Unction - From the Ophelia Room (2000) with The Rag Tree Series as our third solo showing of this artist's work.

The pieces from the Rag Tree Series, each in an edition of three and completed this year, are Lambdachromes mounted on aluminium under acrylic glass, each 120 x 80 cm or 100 x 100 cm.

The 'Rag Tree' is the materialisation of the pre-Christian rite still practised in Ireland, in which a piece of rag is tied into the branches of a hawthorn. The stripe of cloth, which remains in the tree till it rots away, is the vessel of a secret wish. In its basic traits this custom can be found in manifold variants around the world and through history as far as classical Antiquity. The chief element is a sacred tree as a symbol of fertility and magical energy and a piece of cloth sacrificed to it as an 'offering', whether to dispel sickness or as a token of beseeching or gratitude.

O'Brien's colour photographs of the tree bedecked with rags of various colours and kinds of cloth (lace, cotton, linen, terry, etc.), never show the entire organism, nor can it be completed in the mind. What the details and perspectives chosen do thus speak of is the artist's superimposing of the cultural record with her artistic pictorial invention. Although different phases of the natural cycle emerge impressively motif by motif and become reflected in the temperature of light and colour (bushes in bud, just before the blossoms open, in full foliage or again, bare branches), bush and cloths synthesise before the viewer's eyes into a new entity or sculpture. The tatters of cloth take on a stone-like tactile quality transfused by a moss-green sheen that turns them into timeless players. The images' homogeneous grey-green is contrasted again and again in the glowing colour patches of red and blue rag. Some works stress the vertical direction of the hanging cloths; others are dynamic with part-unfocussed areas and an almost abstract overall effect (Red Ribbon, Knot, Threads, Untitled #1); and others again, so very packed that a kind of graphic tissue overlays the physical object and displays surface and depth qualities in confusing alternation (Untitled #2). Untitled #4 and Vestige are poetical portraits of nature, whereas Rag and Stone is like a composition in painting.

The Rag Tree Series fits consistently in Abigail O'Brien's major theme, the structure and function of the sacred and profane, private and public rituals in our lives. While, in her central cycle of work, The Seven Sacraments, the Christian Sacraments play an important part, the Rag Tree custom is of non-Christian origin and so marks a counterpoint. Though ritual, rather than representing officially recognised knowledge of power or dominion, of a prescribed ceremony of precise procedure, it subsists more as a covert act fluctuating underground and transmitted orally. In O'Brien's powerful and masterly artistic statement that subtext is given a voice.

The tying of rags in hawthorns lends expression to the individual's need to influence and shape one's future. Hope and desire are thus articulated as necessary salients of our existence. At the same time the photographic pieces gather many individual, different moments of time (in which the cloths are hung) into the one phenomenological present of a fabric of twigs and leaves, threads, folds and spiders' webs. The different stages of weathering (Vestige) that enter the picture are witness to how the objects of our civilisation are incorporated in the vegetative process and past and transience become tangible.

The gallery is open Tu.- Fri. 10 am - 1 pm and 2 pm - 6 pm, Sat. 12 noon - 6 pm and by appointment. 


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