Art Walk: January 2023
- 25 January 2023
This is a tale of a pig. A tale that corkscrews and spirals over and under ground, through centuries of shifting values and beliefs, and different psychological states.
Sibyl Montague’s Claí na Péiste accumulates culturally symbolic references to the pig in Irish folkloric storytelling, everyday life and contemporary ecology. The ubiquitous and day-to-day integration of pigs and their representation sits at odds with the concentration of pork farming across the country, bringing to the surface deep and conflicted underlying societal relationships to nature.
Montague employs a range of traditional and digital animation in this film installation, with hand illustration, CGI, and puppetry. The film’s narrative focuses on inter-species relationships and human connections to animals as both product and kin. Referring to early-Irish legends that tell of journeys of growth and transformation, Montague ushers us through models of quantum entanglement, or wormholes. These references to echtrae (adventures) and immram (voyages) to otherworlds of Tír na nÓg (Land of Youth) and Magh Meall (Plain of Joy), inform the dreamlike pacing and structure of the film.
Claí na Péiste’s pig and worm characters shapeshift between timelines that chronicle their personification and experiences in a world designed to confine and control them. Together they channel dualistic perspectives of spirituality, progress, decline, cruelty, and magic in the Irish cultural landscape. Montague’s focus on decolonial approaches to iconography and linguistics re-aligns knowledge from national collections, rural and ancestral communities, archaeology and megalithic sites.
The exhibition’s title refers to the early-Irish literature of the Claí na Péiste (Worm’s Ditch) or Claí na Muice Duibhe (Black Pig’s Dyke), an ancient earthwork that spans the northern midlands of Ireland, demarcating Ulster and Connacht. The ditches take their names from Gaelic folklore with varying localised beliefs of their origin. One account describes how a giant wild boar churned up the furrow with his tusks. Another attributes the earthworks to a large oll-phéist, or serpent, in a story recorded by the Folklore Commission in Monaghan and Cavan in the 1930s. One theory proposes that the earthworks were built to prevent cattle raids over the borders of opposing clans. Remnants of the enormously extensive trench can still be found in Leitrim, Longford, Cavan, Monaghan, and Fermanagh, at times bypassing overground borders and other manmade constructs.
Montague’s exhibition occupies this subterranean site's position and organically cultivates connections like fungal mycelium and root networks. The darkened gallery reflects this environment while also echoing some of the industrial and bodily subjects in the film. A small assemblage of cast-silicone proto-enrichment toys developed by Montague is hung at pig-height as a symbol of generosity and softness in relation to the hard furnishings of the utilitarian installation. The meatily translucent window coverings reflect the internalised traumatic narrative of the film and the mechanical separation of animal parts for different forms of human consumption. The large billboard that is featured in the gallery window claims a space in a part of the city that is oversaturated with superficial branding of Irish cultural identity, using imagery that aims to elevate the pigs’ stature to the level of celebrity or historical icon.
The film-noir aesthetic borrowed for the billboard hints at the sinister undertones in Montague’s darkly-psychedelic folk tale, and introduces its characters: Muc, the doe-eyed screen-siren, whose weary depiction undermines the manipulative codings of “cute” and “sexy” that reinforce the desire for domination and control in advertising and branding. Hand-drawn and animated as an anthropomorphic and Disney-fied p.i.g (“pretty Irish girl”), she coaxes the viewer into the interior world of the film with her alluring song. Psychopump is a musclebound pig represented only by a headless torso. His name refers to the psychopompdeities in many ancient cultures that guide deceased souls to their afterlife. In Montague’s film, the viewer travels within Psychopump’s body and through an astral inner-world that reveals the fate of thousands of other pigs as nondescript livestock on a production line. Later in the film the disembodied components of several pigs are magically reanimated and regain some sense of their identity as reconstituted sausage links. The trio of Weaner, Squealer and Finisher appear at times throughout the film and reference the fairy story of the Three Little Pigs, whilst being named after the various stages of processing of pigs as livestock. Montague’s film spotlights the fall from grace of these mystically revered beasts and ultimately ends with their violent and inhumane degradation for food processing. The work creates a point of perspective on the contemporary Irish landscape that includes intensive farming, and its shaping of cultural identification through agricultural exports to global markets.
The final character of the film is the Péiste; the burrower of, and chaperone through, wormholes and points of time and place. Its movements follow the familiar patterns of lattice and knotwork in medieval manuscripts, illuminating the symbiosis with nature in the collective imagination with the complexity of their biomimicry. A stand-in for the serpent, exiled from Ireland by St. Patrick, the péiste is a pre-Christian symbol of rebirth, healing and wisdom, coming from inside of the earth and holding its secrets and wisdom. Montague has previously incorporated serpents into her sculptural work in relation to seasonal fast-fashion cycles and animal print clothing. The cyclical patterns of nature are also reflected in the soundtrack throughout the film, which incorporates hypnotic jigs and other reworkings of traditional and contemporary Irish music, sped up and slowed down, pitch-shifted, stretched, and compressed, becoming unsettled and disjointed. The soundtrack combines vinyl crackles, bit-rate glitches and animalistic breathing and grunting to consolidate the organic, analogue and digital, in an intense and transportive odyssey.
Montague’s project has grown from studying the National Folklore Collection at UCD over several years. It stems from her ongoing research that considers how objects and experiences are regarded, held, and consumed within a culture of care. Her multidisciplinary practice combines textile, digital, vegetable, and ‘poor’ material sources with the hacking and disassembly of commodity goods and media. Materials are reassembled through intimate or dissident actions and gestures. Using the lyrical form of storytelling through song, Claí na Péiste is part of an extensive body of work that draws from sources collected across Ireland that span centuries of oral knowledge around daily agrarian life, tools and material culture. It explores the cognitive dissonance around the loss of the mother tongue, creating instances of linguistic slippage, mistranslation, and bursting into song. Montague’s epic tale follows synchronicities that occur throughout the folklore collections and in the inherited acceptance and understanding of supernatural encounters and stories of the aos sí, daoine sídhe, daoine mhaithe, or faerie folk. Montague’s practice and the space-time cosmology of this exhibition have at their hearts an expression of fite fuaite - the concept of interconnectedness, belonging and the association between personhood, craft and materiality.
Sibyl Montague’s recent exhibitions include Fashion Show: Clothing Art and Activism, Glucksman Gallery, Cork (2022), The Narrow Gate of Here and Now – Social Fabric, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, (2021-22); 4Ever Chemical screening with AEMI, Project Arts Centre, Dublin (solo 2021); The Law is a White Dog, Curated by Sarah Browne, TULCA, Galway Arts Centre (2020); SELF SOOTHERS, VISUAL, Carlow (solo 2020); Saplings, Pallas Projects, Dublin (solo 2018); Practice, New Spaces Project, Derry (2018). Sibyl Montague holds a Three Year Membership Studio at TBG+S. Commissioned by Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. Kindly funded by the Arts Council Ireland Project Award (2022).
Download the exhibition text as Gaeilge, translated by Clíodhna Ní Chorráin.
A film by Sibyl Montague
Hand Drawn Animation: Keith Kavanagh
CGI Animation: Andrew Loughnane
Compositing and effects animation: Aoife Balfe and Rory Kerr
Artwork: Sibyl Montague
Co directed by Sibyl Montague and Karyn Hunt
Puppets: Sibyl Montague
Performer 01: Aoibhinn O’ Dea
Performer 02: Jack Rogers
Camera and lighting: Luke Faulkner
Camera assistant and stills: Leigh Arthur
Wardrobe: Aoife Ward
Production assistants: Aoife Ward and Jack Rogers
Editor: Rory Kerr
Sound: Sibyl Montague
Production consultant: Aoife Balfe and Leigh Arthur
Sing It Back - Moloko / Róisín Murphy
Ceoltóirí Chualann – Spailpín, A Rúin Agus An Londubh
Paddy Tunney – Rockin' The Cradle
Seán Ó Riada / Ceoltóirí Chualann - The Exile’s Jig
Joan Clancy – Dowdling
Buíochas le Clíodhna Shaffrey, Michael Hill, Jonny Dillion (National Folklore Collection), Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Rosie Lynch, NARA (National Animal Rights Association).
Commissioned by Temple Bar Gallery and Studios (TBG+S) Dublin, Ireland. Kindly funded by the Arts Council Ireland Project Award (2022).