Part of a se­ries, this large-scale wood­block print by Alice Ma­her, ‘Vox Hybrida I’ con­tin­ues her ex­plo­ration of fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence and agency

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THETAKE CRITICS’ CHOICE - AIDANDUNNE


Vox Hybrida I is a large-scale wood­block print by Alice Ma­her, one of a se­ries made in 2018.


The process be­gan with pho­to­graphs of the artist in move­ment, var­i­ously con­torted and ex­tended, taken by her part­ner, Der­mot Sey­mour. She made draw­ings from se­lected im­ages ren­dered in sil­hou­ette, so that the hu­man form is ab­stracted into an am­bigu­ous, flat­tened, dy­namic out­line shape. These shapes formed pat­terns cut out of sheets of rough, low-qual­ity ply­wood and printed by Par­al­lel Edi­tions in Lim­er­ick. They were then hand-tinted with wa­ter­colour. The nat­u­ral or­ganic pat­tern­ing of the ply­wood sur­faces, with whorls, grain and knots, strongly evokes with­out ac­tu­ally de­pict­ing as­pects of the hu­man body.


Vox Hybrida is part of Ma­her’s ex­hi­bi­tion, Vox Ma­te­ria, at the Kevin Ka­vanagh Gallery, Chancery Lane Dublin (un­til De­cem­ber 22nd kevinka­ It was ini­ti­ated by the cu­ra­to­rial part­ner­ship Pluck Projects and launched at the Source Arts Cen­tre, Thurles, Co Tip­per­ary ear­lier this year. More re­cently it was seen at the Craw­ford Art Gallery, Cork.


It is typ­i­cal in the sense that Ma­her has con­sis­tently ex­plored fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence and agency, of­ten with ref­er­ence to his­tory, fairy tales and myths. She has ranged freely across quite a span of me­dia, from sculpture, us­ing di­verse ma­te­ri­als, con­ven­tional and un­ortho­dox, to an­i­mated film, pho­tog­ra­phy and paint­ing.

Draw­ing and graph­ics have been con­stants, as in a rel­a­tively early se­ries of draw­ings fea­tur­ing a capri­cious young hero­ine, per­haps an Alice in Wonderland al­ter ego, who gains a sense of her own power and po­ten­tial even as the world con­spires to deny her. Born in the town­land of Kil­moyler, Co Tip­per­ary, Ma­her at­tended school in Cahir, and though she went on to study in Lim­er­ick, Cork, Belfast and San Fran­cisco (a Ful­bright Schol­ar­ship), and lives now in Co Mayo.

The Tip­per­ary en­vi­ron­ment how­ever, steeped in his­tory, es­pe­cially Nor­man his­tory, has re­mained im­por­tant to her. Her start­ing point for Vox Ma­te­ria was a re­mark­able medieval relief carv­ing of a mer­maid at the Cis­ter­cian Kil­coo­ley Abbey near Gort­na­hoe in the county.

The mer­maid holds a mir­ror and a comb, but her tail is man­a­cled. Two fish, a salmon and a carp, swim nearby. Ma­her looked to Hans Chris­tian Andersen’s Lit­tle Mer­maid who, to be­come hu­man, was forced to sac­ri­fice her voice – her tongue was cut out.

In the con­text of Ma­her’s oeu­vre, it is easy to see the mer­maid as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of women who have been co­erced and si­lenced by re­pres­sive, pa­tri­ar­chal so­cial struc­tures. As the show’s ti­tle sug­gests, she is giv­ing sub­stance to the mer­maid’s lost voice.

The Vox Hybrida wood­block prints are one strand of the ex­hi­bi­tion; the shape-shift­ing, hy­brid crea­ture we see re­sists the stereo­types of fem­i­nine vis­i­bil­ity in West­ern art.

The other strand is sculp­tural, a se­ries of small bronzes, cast from lumps of wax shaped by Ma­her’s clenched hands. There are not quite 26, but she thought of them as a kind of al­pha­bet, or as sym­bol­is­ing an al­pha­bet, another phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of the ab­sent voice – and the body: they are rem­i­nis­cent of co­pro­lites, pieces of fos­silized fae­ces, or per­haps frag­ments of or­gans.

Col­lec­tively, with the prints, they em­body a pres­ence that in­sists on agency and de­clines icono­graphic con­ven­tion.

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