- Contemporary Irish Art on the Move:At Home and Abroad with Dorothy Cross
In the film version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's adventures begin when she and her pet dog are swept up by a tornado into an unfamiliar world. "Toto," she confides, "I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." Her adventures conclude when she is transported once again, but this time by her magical incantation: "There's no place like home. . . . There's no place like home." Like Frank Baum's fictional Dorothy, Irish artist Dorothy Cross has touched down in familiar and unfamiliar places during her twenty-five year career to date, creating and exhibiting work around the globe. Acknowledged as one of the few contemporary Irish artists to have achieved international recognition, Cross has, nonetheless, retained her home base in Ireland.
Since the early 1980s, Cross has had many solo exhibitions in Ireland, England, and the United States, and her work has been featured in group shows and biennials in Europe, North America, and the Mid-East. Her stature in the art world will be particularly evident in spring 2005, with two solo exhibitions, one at home and one abroad. Dublin's Irish Museum of Modern Art presents a major retrospective of Cross's art, featuring sculpture, photography, and videos made over the past two decades. Simultaneously, in the United States, Boston College's McMullen Museum launches GONE: Temporary Site-specific Works by Dorothy Cross, an exhibition [End Page 144] devoted to the artist's significant contributions to this particular genre since 1990.1
Cross's reputation as both an Irish and international artist exemplifies a dilemma faced by many of her contemporaries: that is, how will contemporary art negotiate the tensions between national and international, between local and global, between margin and center? Cross takes up this challenge with an acute awareness of the complex terrain of Irish cultural identity, but also with a sensitivity to similar struggles of other populations around the world. This essay explores several of her site-specific projects that give visible and dynamic expression to what is ultimately at stake in contemporary debates about the nature of Ireland's identity as it experiences a rapidly changing relationship to the international and global worlds of finance, politics, and culture. Site-specific art, as practiced by Dorothy Cross, usually takes the form of temporary, often multimedia, installations created in response to a particular location. Working in this genre both within Ireland and in remoter places like Istanbul or the Norway coast, Cross transforms the particularities of a given locale and its buried histories by revealing the universality of anxiety, desire, and loss that animates all lived human experience. Her sited works represent moments of shared recognition and unexpected beauty, moments that cut across national differences without erasing them, offering new and fluid forms of identity and identification.
In the last three decades in Ireland, new models of identity distinguished by hybridity, multiplicity, and mobility have replaced the traditional model of an inward-looking Gaelic identity inscribed with a revivalist and Free State ideology. Deploying the history of Irish emigration as a national metaphor, cultural critic Fintan O'Toole asserts that " [t]o imagine Ireland is to imagine a journey" (Arguing 77):
Everyone has become an emigrant without even leaving home. The entire society has left the old country of traditional Ireland and migrated into the strange, exhilarating and confusing surroundings [End Page 145] of the globalized, post-industrial, post-modern world.(Irish Art Now 22)
Ireland's long history of physical and cultural mobility is increasingly reflected in the work of contemporary artists, as well as in the curatorial visions of major exhibitions of Irish art. For example, the organizers of the 1997 exhibition "Irish Geographies: Six Contemporary Artists" insist that both "geography" and "identity" are terms open to revision in the context of Irish art. Curator Catherine Nash observes that contemporary artists working in and with this new geography produce work that redefines Irishness as "diasporic, diverse, dynamic" (Nash 5).
Literal journeys undertaken by Irish artists are often envisioned more ambivalently. Speaking of a 1999 group exhibition featuring twenty Irish artists currently living and...