Jaki Irvine: If the Ground Should Open...

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Jaki Irvine: If the Ground Should Open...
Jaki Irvine, 'If the Ground Should Open...', 2016. Commissioned by the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of Frith Street Gallery, London.

Did you know there are visible bullet holes in the side of the Dublin General Post Office from the 1916 Easter Rising? If you’ve ever been to Ireland’s capital it’s likely you do – it’s a fact Irish people cannot physically keep to themselves, myself included. You might even know the name of the rebellion’s leaders: Pádraig Pearse or James Connolly. But the female rebels – like Elizabeth O’Farrell, Aoife de Burca, Margaret Skinnider and Julia Grenan – rarely ring any bells, Irish or not. The Rising saw that GPO turned into a garrison during the fight for Irish independence. The event is told as a story of masculinity, of ‘republican brotherhood’. But when Pearse decided to surrender, it was Elizabeth O’Farrell who faced the possibility of British bullets to deliver the white flag. In the cropped press photo, she was airbrushed from history.

Irish artist Jaki Irvine doesn’t just want you to know the names of these women, she wants you to experience them through her audio-visual installation. The show is an evolution from her book ‘Days of Surrender’, an account of the O’Farrell tale. Using the ‘canntaireachd’, an oral scoring system for Scottish bagpipes, Irvine has turned the letters from the names of O’Farrell, Grenan and other rebels into a disturbing melody. They create the musical ‘ground’ we cannot walk over.

Black and white footage of instruments played by female musicians sparks on eight TV sets across the gallery space. The sound is fragmented, electric and unpredictable – where you stand changes what you hear, creating overwhelming aural paranoia. Etchings made from the pages of Irvine’s book are on the walls; look behind the scribbled treble clefs and crochets for her fine prose.

The only chink in the armour is audio of a leaked phone call between two boorish Anglo-Irish bankers who helped lead the country into the 2008 financial collapse. It’s a point about modern treason making a mockery of the 1916 ideals, but it feels like an interruption.

All the same, Irvine has struck a powerful chord, and given us a better story to tell than the one about those hollow bullet holes.

By: Katie McCabe

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