My Glossy Weekend: Siobhan McDonald

Field trips, films and fiction are all weekend must-haves for the Dublin-based artist SIOBHAN McDONALD who is inspired by geology and time …

As a visual artist working in painting, drawing, film and sound, I love what I do. I’m passionate about the exploration of geology in the landscape around me. In my studio, I work with a diverse group including historians, seismologists, composers and physicists. I have come to think that we are an integrated part of geological time and I find the weekend often morphs into further research or associated reading.


If I am in Dublin on Friday night I will meet up with friends and as a lover of healthy, interesting food, we will have fun dinner parties or try out different places. L’Gueuleton (Fade Street, Dublin 2) and Juniors (Deli & Café, 2 Bath Avenue, Dublin 4) are firm favourites. Otherwise, I’ll check out the latest theatre releases. The Project Arts Centre, The Abbey and various Fringe festivals are destinations of mine.

It’s been an exhilarating year for me – one in which travel and work has combined. If I find myself abroad I like to explore the city on foot and will usually have a guide to the art galleries as a priority, which has been a constant pattern over the last few months.

Mount Etna, Sicily

In June I travelled to Sicily to explore Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. I was primarily exploring the notion of air for an artwork I am researching for the Trinity Creative Award, which I received earlier this year. I travelled with three scientists from Trinity College Dublin including Jenny McElwain, who holds the 1711 Chair of Botany, and with whom I have been collaborating. It was a fascinating field trip – I could almost hear the lava caves breathing, and the slow growth of the tiny plant roots that we found on the walls of the caves. I was thinking a lot about the headlong pace of human time with the slow disclosure of organic growth and change up there in the wilderness.

Fondazione Prada, Milan

After Sicily, I joined a group of 30 international curators and artists at The European Commission in Ispra, Milan to explore the role of data and policy making in the world. While there, I took time out to visit the impressive Rem Koolhaas-designed Fondazione Prada museum in Milan.

Regardless of where I am travelling, I always find Dublin a wonderful place to return home to. It’s got it all – the mountains and sea and they both feature as regular weekend pursuits.

On Saturday, after a coffee at Dun Laoghaire market (in the People’s Park,) I will often go hiking in Wicklow or walk along the beach in Sandymount with friends. If I am not in nature literally I immerse myself in it figuratively. I am an avid reader – some of my favourite books are Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and Tim Robinson’s Connemara.

In August, I spent time at one of my most treasured places in the world. The Tyrone Guthrie Centre bequeathed to the nation by Sir Tyrone Guthrie in 1971, is situated amid the lakes and drumlins of my hometown, Monaghan.

One of McDonald’s artworks

A mere 15 miles away are the part linear earthworks known as The Black Pig’s Dyke, which prompted my project “Monuments for the Future” questioning how these Bronze Age earthworks can act as a reminder of environmental change. I feel it is important to listen to what the earth is trying to tell us and also how to respond to it – to feel the urgency of what is happening to our ecosystems.

My research for The Black Pig’s Dyke project took me to some interesting locations this summer. For example, the heatwave was critical in the discovery of a circular enclosure on Newgrange Farm in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Co Meath. Standing in the centre of this Neolithic enclosure recently, I was reminded of the enormity of it [approximately 150m in diameter], as I walked the precise line of the crop, which exposes the ghost of the monument underneath.

The result of these many weekend field trips will be the artworks I plan to make, probing how our ancestors dealt with the climate crisis of their time. I hope to use burnt charcoal and gold as materials. The latter is steeped in Irish history and connects the invention of human tools and language with the erection of monuments. This is just one of many upcoming deadlines – the work will be exhibited at Limerick City Gallery of Art in early 2019.

Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris

This year I published my own book Crystalline, designed by Oonagh Young. It was launched recently at my solo show at the Taylor Galleries, Dublin 2 and the second launch took place at Deutsches-Museum in Dresden, on September 27. Inspired by NASA’s current groundbreaking Parker Solar probe to touch the sun, the exhibition is called “Shine on Me: The Sun and Us”. My paintings and film At the Edge of Visibility, will explore the sun as a star. I feel incredibly proud that my work is featured among artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Nancy Holt, Man Ray and Josef Albers.

Looking ahead, next month I’m going to Paris to finish paintings for a solo show at the National Trust Henry Fox Talbot Museum [in Wiltshire] in November. I’ll be staying at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, which I love. Last year I did a month-long residency there and had the first iteration of my solo show “Crystalline” in the gallery.

To round off my weekend, a Sunday night ritual for me is a cinema visit. I thrive on catching up with the latest releases at the Irish Film Institute. Favourites are The Farthest, made by the Irish filmmaker Emer Reynolds and Get the Picture by Cathy Pearson.

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