This Beautiful New Exhibition Celebrates West Cork And Simone Rocha - The Gloss Magazine
Doreen Kilfeather

This Beautiful New Exhibition Celebrates West Cork And Simone Rocha

Buí is an exhibition from photographer Doreen Kilfeather and stylist Aisling Farinella that explores the themes of retreat, domesticity, womanhood and nature. Shot at Bothar Buí, the noted artist’s retreat in West Cork during winter and summer of 2020/2021, and with fashion by Simone Rocha, it’s a dreamy and visceral nod to contemporary Irish creativity …

What spurred you to shoot this project at Bothar Buí?

Aisling: It was the pandemic, life was crap and we were all stuck in our pressure cookers of homes, with restricted lives, and Doreen invited me to go down and shoot for a few days with her daughter Elsa. We went twice, once in October 2020 and again in July 2021. There was no agenda to make it into a big project, it was just something that we could go and do together. 

Doreen: Bothar Buí has a legacy of creatives staying there throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and many painters and poets, including Seamus Heaney, made work in and for the house. [A short film about Bothar Buí exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2008.] The exhibition shows at Sarah Walker Gallery which in a nice full circle moment as Bothar Buí was designed by Sarah’s father Robin Walker.

Kilfeather’s daughter Elsa, a graduate of production design at IADT, was the model for each portrait. 

How does the fashion interplay with the themes of the images? 

A: Immediately, I thought Simone Rocha’s collections were something that would make sense for lots of different reasons: the location, access during the pandemic, plus all of the different themes that go through Simone’s work including Ireland, domesticity and femininity. It was important that the fashion was part of the storytelling, but I didn’t want it to take over, either. Before we went, I met Doreen’s daughter Elsa [who is the subject of the portraits] and we had a cup of tea and she showed me her bedroom – she had just turned 20 so it was amazing to get access to a young girl’s bedroom and see all her things and her arrangements and get a sense of her. We brought some of her own pieces, like her jeans, to go with Simone Rocha’s collections. We shot two different Simone Rocha collections: autumn winter 2020 and spring summer 2021. The theme of the autumn collection was baptism: so there were white veils, thick oversized Aran knits, pieces embellished with pearls and eggs, beautiful white cottons with embroidery, embossed fabrics, rich voluminous taffetas and crowns.

Nature plays a key role too. 

D: It’s a bit otherworldly down there and the idea of retreating from the world is layered into the images. It’s the kind of house that we all want to go to to escape. There are these woods that hug the whole house and it’s so lush with ferns and ancient oaks, and then you come out the other side into this magnificent bay with glittering waters. 

Four years on from the pandemic, how do you think the idea of retreat is defined today? 

D: Retreat has connotations of getting smaller or being hidden or moving away, I see it more now as a turning towards something. 

A: It’s not retreat in terms of running away, it’s more powerful: retreat and grow. You have to take the time in life to do these things. Retreat is still needed now as much as it was back then.

Was it important that this was an all female project? 

A: We shot in very much a domestic space, it’s a lived-in home. That meant motherhood was a big theme. Doreen being Elsa’s mum, I’m also a mum: I loved so much watching a mother shooting her daughter, and a daughter being photographed by her mother, it’s a unique experience to get access to. Elsa would often be challenging Doreen and had a professional insight into the process. 

D: The bedspreads on all the beds have been there since, I’d say, the 1960s or 1970s, like something you’d see in your granny’s house. They’ve been frayed and they’ve been darned and you can see someone has put in a bit of an old blanket and stitched over that, so you’ve just got these layers and layers, years of domesticity. For the exhibition, the images were shot on medium format film and we have made prints available on Japanese awagami paper – just like the old bedspread, the material is layered and very tactile. We will be selling a limited amount of wood-framed prints as well as unframed prints in different sizes.

Photography by Doreen Kilfeather.

Buí by Doreen Kilfeather and Aisling Farinella runs at Sarah Walker Gallery, Castletownbere, Co. Cork, from June 1 to 30;


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