Arts News


Helen Kirwan announces new work at 58th Venice Biennale 2019

  • South East
  • combined arts, film, interdisciplinary arts, visual arts
  • Helen Kirwan


Dates: 11 May - 24 November 2019

Preview dates: Thursday 9 and Friday 10 May 2019

Location: Palazzo Bembeo, Riva del Carbon, 4793-4785, 30124 Venice, Italy

Helen Kirwan will unveil a new video installation, perpetuum mobile (2019), at the European Cultural Centre in Venice during the 58th Venice Biennale. This is the final chapter in a trilogy of video work by Kirwan, exploring mourning and memory through the physical act of journeying. Kirwan will also present a series of live performances in Venice during the biennial, in collaboration with the award-winning Dublin-based composer Tom Lane. 

Kirwan’s performances for perpetuum mobile were filmed in remote outdoor locations: the ancient cedar forests of Lebanon, the Ustuyrt Plateau and Aral Sea regions of Uzbekistan, and the island of Sylt, Germany. Cedar trees were considered immortal in the ancient mythologies of the Mediterranean. Kirwan’s walk through the seemingly endless cedar forest creates the illusion of an infinite loop, which echoes these myths. Meanwhile, at the Aral Sea, Kirwan trudges through a vast bed of dried sand, that was once the world’s fourth largest lake, as if condemned to walk the earth forever. On Sylt’s distinct shoreline, shaped by the intertidal Wadden Sea, the artist appears to teeter on the edges of the earth, as if contemplating her own transition from life to death in terms of putting out to sea, as in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ (1889). 

For Kirwan, walking is a form of marking time and travelling through time. By walking across these landscapes, the artist partly draws on the biblical and mythological narratives of epic journeys, which she fractures through the film’s montage. 

Kirwan’s work draws on her own experience of mourning the loss of a loved one. ‘My journeying is the performance of keening; and of the searching and yearning which some psychologists identify as essential to the bereavement process,’ she explains. 

Details for the ensuing live performances will be announced soon.

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Photo, Crowds enjoying Garden of Light, by TILT. Lumiere London 2016, produced by Artichoke, supported by Mayor of London. Credit Matthew Andrews 2016.

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Photo, Jennie Gill, Yorkshire Artspace, Sheffield. Photo Our Favourite Places / Nigel Barker for Yorkshire Artspace.