Installation: Quarantine

Installation: Quarantine

Installation: Quarantine reflects the poem; Quarantine, from the late Eavan Bolan. 


In the worst hour of the worst season

of the worst year of a whole people

a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.

He was walking—they were both walking—north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.

He lifted her and put her on his back.

He walked like that west and west and north.

Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.

Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.

But her feet were held against his breastbone.

The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.

There is no place here for the inexact

praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.

There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.

Also what they suffered. How they lived.

And what there is between a man and woman.

And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Eavan Boland, born Dublin, Ireland 1944-died Dublin, Ireland 2020.

Two, rather soiled, life size figurines from polythene brimming with printed media to represent man and wife. Using related working techniques to that of ‘Jane’ produced for the 2017 Liverpool Irish Festival. The forms contain printed statements, statistics and quotes from the literal work: Quarantine. Quotes to identify with 20-25% of the population which were lost between the famine and emigration. Further linkage over how there was no ban on the export of food as there had been in the famine of 1782-3. Additional items of found object presented, for instance; modelled blighted potatoes, manifesting the poem and the period of An Gorta Mór/The Great Famine.

‘Worst’ is repetitive throughout the poem, highlighting the disparengies of the late 1840’s. Black acrylic paint was applied using flicking techniques across the inner of the polythene to represent the anguish and distress the couple endured and 1847 being titled ‘Black 47’, the worst year of the famine. The leaving of the workhouse to be determined by printed replicas of discharge papers and statements included within the forms. Newspaper articles of the period relating to the hardships and failing crops align the bodies further. Raggard clothing is prominent, showing how workhouse conditions often meant that clothing was often re-used from those who have died from fever and dysentry without being laundered. The roll up buts draw attention to how the smoking of tobacco was commonplace among the poor and labouring class during the Victorian era. This leads to tooth decay, studies show that up to 80% of famine victims suffered from poor oral health. The empty bottle of whiskey is equally familiar, the Irish took the drink to the United States through the period of mass emigration due to the famine. A rural location is suggested through the chain and shackle, habitual within farming communities.

Walking on foot for a prolonged distance is implied by  uncomplicated shoe soles to the outer surfaces of the man’s feet. To be sufficiently degraded to push the concept of ‘Worn thin’ to the extreme. Women were often barefoot, her shoe soles not present. Hunger is simulated by the inclusion of modelled blighted Irish lumber potatoes. Created from potato clay, this is actually produced from flour and cornstarch but named potato clay due to it’s mash-like qualities in production. Acrylic paints  reinforce the idea of blight through white areas. The potatoes to be situated around the wife’s breast to identify with the female form. Fake foliage leaves  with black speckles are to reflect the toxins of the times. Leaves are prominent  around the groin, giving an indication of public hair and unquestionably the human form. The female form to display a kerchief, the male a cloth peak cap, both to be well worn. 

The figures are positioned on a floor based sack cloth, woven and tattered. This will form the impression of being exposed to the elements, lying the sack cloth  down as a blanket to protect from ground frost. Stones to be added within the figures and to transient the exhibits to indicate rough sleeping. 

The figures are located to show man and wife: an intertwining between hands and an evident physical connection. True to the poem the wife’s feet held against the husband’s breastbone, red papers indicating the remnant of heat present in his body, white papers presenting the notion of frost engaged within the female.

Installation: Quarantine was created for the Liverpool Irish Festival, looking to be shown late March, however due to the current restrictions and lockdown this is to be determined at a later stage.

Alison Little

2 responses to “Installation: Quarantine”

  1. Love the poem Alison. Your art is a good interpretation of it.


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