what has been shall always never be again 

On reaching the top of the hill, we saw the skeleton of the abandoned village on the slope ahead of us. … Grey, uniform, sloping stone gables, which we saw first with no depth of perspective, like an amateurish set for a ghost film; incredulous, we tried to count them, we gave up at forty, there must have been a hundred. 

Heinrich Böll from Skeleton of a Human Habitation in Das Irische Tagebuch, 1957.

In the 1950s, German writer Heinrich Böll traveled to Achill Island, Co. Mayo and took up residence for some time in a cottage there. On his travels around the island, he was struck by the vast network of abandoned houses and skeleton villages embedded in the landscape. One in particular was the village of Slievemore, about which the above quotation is assumed to have been written. Revisiting these words today, it is hard not to read an eerie similarity between Böll‘s encounter with Slievemore and what anyone in Ireland might come across today on a short drive through any county—the network of unfinished houses and estates that stand as monuments to the unfulfilled expectations and aspirations of Celtic Tiger Ireland. While we may be able to visit, like Böll, the material remains of the recent past and its historical antecedent, the sentiment of that moment is not a destination to which we can travel. Both never and forever, the ideal Ireland that may have been, and which may still be, was not and could never be a place for us. It is a utopia—literally “no place”—both before and beyond us. To which we may point, but at which we will never arrive.

The works selected for this exhibition approach such places. Other times. Ideal states. Aesthetic and conceptual possibilities. Featuring new work in installation art, painting, performance art, photography, sculpture, sound and video art, what has been shall always never be again showcases a selection of distinct and complementary artists’ works from the Ormston House Membership Scheme. Sifting through images, materials and affects, the artists presented here share a persistent resilience, forging new languages, conventions and new worlds in the midst of reconciling the unfulfilled expectations of our recent past. Turning not towards nostalgia—for utopia was never here to be lost—they look for and work with what is present and possible today. They dwell not on retrieving what was lost but on the possibilities that emerge through an acceptance of our present condition—processing and composing visual and material worlds that seem cautiously hopeful but resolutely contemporary.

Admission is free and all are welcome.


Ramona Burke, Michael Cleary, Simon Cummins, Gerry Davis, Pat Fitzpatrick, Noelle Gallagher, Saidhbhin Gibson, Bernadette Keating, Maggie Madden, Steve Maher, Eilish Murrihy, Áine Phillips, Rory Tangney, and Paul Tarpey. The exhibition is curated by Ian Alden Russell, Curator of David Winton Bell Gallery, Brown University, as part of our Membership Scheme. 16 August - 7 September 2013 Image: Gerry Davis, detail of Ghosts (2012), oil on canvas, collection of Laurence Walsh.  
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