Coming to Terms
Performance by Cynthia O’Brien in memory of her father,
John Joseph O’Brien, 1932 -2012
Blink Gallery, August 10, 2014
Over the first week of the First Blink Gallery Residency, clay artist Cynthia O’Brien created hundreds of unfired white clay flowers, on site at Header House in Major’s Hill Park. Confined in the gallery space, the flowers had dried into white bones, ready to be carried outside on specimen trays.
Onlookers, witnesses and passers-by were drawn in to the rhythmic, sombre ritual where Cynthia set down the clay flowers into an uncovered grave-sized plot of earth on the lawn outside of the gallery. The artist asked people to contribute to the work by making their own flowers out of soft balls of clay, which she provided. O’Brien suggested they think of a person or dream they had lost and that their flower might symbolize, or alternately, a new beginning they had hopes would grow. There was an immediate engagement in the project. It was very moving to see strangers bend and gently place their flowers in the grave. Others who attended could quietly wonder whether they were burying an old loss or planting a new beginning.
Finally, the heavy darkness of the uncovered earth was transformed into a mass frothy with lightness and the fragility of white flowers, like a little Hallelujah against the dark.
As Cynthia silently replaced the sod, covering the flowers, and closing the grave, she was overcome by her own memories and coming-to-terms. Afterwards, at the gallery ‘reception’ she commented on her surprise as she first removed the sod just prior to the performance, that the earth was teeming with life, reminding us of the contradictions inherent in a dark open grave inhabited by life.