Photos courtesy of Gillian Ross
Oonagh Devoy – ‘Pilgrimage’ Talk
After less than five minutes in my car I arrive at the coast; my favourite close by place to explore being where the Elliot is absorbed into the North Sea. I cannot tell you how many times I have visited this spot, for I visit it often. It is here that I am able to simply lose myself in my thoughts and merge into the landscape. As I explore the shore I am compelled to take photographs and collect from the tide line, it is a dependable place, always there for me, providing me with solace, food for the soul and treasures from the sea.
Although the Scottish coastline is the principal stimulus that feeds into my art practice, it is not the sole environment that moves me to create. In the hills too, my soul is free to leave my body and make discoveries. However the effort necessary to reach a summit can prove challenging as I am physically, mentally, geographically and environmentally challenged. The hills are my father and the coast is my mother. I am rewarded and punished by both. I cannot exist without either and I am constantly torn between the two of them.
The main challenge I face when wishing to explore the hills is my difficulty with navigation. As a result, I am compelled to make the journey with a companion. The best companion is one who not only can lead me safely there and back, but who also shares my desire to ponder and wonder. My goal is never a race to the top, or to add another tick on a growing list of conquests, but to experience and enjoy what the environment has to yield. I am an observant trespasser, hungry to feast on the landscape and its secret contents.
In contrast to this companionship in the hills, I generally explore the coastline alone. Maybe I would the hills too if I was more confident in my ability to navigate them? However, having a companion to meander with has taught me a valuable lesson, that the joy of a shared experience does not halve, it somehow magically more than doubles in value. Perhaps the formula for joy is altered because the memory of a shared experience has another chance of being kept alive and revisited? It could be because different elements of the experience have been captured by each viewer? I’m afraid that the mathematical equation for shared experiences is yet another question there is no definitive answer to. Thankfully though, I have been lucky enough to experience this magical formula on numerous occasions:
Walking is not a new instrument by which I engage and make sense of the world, as a teenager I would roam the countryside for miles with my younger brother. Whole days could be easily lost in discovery and play, we were like feral animals. For our days journeying, we consulted no maps and made no plans except to return in time for our evening meal. It was a time of no mobile phones but we did not feel unsafe, I was connected to my brother and connected to the land. We wandered and wondered, we made bows and arrows, we built a tree house, we fought viciously, we laughed hard and free, we were intrepid explorers, happy companions, and we made the best of memories. And now, as then, walking and exploring is still the principal method I employ to make sense of the world, my placement in it and my placement in relation to everything else. My expeditions may take the form of a trek in the hills, an urban flaneur or a coastal quest, the location is not important but the journey is. My art is a response, the workings out, the final summation.
On any journey, at any point, I may be drawn to an object that I consider being beautiful and that I must own. These objects and the experience combined will inspire idea generation and production in my studio or darkroom; they also maintain and augment my happiness and well-being.
It is the aesthetic qualities of my found objects that initially draw me to them. Because of these treasures, I have come to expand the latitude of my own definition of ‘beauty’. It is a genuine enigma to me that what I honestly and wholly consider to be ‘beautiful’, what I am physically and emotionally attracted to, is in turn defined in opposition to mainstream notions.
It is my intention and hope that my artworks may inspire a viewing audience to wonder, that they might ask what the object before them is, maybe even ponder upon its history and origin. But does it ultimately matter though if we know the identity of an object? Can we not just enjoy these finds for the unknown, tactile, sea worn treasures that they have become?
Through the deliberate placement of my found objects in a gallery space I hope to give viewers the opportunity to contemplate the visual and tactile qualities of these exhibits. I wish to invite you to inspect the objects intimately, to appreciate the aesthetic qualities first and then to maybe also consider what the object was and where it came from.
This exhibition is the culmination of two years worth of walks and the objects I have collected. Explorations and interactions translated into emotive responses. My outcomes are not intended to be pretty, mainstream, or saleable. They are instead a self indulgent consequence. Journies of discoveries, problem solving and pleasure seeking.
I would like to end this introduction to my exhibition with a quote by the Scottish writer and explorer, Nan Shepherd. “I believe I now understand in some small measure why the Buddhist goes on a pilgrimage to a mountain. The journey is itself part of the techniques by which the god is sought. It is a journey into Being; for as I penetrate more deeply into the mountain’s life, I penetrate also into my own”.