” This is quite a magical work, which comes alive in the wood´s speckled light” / The Guardian
Take a walk in the Grizedale Forest Sculpture Park in Cumbria and you will come across the five meter tall wooden sculpture ”Woman of the Water” by contemporary Irish artist Alannan Robins. This work is ranked by The Guardian as one of the top eight sculptures of the female figure in England in a group which impressively includes the artist Henry Moore. Yet another masterpiece by Alannah Robins – the bronze sculpture ”Reflex” – is not more than a hand high. Between these two pieces exists a wide spectrum both in terms of size, material and expression.
Alannah is a member of Detroit Stockholm’s Collective Studio, Tyresö Konstnärer, Visual Artists Ireland, Catalyst Arts Belfast, and Fylkingen. She was an initiator and driving force behind the Atlantic Artists’ Association which ran a collective studio and gallery space on the West coast of Ireland for nine years.
– I love the weather in Irish Connemara, with its rain and strong winds. Sometimes the strength of the wind can damage a car door when you step out, but it reminds me that I’m alive. After fourteen years of living in this remote community, we wanted to try living in a new culture. In Ireland, we often live separated because of working conditions. When my husband was working in Stockholm eight years ago, the children and I joined him for a month. We felt then that it was a place we could return to more long-term.
– Sometimes I wonder how we could exchange our beautiful Connemara home, with views of mountains and sea for a suburban view of apartment windows. However the environment itself, the black and white of Sweden’s winter months, the bright windows contrasting with the darkness has actually inspired me artistically. Here suburbs are built somewhere between the pulse of the city and the woodland, feeling like some kind of in between place, where as Dublin’s suburbia tends to sprawl continually from the city itself.
Alannah’s work revolves around themes of identity, memory, migration and man’s relationship with nature. Finding herself as an immigrant in Sweden, Alannah uses her artwork to explore this state of displacement, of not quite belonging.
– We found ourselves in a place that lies between cultures, between languages and between countries. This is relevant to so many people today. Cheap flights have resulted in many people having a foot in two different countries or even more. In Ireland there is furthermore a long history of immigration for work, and there are Irish communities and sports teams the world over. This is a subtle displacement, and obviously not comparable to the experience of those fleeing war or political oppression. I am interested in the image of the suburb as a metaphor for that in between state in which we immigrants find ourselves. I find echoes of it in Yeats’s poem The Stare’s nest by my window ‘…the bees build in the crevices of loosening masonry…’
In the artpiece ‘Alla Helgons Dag’ Alannah explores another inbetween state, that of life and death. In this work Alannah first rolled thick black printing ink over clinical white tiles and through various reductive processes, removed the ink, creating a collage of images. The recurring images are reminiscent of woodland, suburban housing and the lit graves of All Saints Day.
– The reductive process is central to my way of working, although I only recognized this recently. Everything was reduced to the very basic things when I came to Sweden. For years, however, even with my oil painting, my practice has been to apply the paint and to remove it after some weeks, leaving accidental marks. This is the same process found in ‘Alla Helgons Dag’. Furthermore my paper cut shadow works involve a taking away of the material, and even in my work with elk bone, I am working with the last remaining material from the animal body. This process is often set side my side with the looser practice of pouring ink or paint, or of setting together previously unrelated objects to suggest deeper layers of meaning. Sometimes I question the simplicity of the pouring, doubting the artistic merit of something so accidental. But many, many failures leave these beautiful gems isolated, confirming for me their strong aesthetic qualities. It’s important that I believe in my own process.
Alannah shows me all the failed ink drawings that preceded the one which works. It’s difficult to take your eyes off, in a similiar way to the oil painting series of ‘Woman Underwater’. In these works Alannah’s source material was a woman photographed under water but with the camera above the surface. The hair floats in the water, the body is disjointed, and the whole picture becomes fragmented – scattered.
– It has echoes of my own sense of various emotional frictions. The image would not have been nearly so interesting if shot with the camera underwater. It is through the medium of the water’s surface that the body’s image is fragmented. So here I painted the body, removed paint, and finally poured in an attempt to ‘describe’ the water rather than to paint it with brush strokes.
Alannah has worked a lot with elk bone. She uses this as a symbol of Romantic Sweden, the king of the forest, but also as that last remaining essence of the body.
– We found a skeleton in the forest when we were picking mushrooms. I gathered up the bones, and kept them for a long time before I used them, or even had an idea of how to work with them. But the ideas slowly take shape over time. Then a friend who hunts gave me the skull of the first elk he had shot.
‘Can You Not Understand Winston?’ is a sculpture made of elkbone, in which Alannah has taken this huge romantic Swedish symbol, and sliced it into efficient bite-sized pieces, before setting the pieces together against a wall and lighting them sensitively, creating multiple shadows. Here Alannah reflects on Swedish society which functions so well, so much more effectively perhaps than Irish society, but at a cost. This functionality depends on all cells doing as they are supposed to do.
– Identity emerges strongly in my sculptures. Here the process is generally not reductive, but about being playful, free and gathering different elements together in an unexpected way. Thinking too much has been my biggest opponent in the past, I have in some sense become paralyzed by over analysing why I am doing something. It is important for me to have lots of time in the studio. Then I can engage in a playful process, and inevitably deep truths emerge and take place in the artwork.
Alannah’s discovery of silicone made a big impact on her work. She started to cast elements of nature and to set them together in wax with casts of toys or other everyday objects before getting them cast in bronze. In her playfull sculpture in bronze, ‘Reflex’ we see the small legs of a doll sticking out from a chanterelle mushroom. Here we see her intuitive work at its best.
Alannah has won several commissions and awards for her artwork in Ireland and Sweden, including a public commission for the Waterford Institute of Technology, Tyresö Kulturstipendium and Helge Axeson Johnson stipend. In recent years she has exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, London’s Dialogue Cultural Space and in Sweden in Tegen2, Detroit Stockholm, Tyresö Konsthall and Kiruna Stadshus. She collaborates regularly with other artists and musicians and is the driving force behind Opera Factory Sessions, a Stockholm based group of musicians and artists who work with an intensively collaborative process / Lotte Johansson