A response to the work of artist Sinéad O’Donnell by Gillian Wylde


“The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck” Paul Virilio

“I fall to pieces” Patsy Cline


Her ship sets sail from here

Through processes of singular occurrences and halting actions, artist Sinéad O’Donnell investigates instances and actuations of causality within her performative art practice. Cause redirects within the work, and gives rise to action, phenomenon, conditions and effects.  Lively things are set off or initiated within the immediacy of a live context or encountered within recorded or mediated frameworks. Repetitions of events, utterances and iterations of, objects, processes, partial variables, ‘semi-permeable’ facts, weave through Sinéad’s projects, purposefully, persistently and with unyielding attitude and attribute.

Relationships between cause, action or event produce a certain response, in the form of another event. The second, third or repeated event is generally understood as a consequence of the first event. Havingresult, purpose, meaning or reasonable grounds for doing, thinking, or feeling something.

Repetition fascinates Sinéad. Repetitions and iterations of actions, things, objects, and words, are renewed, questioned, said again, or restated. Because of repetition there is change, simultaneously resistant to the very same.  Repetition lives in the body, is both known and so very easily forgotten. Repetition redirects here and lively things give rise to action, phenomenon, and condition of things in the world, bringing into being affects and percepts, sense datum within space, time contexts.


She gave way to a burst of weeping. He was not a man to give way to this kind of pressure.

O’Donnell’s work is for and about breaking things up, agency and transmission, waiting, giving way. This is purposelessly purposeful work, contradictory, simple, hard. If you do something on purpose (not by accident), you do it purposely. But if you have a specific purpose in mind, you are acting purposefully.  Much in life is done or made with no discernible point or purpose. Much in life is done with great purposefulness, endlessly the same and endlessly different.


The invention of her shipwreck began here.

The fragile force of things attract the body, objects etc, toward the centre of the earth, or toward any other physical body having mass. These actions of encounter are exchanged within the performative moment by way of words, heat and other forms of energy. For most purposes the degree of intensity of this, is measured by an unhurried increase in acceleration. Much contravenes, is in revolt with, or runs counter to, the uncluttered actions and activities encountered within Sinéad’s work. There are witnesses to these events. Her gravity is seen and heard by others within a series of intra-actions.  Gravity gains, effecting change upon this thing or that thing.  And things are likely to collapse, take a tumble, cave in, or shatter. For this reason that; since gone, reparation is improbable. Some of these causal events we are in anticipation of. Are likely, or expected.  Though this is not always the case.  The tender, visceral force of things, extreme or alarming is often apprehended by lone experience or sheer surprise. People are involved because they were there. As audience or bystander, witness, passer-by, spectator or onlooker.  They are involved in what is happening there, and in what happened there. And this is how it was. Things take the shape of conditions and instances of contemporary ‘event’. Encountered within the context of a gallery space or shop front, a domestic setting, wasteland or side street, the market square, a disused train station or local Municipal Park.


‘Floor plans are not useful – lets use our feet’ Sinéad O’Donnell

Sinéad makes words with objects. Objects are talkative, ordinary, everyday, and are often found in multiple within works. Precarious words make precarious objects. Like most artists, Sinéad’s fascination with certain objects, words, and materials are made apparent and repeated within various projects. Much is acted upon, under the influence of, or in the act of, within the work.  White china plates, silver foil head wrap, paper, Gaffa tape stacked wood, galvanised bucket, potato, tree branch, vernacular chair or table, multitudinous things and stuff in dialogue with, the specificity of a particular context, situation, set of circumstances and conditions.

Much is in dispute, unsettled, ruffled and interfered with. Her works explore the psychological, aesthetic, cultural and ritualistic porous boundaries of things and stuff in the world. The attitude and apprehension of the thing, object or word are sensorally and perceptibly, experience of the physical world, tangible and within grasp of the senses.   And bring about affect and causality, however slight, fleeting, discreet, affecting, grasping or changeable these encounters or apprehensions might be. Though there is always opportunity for incidental, spontaneous, or chance moments within these constructs.


‘Time only adds to the flame’ Patsy Cline

In the recent work ‘Violent’ series, a multitude of white china plates are ‘stacked well’. She adds more plates to an already high stack of large white china plates. Just audible from underneath the floorboards of a gallery space, or from the pocket of an overcoat, a voice thrown from the mouth of the body, steadily and insistently repeats the word ‘violent’ over and over.  At first threatening or suspect. This word repeated, becomes humorous. She adds even more plates to the already heightened stack of large white china plates.  The likelihood of gravity portends, and takes a nosedive.  This was both expected and surprising. For this reason that; since gone, reparation is improbable.

Language, like consciousness or gravity has intent, and agency: and is directed toward something, moves out from somewhere, something. ‘Consciousness is thus embodied, sensitive and situated’ (Ahmed, 2006).  Words involve movement towards a something; have inclination, orientation, hesitation, latency, and agency. 

We are turned towards things, objects and stuff in the world. Within these encounters there is intent and there is collapse, breakdown or misunderstanding, glorious moments of apprehension or speechlessness. Within Sinéad’s work, objects and things communicate neatly and in the most direct of ways. This is talkative work, likely to answer back, stop one in ones tracks, or momentarily hold one's attention. Having many contradictory and sometimes multiple roles, dynamics and dimensions, which intrinsically vibrate, tremble, rupture,incline or gravitate toward.


‘If I was goody, if I was goody, if I was goody, if I was goody’ Sinéad O’Donnell

Response has agency. The voice like the object has agency, intent and is thrown towards something. ‘Objects function in our lives as forms of communication. An object is a story in itself and at the same time it is a vessel ready to receive any projection brought upon it by the subject/viewer’. (Steinbach, H 2001) Words touch other words. Things rub up against other things. Like stroking a cat against the lie of its fur, this is not always the easiest of encounters. The bodiless voice repeats again the word ‘violent’. Spoken or uttered sounds seem to come from somewhere else.Here there is a breakdown. Can there be a going back?  We hear the word ‘violent’ said over and over.  Violence is kept in a pocket or underground, unapologetically.   Should we be afraid?  Or just, very afraid? Words are panic exciters, after all. Don't mean what they say. Tongue stoppers.  Are given too much power. Don’t say what they mean, ever ready at any moment to take a handsome nosedive or steal a knuckle sandwich. What are words worth? Do words speak louder than actions?


“Tiny revolts are still necessary” Dodie Bellamy

Tracing a dialogue between and across, things and objects, voice and word, the iteration of certain colours, objects and motifs are apparent, made present in much of Sinéad’s work. One can make connections if one chooses to do so. Much is up for it, or can just as easily be let alone.

In the work, ‘Violent Series’, Sinéad paints her nose with black felt marker pen. Her black felt marker nose is both a cancellation and an affront. Is this permanent?  Or, some chronic bacterial disease, or other? Him or her infecting him or her during sexual intercourses, the some supposed first sufferer of this disease or other. The word, ‘violent’ repeated, holds our attention.  At this moment, seeing fails us. Our uncertain ears take over. Is this a recording?  She wears black on the outside. Think up.  In another time/place she cancels her nose again with thick permanent black felt pen. Lets take our time to be tender.  Thinking up violence.

In other works we encounter knives punched into tree branches or loaves of bread.  Or we watch as she wraps tin foil around her head, in this, there is deep snow and she if far away.  We watch from the warmth of an indoors in another time/place. She walks backwards, she keeps walking backward into the not quite remembered, into the woods, towards or away from. In other work, a plastic decoy bird rests on Sinead’s head.  Here she is bird woman.  A passer by pats the bird on her head and laughs. The decoy bird both attracts and frightens, depending on the species of the decoy.  In this instance, passers by are attracted by unusual and uncommon imitation, here something is better than the usual and prompts laughter, puzzlement or talk. What is she like? A man shouts from his car.  Does he see something out of the ordinary? The word ‘violent’ is still repeated. Where is the mouth for this voice?

Events are actuated by Sinéad, with great ardour and with unfaltering, attitude and attribute.  She meets us somewhere off kilter and we are reminded that to not act is also an action. One therefore must rely on instinctual interpretations, and go with the flow, causal moment or movement. There is much waiting.  People are involved because they were there. They are involved in what took place there, because they were there. Conjunctions of words, things, people, the conditions of which, she is prepared to defend or advocate within these movements of performative encounter and exchange.


Gillian Wylde. July 2011, Falmouth, Cornwall.





Ahmed, S (2006) Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others Duke University Press

Cline, Patsy (1999) I Fall To Pieces.  Song written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard (1961) From the album Patsy Cline Showcase  (CD) US Import.  Mca Nashville Recordings

O’Donnell, Sinéad  2011 CAUTION, an unlimited project by Sinéad O’Donnell (online) Available from: http://www.sineadodonnell.com/artists/caution/sin%C3%A9ad-o%E2%80%99donnell (Accessed: 22 July 2011)

Steinbach, Haim (2001) North East South West Hatje Cantz publishers

Virilio, P (1999) Politics of the Very Worst. In conversation with Petit, Philippe New York: Semiotext(e)

Wertheim, C Ed. (2010)  Feminaissance Les Figues Press.  Quote taken from Dodie Bellamy essay - “The Feminist Writers Guild” 



About Gillian Wylde

Gillian Wylde is an artist who makes video, performance, installation and text work.  She is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Dartington College of Art now merged with University College Falmouth (2000-present). http://www.15minuteswithyou.org.uk

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