Maureen Considine

Studio Visit  |  December 2011
Until recently, Maureen Considine worked from her studio at Basement Project Space in Cork City where I met her, but she has since moved into a studio at Backwater Artists Group.

Studio view, 2011

Maureen talked about how over the last year there has been a big change in her work. This change was the result of an injury, but before this change came about, Maureen’s work was focused on society and class structures, especially around social housing. Maureen grew up in a social housing estate and her family was one of the first families to become part of a regeneration programme introduced by the government. The photography work she did around this subject was based on extensive academic research as well as personal knowledge. Maureen was interested in showing that even though this grand regeneration programme had happened most people never saw the reality of the area.
One photograph from this body of work is entitled For Michelle. It shows a grotto that was built onto the gable end of a block of houses. Maureen has found it interesting to exhibit this in a gallery space because on the surface it comes across as kitsch and she said people can be quite snobby when it comes to issues like this, involving differences of taste. The grotto was actually built by the residents of this area in memory of a missing woman called Michelle, who was from the neighbourhood and who may have been murdered.

For Michelle, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist

When Maureen was carrying out this project she said that she had a very analytical way of working. She also said that for some people, because the work was rooted in documentary photography, there was a blurring of lines as to when the work was documentary photography and when it was art.
A few years ago Maureen was in a car accident and she suffered an injury to her elbow. Over time this got worse and developed into a chronic nerve pain which affects the whole left side of her body. For a time this took her away from making art.
It was when Maureen saw a work by artist Kathryn Kelly, which dealt with emotional trauma, that she realised she needed to stop worrying about whether people would understand her work and just make it. When she embraced this objective, she said that she found images started to come to her from somewhere she had no access to and she couldn’t control it. In the past she would have researched the subject extensively and constructed images in a logical and academically informed way but her new way of working has become much more instinctual.
A lot of Maureen’s current work is imagery that portrays the feeling or idea of pain for her. It is very personal work but at the same time accessible because it is not necessarily a direct manifestation of distress.
She said that sometimes she thinks the reason she carried out such considerable research in the past was a kind of a back-up – that if there was lots of research behind it she could support, and in a way defend, her work. There was a fear of people not ‘getting’ it. But now she says of her work, “I can’t drive it anymore. It drives me.” Instead of wanting to make a piece of work, she has to.
The most recent body of work Maureen produced is a series of photographs. They show the artist in a variety of nude poses in which she has represented bodily pains that have become a part of her everyday life.

Asymmetry, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist

The images have been slightly manipulated by Maureen. They are black and white negatives that she has under-developed and then over-exposed in darkroom processing to create a patchy or mottled aesthetic. On Asymmetry she has added a drawing on the photograph of the nerves on the left side of her body that have been damaged. This drawing is not done directly on the photograph but on a glass plate that she exposes on top of the photograph.
Clipped is another work that shows the injured body of the artist. She said that because she often can’t use one side of her body, she feels very compromised and as if her wings have been clipped.

Clipped, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist

Maureen is working on a variety of projects at the moment. She describes herself as a feminist; she says her values and beliefs are rooted in feminine strength and feminine wisdom. Many of the projects she is currently working on stem from this.
She is also interested in ‘the sacred feminine’. Modern religions repress the feminine whereas ancient religions worshipped the feminine. Maureen believes a lot of our self-worth has disappeared because of this.
Although religion has always had a presence in her life she has become increasingly interested in religious iconography. She was raised a Roman Catholic but she said that she has very ambiguous feelings towards the Virgin Mary and the idea of her that is projected onto young girls. She feels that the Church has romanticised her suffering. Maureen is interested in martyred icons whose suffering is presented to us in an idealised way. As a result of this Maureen has come to look at religious sculptures; iconic bodies represented through sculpture will become the central component of a new body of work. One particular work in progress is a combination of photography and an iconographic image. She used a holy water bottle in the shape of the Virgin Mary and exposed it onto photographic paper in the darkroom. The result of using an old, cheap, disused bottle was an alluring, compelling image in which you can still make out the position of the Virgins hands joined in prayer.

Studio shot, work in progress, 2011

Maureen wants to enter into some sort of a dialogue with the great icons of suffering because she believes that we have been led to believe an invented version of their story. We are taught certain values from a young age and are taught to admire what different icons stood for. Maureen believes this affects our sexuality and assertiveness because the idea of martyrdom has been passed down to us. She now she wants to confront these icons or images that may have affected how she sees herself, or her psyche, negatively.
Another project that is inspired by the strong influence of the feminine in her life is The Family Hairloom. For this she is collecting hair from all the women in her family over the last three generations. She is considering weaving all the hair together or creating some sort of veil with the hair. She said that she “loves the tactile and bodily nature of it and the fact that the body itself is the material”. This project stems from childhood when her mum used to French plait her hair and it also has a resonance with mythical stories where a woman’s strength is in her hair.

Studio shot, work in progress, 2011

Through her interest and reading of the psycho analytical work of Carl Jung, Maureen discovered a book called ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. The author writes about the importance of time cycles in a woman’s life – how there is a time for incubation, there is a time for innovation. The book combines metaphorical stories with psycho analytical teachings.
For the past year Maureen has made work without previous research but she said that she often comes across texts after she has made work that relate strongly to what she is doing. She told me about a fable in the book which tells the story of a woman and her two children, all of whom drowned in a river, and how before she is allowed into heaven she must find the lost souls of her sons. She sits every night by the river weeping and combing the river for their souls with her long fingers and long hair. The author then explains the metaphor; it refers to ‘soul work’ – she says it’s about dredging the river of your unconsciousness to find what was lost, to understand what happened or to find yourself again. Maureen said that when she read this she found a powerful affinity to what she has been doing recently.
At low tide Maureen walks the banks of the river Lee and collects an assortment of objects; bones, glass and any other objects that catch her attention.  She finds this quite a meditative process and she is not totally sure what she will use the objects for when she collects them but she said she has had to get used to the practice of ideas incubating, and then gradually revealing themselves to her.
More of Maureen’s work can be seen on her website
Maureen is participating in ArtTrail, an annual contemporary art festival in Cork City running until the 4th of December. You can make an appointment to visit Maureen in her studio at Backwater by emailing her at
Read more about ArtTrail here

4 responses to “Maureen Considine

  • Maureen Considine

    Thanks Ailve, you got to the heart of things and its beautifully written.

  • Hilary Williams

    Hi Maureen.
    I found this “from the studio” interesting, There can be a beauty in suffering and the portrayol of such, but as an artist one needs to be aware of it not becoming catarthic or theraputic for ones self, one needs to make the art and leave ones own issues on the topic outside of the work.
    You seem to have managed that, I love the image of the angel with a clipped wing.
    My own work dealt with alzheimers and dimentia, it still has an element of loss and memory but with a more resigned look at mortality.
    I believe that the darker some art is, the more interesting it can be, to day we need an elemont of hope and humour which your work has, better that than pretty pretty images of aethetic doubt.

    • Maureen Considine

      Thanks Hilary, I have been concentrating on avoiding art as therapy – I try to view whats happening, in my mind and body, as a curiosity of the human condition and not as therapy. I’m glad you like ‘clipped’ – its actually the one I am most self-conscious about ; ) Its also great to see that you got the humour element as it is very subtle and I’ve always been dark but no I’m happy to be so.
      Can I have a link to your work? My curiosity has been provoked.

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