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John Joseph O’Brien  -  January 24th, 1932 - August 23rd, 2012

This body of work is based on the death of John Joseph O’Brien, my father. 

Starting with a rectangular box - a coffin - a container for the person - for the soul - for the individual within society.  This box is all hard straight surfaces with corners and no room to move. Out of this box the physical body is changing, pushing, moving into the soil.  This movement adds nourishment to the soil as my father added to our family.  Adding his life - his roots - to the family tree of the past and his memory into the growing future.  The opening in the box, a split, releases his spirit to a place he believed without question and watches over all of us as we make our way in the world.

The use of natural clay is important - the viewer can focus on the form - the work is to be intimate - intended to be held and caressed. There are many places for fingers to move around the piece and become familiar.  I want the viewer to explore the tactile subtleties of the work, as they might explore another person.

With the support of The City of Ottawa

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.

Written by Barbara Cuerden

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