Visual Arts Programme
The Concourse Installation 2002
Margaret Tuffy - Rose Petals and Other Sacred Spaces
There is a seductive surrealism in standing in a white cubed room as rose petals cascade down around you. With her work, Rose Petals and Other Sacred Spaces, Margaret Tuffy began the 2002 Concourse Installation Programme by creating a room within a room. Three metres square, Tuffy’s white room was centrally placed within the atrium; intriguing projections on either end encouraging you to walk a little closer and examine them; inviting doors on the other two sides drawing you into the room.
Here, Tuffy’s art conceals her craft. As you cross into the room, a light beam is broken, activating a conveyor belt concealed above. This turns to allow rose petals to tumble down, creating a rich red and pink circular pile within the spot-lit space. Cameras film and project the interior onto the exterior of the end walls like animated paintings. Tuffy’s clever marriage of cold technology, with the silent simplicity of a white space, and the decadent soft redness of the roses, fuses the contemporary elements into a timeless work. The sensory experience was also enhanced through the pervasive, lingering rose scent which spreads throughout the building.
Roses conjure up a myriad of associations. Love, sex and death (for starters) – or to put it another way, duration, growth and decay. From the cliché of the single red rose presented to a lover or tossed onto a coffin, to the gaudy profusions on Valentine’s day cards, it has become a shorthand symbol whose potency is nonetheless undiminished by ubiquity. Tuffy remarks that her first impression on walking into the concourse was that of a walled garden. Filling her garden, or sacred space, with rose petals, they then spilled out, being walked through the building and further into the street.
In some artworks, the idea of the artist’s labour can be intrusive, and detract from one’s enjoyment of the piece. When looking at an artwork causes you to imagine all the effort that went into making it, it is often that the piece has failed to fully engage your imagination. But here, the sense of the artist’s work, gathering the petals each morning (from Dublin’s parks), and daily tending the installation, like a gardener would, is part of the wonder of the piece. The other key element which makes Rose Petals and Other Sacred Spaces such a strong and memorable work is the audience’s crucial role in creating it. It was with a sense of pure delight (not often engendered these days) that I entered the room to realise that not only was I active in creating the cascade of petals, but that in being projected back out onto the external walls, I was part of the piece.
Brian O’Doherty’s seminal series of essays for Artforum in 1976 (and published together as Inside the White Cube in 1986), demonstrated how the plain white walls of contemporary galleries are not the neutral spaces some curators and critics would suggest them to be. The pristine walls carry their own associations with an art historical tradition, and with a secular and critical sanctity. Tuffy has cleverly scaled this down to create her own ‘sacred space’. You are, in effect, entering a ‘mini-art gallery’, a space-within-a-space, where you are a participant in creating the art.
The potency of flowers in art has been caught by Georgia O’Keefe, Robert Mapplethorpe, and more recently Marc Quinn, Anya Gallacio and Irene Naef; and in Ireland by printmakers Grainne Cuffe and Cliona Doyle, all capturing in different ways the deceptive fragility, and more primal (and often sexual) energy which goes beyond the merely decorative. Tuffy herself points to influences as diverse as artists Mark Rothko and Eva Hesse, and the filmmaker Federico Fellini. Against the threads of this background, Rose Petals and Other Sacred Spaces is a simultaneously simple, and yet intriguingly complex work.
Everyone has a favourite place, somewhere they go to be alone and think; somewhere where the surroundings help the imagination to disengage with the everyday, and refocus the mind. For some people, a favourite painting or piece of music plays the same role. Those who meditate have learned to create private quiet spaces in their minds, where they can close out temporarily the noise of the busy world. With Rose Petals and Other Sacred Spaces, Margaret Tuffy has done the same thing, and created a special private moment in the very public space of the concourse of Dun Laoghaire County Hall.