top of page

For she is always creeping

Aideen Barry

curated by Gaynor Seville

The Whitaker Museum, Lancashire, UK


Supported by Culture Ireland 


Behind the wallpaper: Aideen Barry: ‘for she is always creeping’ at The Whitaker Jo Manby A dense, coal black forest. A dumb waiter, bearing starched white linen and a tiny, covered silver dish, creaks along a corridor, up in a lift and into a restaurant. The maître d’ plucks the lid from the dish. The dish is empty. A cake suddenly appears; the shape of a house hastily assembles itself for the diner, all luscious butter icing and frosted peaks. An elderly woman in a headscarf sits by a net curtain. Wallpaper rips away in stop animation. Casements open and shut in alarm to the sound of breathing... Tiles, slates, noise, grass, wood, concrete. Figures, faces, futurist style. Fists skywards. A prison camp. A labour camp... A Japanese flag. A suitcase opens. A woman steps out. Sits at a desk. Stamps passports and ID. Origami flutters at the window, alights on a map. A miniature Japanese flag unfolds. The pendulum ticks. The woman folds back into the suitcase. The suitcase slides behind a cupboard. These are just a few excerpts from innumerable breathtaking sequences from Klostės, one of many works of astounding distinction by the internationally acclaimed artist Aideen Barry. Reduction to a string of clauses hardly does this work justice. Klostės (meaning pleats or folds) is a socially engaged, collaboratively made feature film directed by Barry, specially commissioned by Kaunas 2022, the European Capital of Culture. It is a black and white stop motion film that draws on over fifty short stories contributed by citizens of the Lithuanian city, which narrate the histories, fables and legends of what Barry describes as an ‘art deco Mecca’. The combination of the banal and the sublime – everyday domestic objects framed by historic moments and cultural shifts – ensures that no-one who has seen it can look at a pocket watch or a metronome in quite the same way as they did before. Barry is based in Ireland, has exhibited widely, has won many awards, and was elected to the Royal Hibernian Academy as an ARHA member in 2020. Taking over both gallery spaces at The Whitaker, ‘for she is always creeping’ is an adaptation of Barry’s exhibition ‘By Slight Ligaments’ and has been specially re-imagined for The Whitaker. While Klostės forms an important component, there are a range of other works on show. When Barry was invited to exhibit at The Whitaker, she became fascinated by the fact that while the museum and gallery was originally the grand home of a textile magnate who bequeathed it to the citizens of Rossendale and filled it with works of art and objects of curiosity, the galleries also bear traces of other lives within their structure. ‘The rooms of the museum have nods to its domestic past with fireplaces and little clues to its previous life of both public/ private use.’ Her particular interest in the ‘discourse around the nature of subjugation and repression’ drew her to the story of Michael Davitt, to whom a section of the museum is dedicated. In the late 1800s, ‘Davitt was forming the Land League and running for parliament on a platform of Irish emancipation; in 1857 he had lost his arm in a cotton mill accident at the age of 11 only a mile from The Whitaker Museum.’ For Barry, this sparked an idea that ran in parallel with her interest in women’s suffrage and in particular, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, written around the time of Davitt’s political activity, and published in 1892. In the novella, ‘an unnamed narrator keeps a journal of her experiences of post- natal depression locked away in a bedroom with no visual stimulation, except for the eponymous wallpaper; Perkins Gilman’s own lived trauma led her to campaign for women’s rights in Boston.’ The idea became an overarching theme for an exhibition that could embrace Klostės and other major pieces by Barry that ‘discuss the idea of the subjugated “other” that manifests as a “creeping” series of works.’ Barry references ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ in her exhibition title, using a quote from its unfortunate protagonist: ‘It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.’ In Klostės, ‘protagonists that fold or creep within the walls of architectural buildings and décor’ feature throughout. A tray of glass eyes suddenly begins to quiver with life and wandering bodily organs throb, pulse and squish their way down cabinets and across floorboards, referencing perhaps the Museum of History of Lithuanian Medicine and Pharmacy. The pugilistic, comedic trio of devils inhabiting the ground underneath the restaurant is a reference to Kaunas’s Devil Museum and the myth of a devil leaving footprints on rocks. An echo of the Perkins Gilman protagonist’s subjugated femininity is encapsulated in the sequence of the maid emerging from an oven, legs first, and the perfume-inhaling mistress assembling herself from a pile of discarded clothes left inside a grand piano. ‘I was thinking of the kinds of trope that Umberto Eco used in his novel City of Ideas of a sequence of a city within a city, a story within a story and that’s how I constructed the film. Each scene could be a short film in its own right, a series of vignettes or glimpses into forgotten stories of the history of Kaunas and its othered peoples, now ghosts who are trapped between the walls of this art deco or what Kaunas calls “inter- war modernist” architecture.’ Lives that are otherwise lost to history and the passage of time are captured by Klostės. The inclusion of the Japan- related sequence refers to the story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul working in Kaunas in 1939-40, to the commemoration of the deeds of whom the memorial museum Sugihara House is dedicated. Sugihara is remembered for saving more than 6,000 Jewish refugees during World War II. The prison camp sequence relates to the 32-metre-high Kaunas Holocaust Memorial situated next to the fortress also known as the Ninth Fortress or the ‘Fort of Death’. The memorial commemorates more than 15,000 Jewish victims who were executed by the Nazis at the fortress between 1941 and 1944. After the Second World War, the complex was reused by the soviets as a prison and is now a museum about the horrors of Nazism and communism. Klostės is one example of Barry’s inclusive, wide-ranging collaborative projects. ‘The film radically relied upon the commitment from nearly a thousand citizens... mostly people with no experience of working in film not to mention working with an artist. The trust building started when I instigated, along with the support of the Kaunas 2022 team, a series of workshops rooted in visual thinking strategies and imaginative play. The citizens were asked to create stories out a series of trigger words I pre-populated in a workshop and site-specific locations that were identified by the Kaunas curators, Žilvinas Rinkšelis and Viltė Migonytė Petrulienė. I collaborated with the acclaimed writer Sandra Bernotaitė to get the raw material of over 50 short stories...’ From volunteer actors, extras, and prop makers to costume designers, cake bakers, and story writers, a huge number of people were involved. ‘Inspired by the Bauhaus Ballet, Oscar Schlemmer dance interpretation of the architectural and artistic movement, I asked children, young people and their families to engage in workshops using cardboard, glue and recycled materials to make their own performative costume inspired by their favourite interwar building in the city. This was a deliberate thing. When I was first introduced to the city by the Kaunas 2022 team, I was made aware that the citizens had quite an ambivalent relationship to the architectural heritage of the city and that the reason why they had approached me was my history of getting different communities to engage in the art creation and to get them excited about forgotten heritage in innovative ways.’ In another of Barry’s film pieces which will be on show at The Whitaker, she uses her own corporeal presence to inhabit a stop-motion animated, 9 channel audio-visual installation, Self Portrait (2021). This work was created during the 2021 pandemic lockdown, which Barry sees as ‘a variation on the post-natal confinement of Perkins Gilman’s protagonist.’ In Self Portrait, where monitors are mounted in landscape and portrait format, the ‘zoom architecture of pandemic communication’ pitches eyes, hands, feet, ears and noses together in a ‘claustrophobic cacophony of the confined body.’ The disembodied hand flaps and scratches at the tiny dolls house curtain and floorboards. The head is submerged into the wall and floor, only the eye able to move. Imprisonment, proximity, suffocation and anxiety are embedded in a diurnal cycle of tiny movements and barely audible sound effects. The simplicity of the sets – basic hand drawn line on cardboard – and the crisp audio-visual production values – make this a sensorily compelling piece that anyone who’s lived through the pandemic lockdowns will identify with. An earlier film on show will be Possession (2011), a 6 minute 30 second performative work which reveals the level of absolute dedication and hard work Barry devotes to her practice. Hours of laborious stop animation have been poured into this single channel film, and the result is a contemporary gothic horror of barely contained hysteria, where Barry stars as a housewife possessed by her own house. As the unfortunate protagonist she is driven to slicing bread using the electronic garage door, and to mowing the lawn using tiny scissors tied onto strands of her own hair. Of primary importance here and in many of Barry’s works are her imaginative readings of literary classics from Beckett to Bram Stoker and her gruesome sense of humour and of the absurd. Listen. Liquid, the syllables; the echo, luminous (2021) is a performative wallpaper installation drawing work that ‘emulates the movement and uncanny imagery from Perkins Gilman’s novella.’ Barry recalls in it turning to ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos during lockdown to help keep anxiety and insomnia at bay. ‘It became my digital pilgrimage... It expanded my hypothalamus to picture materials and fluid in-between spaces and allowed my racing mind to rest.’ The title of the piece comes from a line of a poem, ‘At Bridget’s Well’ by the poet Doirrean Ní Ghríofra, an ode that references ‘wells, pilgrimage and liminal dreamy in-between spaces.’ Sequestered in a darkened area of the gallery, light bleeps around the drawing, linking, breaking, rejoining. Colour drips and dashes; luminous flowers pulse and mutate. Finally, ‘The Monachopsis Drawings’ (2021) are a series of fifty-two drawings made during the pandemic turned into a limited-edition print body. Hyper-awareness of the body, its various parts and functions inspired Barry to create such surreal pairings as Mollarpillar, a caterpillar with teeth along its spine; Every move you make, an eyeball with a beetle head and legs; Drawing 24, an eyeball waiting for the chop on an egg slicer; or Mouth at both ends, an intestine with two protruding tongues. A comic element of rising hysteria under pressure from close quarantine in the home also inspired a rich seam of potential domestic accidents. A sewing machine stitching over fingers, a dinner fork in a socket, a mobile phone heated and bent by hair straighteners, or stuck in a mincer, or in a deep fat fryer, or on a barbeque, or sitting in a toastie machine. As Barry herself points out, ‘the tone of the exhibition is rooted in how Trauma causes a radical projection of a different reality and yet it is rooted in the notion of how Art bears witness to these traumas as a bystander that ultimately provokes conversations around these difficult subjects.’ What becomes clear from talking with Barry and exploring her incredible body of work, is the way her artistic process and productiveness permeate her entire life. I was interested to find out what compelled her to constantly make art: ‘I feel being an artist is an enormous privilege. I am from a working-class background and you do not see many people from the working classes represented in this field so I try my best to use that space of privilege to do the best I can, to represent my community and to commandeer a space for that othered voice to be present. So, no moment is ever wasted. Art for me and art making for me is like breathing in oxygen, I can’t not make art, or I will suffocate. The most compelling thing for me is to make art out of that feeling of being “othered” in some way, giving voice to a community or a people who have not occupied a place of privilege.’





EVA_Logo white-small-117.png
LMK City & County Council Logo_18April2017 (1)_edited.png
bottom of page