Unlocking the Lockdown. A journal entry by Cathy McGrath

In this suffocating world of the new normal an inviting invitation popped up in my inbox a few weeks ago – a notification that Mother’s Tankstation, Ushers Quay, in the thrust of Dublin’s Liberties, was opening up again and you could book your slot and visit in complete isolated openness. I was quick off the mark, tap tap tap and I had my slot booked. It was for 3 weeks hence from the booking date but at last I felt the diary was beginning to pulsate. I was making cautious baby steps around the ever-lurking Covid virus and heading up to the big smoke to visit an art gallery. Gone are the days when, on impulse, I would dash through the open door of
some fascinating, or even bland, building to ponder some wonderful artworks set up for just this pleasure. We now have to book, enter with a mask, stay well clear of all other humans and cleanse the hands from the pump action bottle patently placed at the front door. This is the new normal.
So eager was I to break free from these lockdown shackles that I booked my slot without even investigating what I was going to see. So, once I felt safe in the knowledge that I had my place in the queue, I looked into what was being exhibited. The blurb informed me that it was an art installation by Niamh O’Malley named Placeholder. At this point, I think I should say, aptly named. What is a placeholder but a thing or person who holds the place of another person or thing. Suddenly I thought how freakily relevant the title of this exhibition was to our current climate. We seem to be waiting in the wings as the thing called Covid holds our place in the act of living. For a while I felt this virus was bigger than living, it is a thing holding our place all over the place–at sports events, at cinemas, at art galleries, in family homes, at music festivals, in shops and even on the streets of our cities and towns. Covid 19 exploded into our worlds and infiltrated all these places and happenings and events. It scuppered all our plans. But slowly, slowly we are trying to take our places back. It’s a tentative move—we didn’t ask this Covid to be a placeholder, it actually usurped—but still we are getting our places back.
So with quite a mind full of thoughts and ponderings, I ventured up to the exhibition. The traffic on the way up on the N11, though lighter than the pre-Covid days, was a little heavier for sure. I had to do some weaving in and out of the lanes which definitely gave me a little tug of whoopee, back we are! Parking was not a problem and off I skipped to ring the bell of the art gallery a few minutes before my allotted time of 12 midday. The building which houses the Mother’s Tankstation is a sensitively restored old sausage factory and it created the perfect confines for the display of this particular exhibition by Niamh O’Malley. The bits of found glass
and steel and worked limestone suitably echoed my feelings of escaping from lockdown. I was all alone in the space for my specified half an hour bar the curator who met me at the door and gave a brief synopsis of the exhibition. In some ways it was lovely exploring this small gallery on one’s own but I definitely missed the low murmurings of other viewers. The art pieces though, echoed the natural world in that they were pieces of glass and stone displayed in very quiet unsupposing ways. I felt the strong sense of seeing through something in the glass and the closer you got to peer through the more the other side changed. Perhaps, again, a
reverberation of the times we find ourselves in now, nothing is sure and stable, everything keeps wandering off and changing. The exhibition was a deflection of light and time. One of the installations resembled stair banisters, lovely curved wood wandering along the wall, the fact though that the banister ran straight along the wall instead of upwards felt a little unreal, again a reflection of the unreality of the times we find ourselves in. It felt like the banisters were holding a place, waiting for the stairs to be installed.
I did enjoy my little lonely jaunt up to the gallery. I relished the fact that I had an outing ‘by appointment’ and the feeling of taking my place back in the riot of living was pleasing. But many things were still very much off-kilter, most notably the city. A city without its people is not the same and the societal cracks of Dublin gape menacingly at the lone walker. The area where the gallery is situated is a rather sad one with its users making one feel as if you have quietly but quickly slipped into the dystopian setting of a city in decay. Like most of us my heart palpitates in a crowd but at the same time the vacant solitude of the city streets as they are now is rather unsettling. We are trying to unlock the lockdown. Slowly and stealthily we are taking our places back, and as nerve-wracking as it is, it’s vital and positive so let’s do it and let’s do it together.

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