Seán O Sullivan is a writer and curator whose work focuses on the politics and preservation of localities. He has curated projects and written critical texts dealing with subjects such as architecture, ecology and the bonds between people and places. He is a former chairman of Black Church Print Studio, Dublin. He holds an MA in Curation and a BA in Fine Art from IADT, Dún Laoghaire. He is currently Visual Arts Adviser to the Arts Council of Ireland / An Comhairle Ealaíon.

This page: A short essay prepared for Ffrench/Harte’s exhibition entitled The Sovereigns at Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray.

The Sovereigns

  • Ffrench/Harte
  • Mermaid Arts Centre
  • 7th Mar – 11th Apr 2013
  • Image by Stefan Syrowatka
Image: Stefan Syrowatka
Image: Stefan Syrowatka

Ffrench/Harte’s exhibition ‘The Sovereigns’ presents us with the remnants of a bridge-hanging between two small islands jutting up from the shallow waters ten miles off the coast of Kinsale Harbour. Alongside a series of photographs, a cyclical video and the twenty-two metre rope bridge, there will be a single screening of a short film documenting the day-long raising of the bridge between the diminutive Sovereign islands.

The film begins in blackness. For a short time we are met only with the sound of that day’s weather announcements folding over one another in a busy overture. When the darkness lifts into light there are two dank islands protruding from the sea like dead gods. They are wrapped by jagged ridges and there are parched ferns growing wherever the stone meets the sky. The water buzzes and rushes around the inky bedrock, its noise is coarse and relentless.

The boats come riding across the surf with the bridge packed on board. They settle in a gully between the islands where the crossing will be. The water creates a quick rush of pressure and pushes the boats hard against the island wall. One person puts her legs between the craft and the cliff to keep the hull from breaking. Someone has planted steel hoops into the gully’s upper edge and the crew skilfully thread lines between the boats and the island’s midsection. They shout orders and ease the bridge upwards and back downwards until it slides into place.

The bridge is an intricate thing: its cords and guides weave into a tight pattern and there are hundreds of small knots fastening against one another. Looking up from the sea, the rope walls bleed softly into the clouds. The footpath is made from thick wooden boards painted in irregular earthen tones.

Once it’s been mounted, the path leads from the smaller island’s edge directly into the cliff wall opposite; there is no way to leave the bridge at its far side. This gesture, the attempt to briefly unite the Sovereign islands exists in symbolic terms only. No person could hope to actually cross that bridge; it is impassable to all people, in all practical senses. In a closing sequence, the islands appear from a distance. The horizon and sea have already begun to blur together, slowly succumbing to the dusk. A small silhouette waits to step out to the ropes.