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Catalogue Text – Martin Parr, ‘Communal Observances’, Roscommon Arts Centre (Writer-in-Residence) September 2021.

September 23, 2021

Communal Observances

Joanne Laws

Below are the disenchanted holidaymakers,

who have little time to bother

with the enigmatic young swimmers,

gliding over their heads.

Above are the weightless bathers in motion

who, through the refraction of light in water,

appear magnified and larger-than-life.

This feature wall transcends the kitchen hatch

in your suburban terrace; it is a vignette, a microcosm –

a luminous window into a parallel cinematic world.

Above are the mermaids of the Silver Screen,

enacting a silent film, a subaquatic melodrama –

a water ballet, recalling Hollywood’s

poolside vintage glamour.

Below are the dispirited matriarchs,

hunched stiffly in dark overcoats,

unconcerned with the agile,

heavenly bodies, floating overhead.[i]

What kitchen sink dramas are enfolded

within these nomadic rolls of carpet?

As upright as towers, they echo the vertical townships,

whose interiors they are destined for.

Soft furnishings to thaw shuttered concrete;

Chintzy patterns at odds with the stark unpainted exterior.

Uniform in height and design, they afford each neighbour

little capacity for deviation.

Row upon modular row stands the brooding,

rectilinear, multistorey, high-rise;

its raw materials banishing all unnecessary adornment.

Outwardly, the tower blocks are aspirational monuments

to post-war urban dwelling;

Inwardly, residents are displaced

from condemned tenements and inner-city slums.

Tightly rolled and bound together,

they are a thousand zoned homes, encircling a roundabout –

off-cuts to describe Dublin’s most marginalised suburb.[ii]

Upon every available surface,

spectators perch and lurch and stoop,

each concrete post or ramshackle fence

a more than ample podium, at a time when locals

are still prone to lingering on stone walls,

even beyond the communal observances of Race Day.

The viewing platform heaves like a loaded freight train;

Sentinels peep from corrugated huts,

surveying the odds through binoculars.

Small children straddle high overhanging ledges,

perhaps a parental strategy to curtail wandering,

lest they stray under the feet of adults –

or spook the galloping horses.[iii]

At the entrance to the Mayflower,

moving figures vapourise, rendered phantom-like

through long exposure.

Neither present nor absent, these amorphous bodies

recall the Irish púca – a supernatural shapeshifter,

who lingers in the rural imagination.

The most feared of all the fairies,

this darkling conjures mischief in the dead of night;

its nebulous spirits are at once

menacing and pleasing, malevolent and protective.

Through the alchemical fusion of time and matter,

these half-life forms are etched onto film,

to remerge later in semi-darkness,

like some moon-lit apparition.

The slow shutter speed causes a spectral glow

to emanate from the ballroom exterior;

electric lighting spills between ineffective drapes

as winter draws in.[iv]

Joanne Laws is an art writer and editor based in County Roscommon.

[Featured Image: Martin Parr, Ballymun, Dublin, 1986]

Notes (Martin Parr photographs referenced):

[i] Butlins Holiday Camp, Mosney, County Meath, 1986

[ii] Ballymun, Dublin, 1986

[iii] Dingle Races, County Kerry, 1983

[iv] Mayflower Ballroom, Drumshanbo, County Leitrim, 1981

IRELAND. County Leitrim. Drumshanbo. Mayflower Ballroom. 1981.
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