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Wednesday 23 May 2018

Exhibition is balm for the wounded psyche

Art installation by poet Christina Reihill exorcises unwanted ghosts in subliminal way, says Donal Lynch

Dona Lynch

The spectral gloom of the crypt beneath Mon-kstown's protestant church seems as good a place as any for the exorcism of stubborn old ghosts. And that is part of what the woman Marian Keyes calls "The Emily Dickinson of addiction" – Christina Reihill – hopes visitors to her new installation will achieve. Along with her gifted art director, James Mooney, she has designed a space which dramatically juxtaposes the empty ephemera of modern life with glimpses of the potential and higher consciousness that many of us choose to ignore.

"It took me 15 years in the trenches to figure this stuff out," Christina, who struggled with addiction to cocaine and suicidal feelings, says. "People who are depressed, suicidal or struggling with addiction are allergic to lectures. They don't want big, wordy lessons on where the way out is. What we wanted to do was create a space where small epiphanies might happen organically. This is a physical representation of the form recovery might take."

The installation is full of surprises. Visitors first walk past a pair of alluring designer underwear and slippers, before walking down a corridor adorned with the work of street artist Solus. At the end they are faced with two possible paths. One is brightly lit, enticing, full of screens, which represent the portals that we flee into when we can't listen to our own thoughts. Computer games, iPhones, and even Coronation Street are themes here – each representing the proxy lives we flee to when the present is intolerable. Beyond that is a claustrophobic little sitting room area, which seems to represent the comforting, yet ultimately dangerous, rut in which many of us allow ourselves to languish.

Throughout it all there are glimpses of the 'more' – the higher potential for living that we often choose to let slip by. The walls between each of these spaces have long splits in them through which visitors can peer. If they do so, they see projections of poetry and other inspirational verses on the opposing wall.

There are no lectures here but Reihill, like Alan Bennett, believes words are a salve for the psychic wounds we carry. The real Emily Dickinson is there, in all her staccato brilliance – "the heart asks for pleasure first and then, excuse from pain; and then those little anodynes that deaden suffering". But so too is Reihill's own poetry including one ode to a man – a public figure and a suitor – who called, drunk, to her door in the middle of the night. "How lost you seemed Standing, Staring, Swaying, Unwashed, Unsaved" she writes. "Useless from head to unsteady toes/Unwilling to move forward/Unwilling to move back." Needless to say he seemed less than moved by the tribute.

A different public figure, Mary Mitchell O'Connor TD, will open the exhibition on December 12. Reihill has high hopes that the exhibition will capture the imaginations of those who come to see it. "Based on years of study of the (literary) masters before me – this is a properly informed (as scientific as it gets in terms of the psyche) map for those unaware that there is such a map," she tells me.

"The reason we don't know it exists is because patterns of thought and pain distract our 'inner eye' from looking around us – we get distracted from the windows of awareness that can shed light on a situation because, like a wounded animal, we're licking what hurts."


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