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Memories Exhibition & Workshops

by Elaine Mears and Marie Murray

Generously supported by Creative Ireland through our Seed Grant programme, Elaine Mears and Marie Murray’s ‘Memories’ exhibition returned to the Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, Co Mayo, in January 2023. Also included were facilitated public workshops to coincide with the five-day exhibition.   

Inspiration for ‘Memories’ comes from a collection of stories and memories told to Elaine by people in Mayo during dozens of interviews she conducted, each beginning with the same question:  

‘If you could only keep one object that is of sentimental value to you,

what would you keep and why?’

One of the most popular responses was a photograph, not just of people who had died, but animals too. Other objects, such as jewellery or a pet’s collar, were similarly chosen because of its strong connection to the memory each object evoked.     

The exhibition was a culmination of these memories which were infused into a tapestry for the senses. It seeks to explore the significance we place on items and the memories an everyday item can evoke. It also includes representations of people’s precious objects, recordings of stories, smells, and blended materials which combine to bring all the memories together in one place.  

Memories Buttons

As Elaine told us:  

When this work was exhibited for the first time last year, it provoked strong visceral reactions from many visitors, especially from those experiencing loss, grief, and approaching end of life. For example, a bereaved mother arrived with her most previous item – her recently deceased son’s table tennis bats – as she was hoping there might be an opportunity to create something from these.

As a result, Elaine and Marie resolved to re-mount ‘Memories’ but this time include a series of facilitated workshops aimed at giving people an opportunity to channel feelings around loss into something creative within a supportive environment. Each workshop enabled participants to create their own personalised keepsake which responds to the same question that inspired the exhibition. ‘If you could only keep one object that is of sentimental value to you, what would you keep and why?’

During the workshops attendees were guided in experimenting with a range of different techniques, including sewing, embroidery, painting and printing on fabric. All creative art materials were supplied. Participants were also encouraged to bring along a special object or photograph for inspiration, so they could explore ways to incorporate the meaning of it into their piece. Along with free tea, coffee, and biscuits, there was plenty of caring and supportive conversations.  

Naturally, our Arts and Creative Engagement Lead Dominic Campbell agreed. Not just with the ‘free tea, coffee, and biscuits’, but the opportunity they provide for compassionate conversations.  

“We know from previous Seed Grant projects and other ongoing projects, such as our Compassionate Culture Network, just how vital conversations are for individuals and communities involved in processing loss and grief felt in everyday life.” 

And so it was with these workshops judging by participant feedback: 

As well as Creative Ireland and Irish Hospice Foundation, ‘Memories’ was kindly supported by The Linenhall Arts Centre and Mayo County Council’s Arts Service

About Elaine Mears 

Elaine is a visual artist and theatre maker with a love for all things fabric, found and foraged. Her work explores reminiscent practices, storytelling, concepts of identity, and personal narratives of experience. Elaine’s work in community development and human rights has particularly influenced her in terms of engaging with complex ideas which explore the human condition, power dynamics and art as a means of promoting awareness of marginalisation and exclusion. In her work, she uses natural fabrics and repurposed materials as much as possible. She especially loves using natural methods of fabric dyeing.   

About Marie Murray  

Marie is a visual artist and designer. She has studied photography and specialises in old Victorian styles such as Wet Plates, Van Dyke Brown, and Cyanotype. She was part of an alternative photography group called ‘Chasing Shadows’ and, with them, exhibited internationally.

Marie’s work explores the trace of the departed which is left behind in photos and how we memorialise the dead. She works with fabric and plant dyeing to convey senses of trace, loss, and departure.