Helen Kirwan is an artist working with performance, moving image and installation. Recurring themes are memory and memorial and fragment and trace. She is interested in the question of what is memory and how might it function and be visually represented. She asks what action can be taken, what objects can be assembled and what journeys can be undertaken in the service of memory and how is time in itself memorial and memory.
Drawing on her own experience of sudden loss and choosing remote outdoor locations such as in Iceland and Connemara, Ireland, she creates videos of her performances of repetitive, absurd and pointless tasks: stroking decayed plants in a peat bog, measuring the sea with test-tubes and buckets and the ground with pieces of string-the physical traces of mourning.
Repetition evokes the ceaseless journeying and yearning which some psychologists identify as intrinsic to the bereavement process. The sensorimotor, haptic elements of her performances correspond to metaphors for wayfinding and mapping; feeling literally, the ground and one’s way through the darkness, wilderness and bewilderment of bereavement.
She is interested in journeying as a haptic, emotive terrain, a dynamic site of transit, connections and interrelationships. She explores also the metaphorical construction of memory through travel and it’s textual and visual narratives as expressed by Proust, Walter Benjamin and others. This inspires her direct, performative commitment to the long journeys which she has undertaken in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Middle East.
Intrinsic to these futile tasks and journeying is an essential incompletion which is itself the mode of fulfilment. This stems from Kirwan’s interest in Friederich Schlegel’s concept of the philosophical fragment as a dynamic, creative practice of fragmentation for its own sake in which totality is both finite and plural at the same time.
Kirwan practised law as a barrister in Dublin and London for nearly twenty years before becoming an artist full time. She has a B.A. First Class Honours in Fine Art from the University for the Creative Arts Canterbury (2000), MA in Fine Art from the University of Middlesex (2002) and an MA in Aesthetics and Art Theory (2004) from the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, London. She has taught fine art and historical and critical studies at a number of institutions including the University for the Creative Arts.
Her videos, video installations and performances have been shown in galleries, festivals and cinemas in many countries including the USA, Cuba, France, Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, India, UK and during the 55th, 56th and 57th Venice Biennales. She has undertaken artist residencies in Berlin and at KASK, University College Ghent. During 2019 she will be artist in residence in Iceland and Ireland.
CV & Education
ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
2004 M.A. Aesthetics & Art Theory (Merit) Centre for Research in Mod European Philosophy, London
2002 M.F.A. University of Middlesex, London
2000 B.A. Fine Art (First Class Honours), Kent Institute of Art & Design
1979 LL.B. University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
1972 B.SS. University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
SELECTED GROUP AND SOLO PROJECTS
2019 perpetuum mobile, 58th Venice Biennale, European Cultural Centre, Palazzo Bembo, Italy. Opening 11 May
2019 Memory Theatre, 8th.Festival Internacional De Videoarte De Camagüey, Cuba. Opening 21 April
2019 Residency, Arts-Iceland/ Outvert Art Space, Westfjords, Iceland; 6 weeks from 1 July 2019
2019 Residency, Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, Co. Cork, Ireland; 3 weeks from 19 September
2018 Memory Theatre, (screening & talk) Close-Up Cinema, London, UK
2018 Memory Theatre, performance/installation/experiment: Space Arts Centre, London, UK
2017 Memory Theatre, live performances, Folkestone Triennial Fringe, UK
2017 Memory Theatre, International Bodrum Biennale, Turkey
2017 Memory Theatre, (screening & talk) Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK
2017 transcend borders, Thread of Light exhibition, P 21 Gallery London, UK
2017 Memory Theatre, 57th Venice Biennale, European Cultural Centre, Palazzo Mora, Italy
2017 Fragment and Trace, 7th.Festival Internacional De Videoarte De Camagüey, Cuba
2016 Memory Theatre, installation, 15th International October Festival, Çankaya Gallery, Ankara, Turkey
2016 Memory Theatre, Centre for Sub-structured Loss, Berlin, Germany Residency, Centre for Sub-structured Loss, Berlin, Germany / Toronto, Canada
2016 Fragment and Trace, Rapid Pulse International. Perf. Art Festival, Chicago, USA
2016 Fragment and Trace, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, UK
2016 Fragment and Trace, Fonland Festival 2016; Projecto Videolab, Coimbra, Portugal
2016 Image of the Road, EINA, Espai Barra de Ferro, Artist Book Fair Barcelona, Spain
2016 Image of the Road, mutascope, International Festival of Projections, University of Kent, UK
2015 Fragment and Trace Bodrum Biennale, Turkey
2015 Fragment and Trace Palazzo Bembo, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
2015 Frontiére et Territoire Maison de l’Art et de la Communication de Sallaumines, France
2014 Image of the Road James Hockey Gallery, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham
2014 Propositions: ESADHAR Gallery, Le Havre, France
2014 Propositions: Studio 65, Rouen, France
2014 Propositions: Brewery Tap Gallery, Folkestone
2014 Let there be no Sadness of Farewell Folkestone Triennial Fringe
2014 Image of the Road Palais des Nations, United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
2013 Image of the Road Experimental Art Gallery, Contemporary Art Centre, Delhi, India
2013 Image of the Road Hall of Nations Gallery, IRTE, Faridabad Delhi, India
2013 Venetian Drift with Jane Madsen; part of David Goldenberg’s Postautonomy group, Alternative Structures, GAA, Pallazo Bembo, Venice Biennale, Italy.
2010 Drawing Together Parabola Arts Centre Cheltenham
2010 The Sculpture Question Research Group researcher/ facilitator UCA, Canterbury
2007 Becket Pilgrimage, with outsidedge: Nolias Gallery, London
2006 Spatial Politics: OE10 SE15 with outsidedge: Sassoon Gallery, London
2004 Amicalement Vôtre: “Jöelle Tuerlinckx + collection d’oevres d’amis” / “Jöelle Tuerlinckx Invité…:”, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tourcoing, Lille, France
2003 Venetian Drift, with Jane Madsen. For Omtrent de Biennale van Venetië  with ASK!: Architectuur Stad Kunst, Dept. Architecture & Urban Planning, Ghent Univ. Belgium
2002 Expanded/Thinking Quicksilver Gallery, London
2002 Expanded/Thinking M17 Johnny’sArthouse, London
2001 Action Without Knowing: with Jöelle Tuerlinckx I Argos, Brussels and Vooruit Ghent, Belgium
2001 Parallel Realities installation: Quicksilver Gallery, London
2001 Who Is Here: Who Is Not Here?, Byam Shaw Gallery, London
2000 Sweet Art: a Banquet for the End of Art, Quicksilver Gallery, London
2000 It’s not the End, for the London Biennale curated by David Medalla: London*
2000 Three Art Projects for Social Change: Project Facilitator and Co-ordinator / visiting artist with Public Art Research Centre (UCA) and Smith & Fowle: East Kent
2000 COS Project (Cultural Operations And Services) Herbert Read Gallery, UCA, Canterbury, Kent
1999 Sightseeing Cruise, River Wensum, Norwich performative project with Southern Steamers, supporting East International: Norwich*
1999 2000 Drawings Project: Post-Ulu, Substation Gallery, Singapore*
1999 Dream Plan Project, Fusion Gallery Socho-Gu Arts Institute, and Kwanhoon Gallery, Seoul, South Korea*
1999 Homeless Project: with David Goldenberg at the Curating Post – Institutions conference and off-site talk, Co-mediator of interactive tools: ICA and Mota Gallery, London*
1999 24 Hour Smile Project: Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London*
1999 Roma Petlicof: installation curated by Peter Lewis: UCA, Canterbury
1999 Homeless: Developing a Range of Models of the Exhibition Event, Mota Gallery, London*
1998 Iatrogenesis: The Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital, Margate, Kent
1998 Words of Art Barton Mill, Canterbury
1998 Suehtemorp Project: field museum / installation: portacabin, Canterbury
1998 Ruins of Jellopolis: curated by Anthony Heywood & Derek Hampson: UCA, Canterbury
1998 Interactive Dialogue: unlimited by temporal and geographical boundaries. UCA, Canterbury*
1997 Interactive Fax Project: transcending geographical and temporal barriers, UCA, Canterbury*
2017-date External Examiner, Middlesex University, BA (Hons) Fine Art for, AKTO, Greece.
2016-date Sessional tutor, Research Dialogues, M.A. Fine Art, UCA, Canterbury, Kent, UK
2016-date Visiting tutor, Research Dialogues, B.A. Fine Art, UCA, Canterbury, Kent, UK
2010-date Researcher: The Sculpture Question Research Group UCA, Canterbury, Kent
2007-date Tutor Cultural & Critical Studies: BA (Hons) Art & Design Univ. of Brighton, with Sussex Coast Coll.
2005-2009 Lecturer: Fine Art, B.A.(Hons.) Canterbury College
PAPERS TALKS PUBLICATIONS
2018 Gesture,Trace, Performance - paper and film screening interdisciplinary conference, UCA, UK
2017 Memory and Memorial, talk and video screening: Towner Gallery, Eastbourne, UK
2017 Transcend Borders, ISBN is 978-1-5272-0905-3
2015 Tracing Lines: Conference: lecture, ‘trace, fragment, experience’ James Hockey Gallery, UCA, Farnham
2014 Image of the Road: talk, James Hockey Gallery, University for the Creative Arts, Farnham
2014 Image of the Road: talk, Brighton University, Sussex Coast College, Hastings
2013 Politics at the Heart of Aesthetics: Univ. for Creative Arts (UCA) Lalit Centre, Delhi, India.
2005 Footprints [Omtrent de Biennale van Venetië  /About the Venice Biennale: with Jane Madsen & outsidedge: Issue 3, ed. James Swinson, Pub. The London Group
2003 Early German Romanticism’s Enduring Themes in Contemporary Art Practice: M.A. philosophy dissertation.
2002 Venetian Drift: with Jane Madsen, Ask Magazine published by ASK! Architectuur Stad Kunst, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning, Ghent, Belgium.
1999-2000 Three, international public art project in East Kent curated by Smith & Fowle, with N55 (Denmark), Muf (London), Kathrin Bohm & Stefan Saffer (Germany) funded by ACE, PARC, YOTA, The Danish Contemporary Art Foundation and others:- workshops with undergraduates and community groups and a writing project with the local press; U.K. *
Projects marked * denotes work undertaken as B+K in collaboration with Dr. Mary-Lou Barratt