Joan O’Beirne: The Scarf

October 13, 2017 - February 11, 2018

Bright orange industrial extension cords are the basis of an ongoing series of works by Joan O’Beirne. The Scarf comprises photographs, video, and sculpture, as well as a performance: at the opening day of her BMAC installation, the artist continued adding rows to her knitted creation while silently sitting on a staircase.

Knitting is usually associated with notions of calm, warmth, and comfort. Even thinking about knitting a scarf out of industrial-grade extension cords makes ones’ neck and shoulders tense, hands and arms ache with exhaustion. Who will wear such a scarf? How can it ever be comfortable or give warmth? Is its making an act of caring or of penance?

A wall-sized photograph of a tattered extension cord, printed on one-foot-square panels of brushed and burnished aluminum, is the installation’s centerpiece. The background’s shimmering shades of gray heighten the sharp, clear contours of the strand. Nicks, cuts, and daubs of paint visible on the surface of the looping cord testify to long utilitarian usage, while its sweeping scale lends the humble object monumentality.

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

The three works in this installation reflect the improbable effort of extracting sense from experience. All of them include aspects of tension, trauma, and the physical manifestation of transformation. To sit at the top of the stairs knitting an unlikely yarn of extension cords into a scarf is a leap of faith as well as an obsessive act of futility, redefining the function of both extension cords and scarf.

“Making a big deal” out of something deemed insignificant by others magnifies the contrast between perception and understanding. Why photograph a damaged and threatening extension cord, print it on industrial-weight aluminum, and delicately pin each sheet to the wall like a butterfly specimen?

The video depicting hands knitting row after row of a scarf with no apparent use, or the hands that compulsively attempt to wash themselves of paint in a bowl of water beckon me to a disquieting place beyond the contrasts of large and small, light and heavy, function and meaning.

This exhibit is dedicated to my brother Christopher, who took his life in June 2000.

— Joan O’Beirne


Photo Gallery