Camera Obscura: Seeing Across Boundaries

Sylvia Grace Borda leads 14 local Artists engaging the community in action-based research for a cross-border ‘gateway’ artwork.

Camera obscura is an artistic process which informs the art of observation as well as scientific discovery. In Western Europe, artists were engaged in utilizing the latest technologies to observe and record the natural and built environment. The camera obscura is one such tool that was widely used for artistic and scientific device that was employed from the Renaissance period to the Victorian era, and more recently historians have speculated about its possible use as far back as the earliest cave paintings. The ways in which we observe affect the way we view, perceive and understand the world around us. The camera obscura was also scaled to serve as observational viewing platforms and, importantly, it is a precursor to the invention of
photography and surveillance technology. In a Border context the idea of the camera obscura is very appropriate because of the culture of surveillance associated with Border territory.

This Peace III funded research and development aims to promote a shared cultural life across the Border and inform a potential gateway arts project along the Border. The Border is a relatively untapped cultural resource and the involvement of local artists together with the lead artist, Sylvia and her collaborator Keith Donnelly, brings a wealth of Border-life experience to bring to this project where they collectively represent the Irish, Northern Irish, Canadian and Scottish Borders. The project is also currently benefiting from the involvement with the Geo Park and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, which are both successful cross-border initiatives. As part of the project the artists will work with community groups each side of the divide to enable the process of ‘Seeing Across Boundaries’ and bringing about a wider, much richer cultural experience.

Introduction to the project by Sylvia Grace Borda

As part of the community engagement in the progression and development of artwork the emergent work on this programme Seeing Across Boundaries will be on tour along the Border starting at in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre, Manorhamilton, from October 15th 2010. 

The Projects and Artists included in SCOPING WORLDS are:

Seeing Across Boundaries (Artist in Residence Cavan County Council, 2010) Lead by Sylvia Grace Borda featuring work by artists Yvonne Cullivan, Harriet Sarah Jane Browne, Kim Doherty, Tom Hyde, J. Keith Donnelly, Christine Mackey, Carmel O’Callaghan, Bernard McCabe, Gerard Reilly, Celia Richard, Olivia Johnston Murphy, Sally O’Dowd.

Seeing Across Boundaries is a project that aims to foster an appreciation of both cultural identities and geographical histories traversing the Border areas and to further define them within a broader artistic and technological history.

Still from 'A Roof Over Our Heads' a performance by Olivia Johnston Murphy

Work has culminated for this exhibition through a series of master classes led by Canadian artist, Sylvia Grace Borda, and Scottish curator and sculptor, J.Keith Donnelly, Artists from the Border areas, Co. Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth were brought together through these classes in which each artist had an opportunity to re-examine the art of observation in the context of the Border areas between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Artists were introduced to the camera obscura, as well as stereo and macro photography, photogrammetry, and cartographic drawing as alternative ways of recording and observing. Lectures by Barrie Hartwell, Senior Archaeologist, and Maura Pringle, Head of Maps, from Queen’s University Belfast further provided the artists with a better understanding of geological and geographic histories around the Border regions.

In this way, the resulting work in Seeing Across Boundaries offers a real and interpretive remapping and re-imagining of the Border areas through the act of observation, an activity synonymous with the Troubles. It further challenges the viewer with new definitions of how the dividing line between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can be seen and defined. And similarly, the artwork encourages a re-assessment of the landscape in both the psychological and physical sense.

Seeing Across Boundaries is an exhibition of over 30 artworks in different media including textile, collage, stereoscopy, drawing, camera obscura techniques, performance, photograms, video and sculpture.

Studio Games by Yukie Hori (Artist in Residence LSC, 2010)
Hori examines the limitation of photographic reproduction through a continuous displacement between reality and photography: In producing works for specific sites Hori takes photos of the location and displays these, often to scale, in the same place they were taken. These subtle and shifting optical games are an attempt by the artist to engage the viewer in a new way of perceiving their surrounding and to look afresh at the everyday.

On/Off States by Elaine Reynolds (Artist in Residence LSC, 2010)
Reynolds addresses the questionable futures of countless un-finished, un-inhabited houses, the so-called 'Ghost Estates’ of post -Celtic Tiger Ireland. In one such location lights were installed within the concrete shell of a house. These lights were electronically programmed on and off in a sequence that signifies the S.O.S pattern in Morse code. This gesture relies on the use of opposing ‘On/Off states’ that form the basis of many familiar coding systems. This relationship is explored further in the use of binary code inscriptions and even in consultation of the supposedly prophetic Hexagrams of the I Ching. A range of dichotomies emerge in relation to these contradictory sites - on/ off, light/ dark, positive/ negative, presence/ absence, ambition/ reality.

SCOPING WORLDS is curated by Sylvia Grace Borda and Sean O’Reilly, and will travel to the Bluewall Gallery in the Geo Park in Feb 2011. Watch this space!

Project supported by PEACE III Programme managed for the Special EU Programmes Body by the County Cavan PEACE III Peace and Reconciliation Partnership

For further information visit or contact the artist

Date and time:

31 Mar 2010 - 30 Dec 2010


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