Áine (2020)

by: , October 5, 2020

© Catherine Harper, ‘Áine’ (2020)

The stitched and quilted ‘intimate textiles’ artwork titled ‘Áine’ was started pre-lockdown in January 2020. I had a two-week residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland. There I wrote about the design:

The spirals come from the Neolithic Tomb of Newgrange in Ireland, where the midwinter sun penetrates the seventeen-feet-long chamber deep into the earth and illuminates a carved stone. This only happens on the winter solstice, and only 12 people are allowed on the site and in the chamber before dawn on 21 December.

I was there during the 1995 solstice. I was ‘bumped up’ the incredibly long list by a lovely civil servant in Dublin, who acknowledged that Northern Ireland was edging towards the end of the ‘Troubles’ (in 1998) by telling me that ‘we need to help our brothers and sisters in the North’.

And so, I got into that chamber long before dawn. We silently watched a grey finger of light creep into the dark and lengthen until it tickled that inner stone. Spirals are female and zigzags are male.

The materials are ‘intimate textiles’, worn on bodies and then discarded: corsets, lingerie, nighties, bras, slips, suspenders for stockings, and my pricked finger added a drop of my blood… Herein are my concerns: women, intimacy, sex, death, birth, Ireland and its conflicts, stains and blood, and, of course, an undercurrent of shame which goes alongside all the rest.

Just before and during the lockdown this year, three members of my family died. Marion died in Australia following a long illness. Nita and Steve both contracted Covid-19 and died in hospitals in England. My father and mother were separately hospitalised in Northern Ireland with different illnesses, but each made a full recovery.

All through the Spring of 2020, I sewed and sewed, as if life depended on it, and in some ways it did. Hours and hours, thousands of repetitive stitches, in lines and spirals and zigzags, marking these lives. And as I sewed, I watched the summer blossom, felt the sun’s warmth grow, and drew comfort in knowing that life moves onwards, both relentlessly and rhythmically, recording the light and the dark.

Áine is the Irish goddess of summer, love, fertility, wealth and sovereignty. The stitched and quilted ‘intimate textiles’ artwork titled ‘Áine’ was finished in June 2020 and has been gifted to my stepdaughter to celebrate her marriage in Australia. The digital print is a memory trace of Áine, a reminder of the mourning and melancholy of the lockdown, and a symbol of the cycle of renewal.


‘Áine’ (2020), 150×200, stitched and quilted ‘intimate textiles’ artwork
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