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Notes on the Hyphen

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the hyphen as ‘a short dash or line (-) used to connect two words together as a compound; also, to join the separate syllables of a word, as at the end of a line; or, to divide a word into parts for etymological or other purposes.

Keown is interested in how the hyphen serves several contradictory purposes: joining and dividing; splitting and compounding; and as an ‘ever-emergent space between two distinct yet linked terms’ that negotiate ‘a space of (distantly) connected difference’. (1) Some terms cobbled together such as ‘nation-state’ and 'mental-state' are unclear and in flux. Likewise border regions are peripheries of a supposed ‘purity’ of the ‘center’. They are at once infiltration, transition and separation. They are coercive, disabling and limiting, including and excluding, but they are also permeable and benign as flexibly defined spaces of contact and division. Borderlanders have to regularly deal not with one state but two. Those who operate in both jurisdictions have to satisfy both legal requirements; they are in the process of ‘getting on with it, getting around it, living with it, and, indeed, living off of it’.(2) It is a state that knows but cannot say what it knows because it lacks a geographical heartland. The performative aspect of the hyphen offers an understanding of our-selves as more dissolved future beings - a way of marking out more complex, fluid and even paradoxical definitions of identity, typified in the figure of the nomadic anti-hero.

The canvas is both gateway and barrier - one of the many dichotomies that alternate in her ambivalence to painting. In response to Modernism’s gendered implications, some works reverse and empty out claims to autonomy, purity of form and heroic sensibility, in favour of the provocation that humour and camp offers. The videos are low grade kitschy objects that rub up against the ‘fancy ass’ paintings which contemplate aspects of life along the border through fictional characters such as the smuggler and the transitory hitchhiker. These nomadic figurations help form an effective distance to the more reactionary concerns over the ramifications of Brexit. Brexit wrangling persists as a kind of cultural-political stasis or temporal stutter. The stutter sits at a threshold, a gap where symptoms bounce around in fear of overcorrection.

Other painting processes are symbolic of loss and recovery and an internalization of the notion of borders. Delving into the shear pandemonium of surface, tone, line, space, layer, scale, speed, mass, and intention, she maps the concept of a divided subject caught in the rails of metonymic abstraction, constantly pivoted and ‘hysterically’ engaged. This process is a kind of risk management of messy and unknown consequences through uncategorized, untapped potentials that lie in the clusters of emotions and temporal confusions that we are coming to terms with now.

(1) J. DeVere Brody, Punctuation: Art, Politics, and Play, London, Duke University Press, 2008, p. 86
(2) P. J. Duffy, Continuity and change in the border landscapes, 1989, cited in C. Nash, B. Reid and B. Graham, Partitioned Lives: The Irish Borderlands, Routledge, London, 2016, p. 33.

Exhibition curated by Séan O'Reilly.

Mary Theresa Keown

Born in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland in 1974, Keown now lives and works in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim. In 2020 she completed a PhD at the University of Ulster reading feminism and the history of abstract painting. She graduated with first class honours B.A. in Fine Art 1997. She has exhibited her work throughout Ireland, and internationally. Her international shows include Tokyo, Japan, Bilbao, Spain. She has won many awards including the Ireland Fund of Great Britain- artist of the year award in 2001 and her work is housed in many public and private collections.