Photos by Caroline Brady

Chocolate and Strawberries. Ham and Pineapple. Popcorn and butter. Jack Daniels and Coke.

Hard to believe that at one time these combinations didn’t exist, but they didn’t. Way back when, they were merely separate, lonely entities. Then, by genius or by fortune, someone came along and brought them together.

Now, thanks to Dublin-based writing collective, Cave Writings, a combination has been forged between Dublin’s separate spheres of literature and visual arts.

The group embarked on a project to pair ten of its writers with ten visual artists from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), including painters, sculptors, print-makers, and film-makers.

Each pair met up, exchanged previous work, and then went off to write or create a piece in response to one another’s work.

In 12 photos, Daniel Fox responds to a poem by Sophie Meehan.

The fruits of this collaboration are now on show at the Cave Paintings exhibition that opened Monday night in 18b Kildare Street, which runs until this Friday night.

There’s great variety in the work of the artists on display, from painting to sculpting to video installation to photography. The piece of writing to which the artist was responding – most often a poem – is displayed right beside their work.

It’s interesting to look at a piece of art that has been directly influenced by a piece of writing, and to see the ways in which each of the artists responded.

Some produced works that seemed only abstractly connected to the writing that inspired them, like Daniel Danyal Fox’s I to XII, a response to Sophie Meehan’s poem novel extract “One to Five”. I to XII consists of 12 black-and-white photographs of trails, bridges, and gateways. The structures teeter on the edges of the shots, seemingly leading to nowhere.

Other works, like Claire Marie Ryan’s five wonderfully creepy and strangely erotic drawings inspired by five of Anna Walsh’s poems, tackle the content of the writing much more directly.

Each of Ryan’s drawings is inspired and shaped by a different pair of lines from Walsh’s poems, and these lines are incorporated into the drawings.

Her List Making takes two lines from the poem of the same name by Walsh:

Con: The space you take beside others is informed by it.

Pro: You have survived something.

The drawing, which includes the lines, has three people sitting beside one another on a plane. Two men on either side of a woman. Each as miserable-looking as the next. But, oddly, the woman in the middle is wearing an inflated yellow life jacket.

The writers’ responses to the artists’ work are available in the gallery. And the pieces to which they were responding are also on display.

The 70 or so people who packed into the cave-like space at 18b Kildare Street on Monday, opening night, were treated to performances by five of the writers. Each read their response to the work of the artist with whom they had been paired.

The pieces varied from D. Joyce-Ahearne’s short story about distorted memory, “Shards”, to the melodic and wonderful poem “The First Diptych parts I-V” by S. G., to the hypnotic and brilliant Ginsberg-esque “Notes from the Archangel of Aldi” by Niall McCabe, responding to Ann Escor’s, Focus on Counterpoint.

The other five writers will read their responses this Friday, on the closing night of the exhibition.

The idea for Cave Paintings came from a desire to see more cross-pollination among the arts in Dublin, said D. Joyce-Ahearne, co-founder of Cave Writings.

Cave Writings, a casual weekly meetup group for writers to read their work or just to chat and hang out with other writers, was set up at the end of January, Joyce-Ahearne says, and it quickly become very popular.

There were a lot of performance and spoken-word nights on around the city, Joyce-Ahearne says. Cave Writings offered a more casual environment, where writers could just turn up and socialise together, and if they had something to read, they could read it and get feedback.

The writers were from all different backgrounds: prose, poetry – even science students came to read interesting essays.

The model worked.

“We’d really created what we wanted in the literature community,” he says. What the Cave wanted to see more of, though, was visual arts.

Artists Aaron Smyth and Stephen Lowe came and presented their work at the Cave in March, via a project.

“It was really cool,” Joyce-Ahearne says.

But it was the only time artists presented at the Cave.

Joyce-Ahearne and wondered why there was such a divide in Dublin between visual artists and the writing community.

“We said, ‘Right, we need to do something with this,’ and we came up with the idea of Cave Paintings,” he says.

To go by Monday night, the idea of combining literature and visual arts is intriguing enough to get the numbers out.

And judging by the responses of those who attended, their engagement with the works of art as well as the readings of the writers, the exhibition as a whole, is a success.

Eimear Regan, an art student at NCAD, likes the idea of pairing artists and writers. “Don’t you?” she asks.

She’s been drawn to one particular painting, Siobhan O’Callaghan’s She, Christmas Morning, which is a response to Alvy Carragher’s poem “Christmas Morning”.

She, Christmas Morning by Siobhan O’Callaghan

The painting is of a young, blonde-haired woman staring at her hands, one closed around the other. The stark contrast of light and dark are in the style of Caravaggio.

It’s realist in form, but the thick brushstrokes in the dark areas are expressionist, says Regan.

She doesn’t know if she likes it, but, she admits, she’s been staring at it for the last fifteen minutes.

A friend of hers, a short, pale girl with strawberry-blonde hair and red lips, is also a fan of the exhibition and the coming-together of different artistic disciplines.

She’s not a writer or an artist, but an “appreciator”, she  says.

“The combination of the art and the literature works well,” she says. “On their own, the pieces are not necessarily relevant.”

I have to disagree here. The Cave Paintings exhibition works on several different levels.

One of the reasons it does so is because of the unusual idea of bringing writers and artists together and displaying their work.

But another reason is that both the pieces of writing and the art, some of which is really magnificent, stand perfectly well on their own merit.

Either way, the work at the Cave Paintings exhibition is definitely worth checking out.

The Cave Paintings exhibition is open from 10am to 3pm in 18b Kildare Street and runs until Friday 20 November. The exhibition’s closing night on Friday will take place from 7pm. It’s BYOB and it’s free.

UPDATE: Two corrections were made to this article on 20 Nov at 11.18 am. The artist Daniel Fox is actually Danyal Fox, and Sophie Meehan’s piece was an extract from a novel, rather than a poem. Sorry about the errors!

Damien Murphy is Dublin Inquirer's Northside city reporter.

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