Vikki Oppenheim=Blum Rites of Passage Travel Award

1998 - 2000

The Vikki Oppenheim=Blum Rites of Passage Travel Award commissioned artists to disrupt their lives and undergo an important journey for the sake of their art practice, thus identifying an ideal about travel without sentimentality. Sheila Gaffney used the award (selected from an open submission) to make the journey her father made as an immigrant from Ireland to England in 1953 and to 'go back' (as he never did). The artist aimed to realise a sense of story-telling through her sculpture. The aim of her award was to make this journey to initiate a project which places the story as journey at its centre. She travelled with a portable kit equipped to make small castings which were her primary source of recording. She took physical 'samples' and evidence by making casts of objects and textures which located the significance of time and place. She met exxtended and unknown family and made plaster casts of thier hands as mementoes and mailed them to her home.She wanted to meet head-on the places and characters (or their descendants) made real for her in her father's mythologies.

She travelled the boat train from Euston to Holyhead overnight; crossed the Irish Sea with a single suitcase; went 'shank's pony' from Dun Laorghaire to '53' (shorthand for a Dublin address in East Wall which was the site of many adventures); sought solace as he did in the peat bogs around Athlone.

Using an 8mm camera Gaffney re-enacted the journey described by her father as he ran away from home and an oppressive stepfather (aged 11). He ran across Dublin in the middle of the night, never to return to his family and beginning his own journey of migration.

The project culminated in a presentation at the Jodrell Lecture Theatre, Kew Gardens, London.

Extract from notebooks / Sheila Gaffney
24th November 1998:

The reason I want to travel-
First you un-name yourself, then you reach back into your oppressed and bloody and exploited and magical history and reclaim. Then you begin crafting out a new voice.
In 1984 I copied this piece of prose by the writer Toni Cade Bambara into my notebook - to keep it precious - to keep it in focus - and because she described something I felt I would have to do to mature as a female artist. There are still aspects of this unanswered for me. I want to 'go home' as my father would have said. I want to make this journey to enter my own bloody and magical history and explore the part of me that was given, not chosen - and I believe travelling by its very nature brings about the state of the un-named.

The benefit I hope to receive-
Through making the journey and making the castings I propose to physically touch and shake and squeeze and 'collect' my cultural history - I will glean new words for my sculptural lexicon. The journey will be an opportunity for me to meet personal aims - to physically intervene with my own cultural makeup - to step outside of my actuality and to become active as both observer and participant rather than dreamer. I want the opportunity to see where I've come from. I have survived as an artist because I have used and done what I could afford to in order to realise my ideas, but this satisfies strategic aims rather than personal ones. My proposed journey will enrich my work and empower me to grab my subject matter and use it.

How I may use this experience on my return -
My journey will form the conceptual basis for new work in the studio; the collection of moulds will be the starting point. I will unpack the memoirs and experiences from the journey through the production of multiple wax casts from the moulds. The casts will be the raw materials with which I will begin to explore.

 8mm film still   Running through Dublin 
 8mm film still   Running through Dublin 
 8mm film still   Running through Dublin