Bettina Seitz, Ghosts
“I walk into Bettina Seitz’s studio on a grey afternoon in early December, and l find myself pushed immediately into a realm of emotional responses that I’ve no chance to grapple with to sensor or parse before they are extant, complete. What l experience is confrontational, is poignant. There is an immediate sharp sense of loss, one from an unusual place, one of unusual resonances, that I don’t want to move away from, as if it is necessary to experience this reaction fully, in order to… well in order to try and be an honourable person.
Around me are ghost like forms, nothing forms, female forms yes, but women as nothing, all here but not here. They are in various stages of completion, the completion of non-existence, of non-existent lives so many women have lived in the past and still live today. A skirt shape, a blouse, a cardigan. There’s a flowing dress, a pea hat, gloves on a lap all given form and living shape, all occupied by nothing, structured on the shape of silence and emptiness. Absence has been dressed. Barra is helping with the finishing touches on one piece, a sculptor turned tailor, alters the hem on a woman who isn’t there, clothing an anonymous memory for her big day, the day when she will represent a powerless cohort of countless women in Irish society, past and present. That she does so by absence, by not existing is a jolting powerful experience.
The mind tries to kick in, have a say…the clothing fashions… antique, nostalgic… how is that made… the material l structured …
But my eye, because of the work, pulls me away from analyses, from anything rational. Thoughts, certainly mine anyway, are not appropriate at the moment. Bettina begins talking to me about the inspiration, the path to the creation of these piece, the books, her research. There’s politics, feminism, 1916, revolutionary Irish women lost to history, their ideas and contribution suffocated… a dumb muted collective of Irish women since, rendered non-existent by church and state… voiceless. Yeats is here for Bettina too Though – towering, male, the furthest thing from anonymous you could imagine – speaking to us, pointing out parallel spiritual existences… all séances and ghost talk, that risible spirit world nonsense that forced such immense poetry out of a crazy beautiful soul…
She is telling me all this because I’m going to try and write these short few words for the exhibition brochure but I’m not listening, or only half listening. That’s not because what Bettina is saying is unimportant. She’s the artist, the creator of all this. What she’s saying is everything. It’s just that she has created pieces of art that don’t need words anymore. What I experience seeing her work for the first time is complete. Every point she set out to make is presented, is already in what she made. As a witness, because of that completion, I am confronted in a way that is ultimately personal and outside of her or any artists control. Her work has put me in the wonderful, challenging difficult place where art begins to have a transformational effect on an individual.
You will encounter Bettina’s absent women throughout Sligo over the course of this exhibition, (I’d almost love it if there was no map and that you were ambushed by them like I was), and you will be asked y them to consider their final nothingness, their powerlessness, to dwell a moment as a non-entity, in the silence that has been inflicted on so many women in our society, and that continues to be so every day. And if that confrontation is themed around the powerless of Irish women in the past, the theme is of course immediately transcended in Bettina’s work. Because it’s not about the past at all, is it? These ghosts are confrontational because we immediately recognize in them all that hasn’t changed, that there are women, voiceless living female ghosts among us now in so many new and renewed ways, and places. Bettina’s challenge is that we recognize this, more than that actually, that we actively seek to recognize it, to find it in those who are beside us. We are required by Bettina’s ghosts to move towards identifying the brutally oppressed, the casually oppressed and the carelessly oppressed voiceless women of here and now, within our own world, rather than waiting for it’s consequences to be displayed, or unearthed for us, after the fact. Because that way lies only remorse. That way lies more useless pity when it is too late, again, when there is another ghost to haunt us with our failure.
So, we should really sit a while with Bettina’s Ghosts when we encounter them. We should really listen to what her ghosts are saying.”