Review by Helen Drake

There was a flurry of activity at the Electro Studios Gallery in Seaside Road over the last couple of weekends of June which was featuring a wonderful exhibition curated by Lucy Brennan Shiel. This marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the first hand-printed edition of which was dated 2 February 1922, in Paris.

Lucy Brennan Shiel, image from West of Yes
CREDIT: Emma Brennan

The exhibition fittingly opened its doors on 16 June, the day that ‘Bloomsday’ is celebrated by Ulysses devotees worldwide, the date in 1904 on which the novel takes place, and also the date of Joyce’s first sexual encounter with the woman, Nora Barnacle, who would become his wife. The day is named after the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom.

There was a big turnout at the event, with some in Edwardian dress. The evening was a captivating mix of films, songs, readings and performances, not to mention the varied and extraordinary works of over 30 artists – and we were invited to partake of Joyce’s favourite Swiss wine.

Molly Bloom’s soliloquy was a driving force in the upstairs part of the show, with work by Lucy’s art collective: Ruddy Cheek. Each artist responded to one of the eight long sentences that constitute the eighteenth and final episode of Ulysses. The repetition of the word ‘yes’ (and ‘Yes!’) has an erotic energy and this was compounded by the romantic and charged imagery within the whole remarkable body of work.

Bloomsday Celebrations in Hastings

There were several images of the word ‘yes’ throughout the exhibition. One of the most striking was a huge photographic print by artist Elizabeth Doak, entitled A Single Breath in 5 Yards of Ribbon, of a pink ribbon that loops, twists and knots its way across a black ground finishing with the word ‘yes’, that seemed to be portraying the energy of orgasm. 

Lucy’s own work featured dynamic photographic images of her naked self, shot by her cousin, Emma Brennan, in open bogland in Ireland, in which she appears to be performing a ritualistic dance in an effort to banish the destruction of the ecosystem, and consequently the feminine nature of it, by humankind. The images are animalistic and raw, and Lucy cites “anger at the desolation” as the force behind the work.

The downstairs part of the show was inspired by other parts of Ulysses, mainly the Proteus episode, and included exceptional work in the form of installations, paintings, a series of Haiku poems, ceramics and even a walk you could follow using Cliff Crawford’s QR code on your smart phone.

The exhibition ends (after I write this) with Lucy performing with Hastings band, Necessary Animals. In one partly improvised piece, Lucy recites some of Molly’s soliloquy – again a charged and vibrant work.

CREDIT: Peter Quinnell

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