Helen Kirwan: perpetuum mobile

29 October – 5 December 2020

perpetuum mobile shows live performances by the artist filmed  in the cedar forests of Lebanon and the Ustyurt plateau and Aral Sea regions of Uzbekistan. These, synthesised with performances under water and other imagery, form a complex montage with a fragmented but interwoven, repetitive structure.

perpetuum mobile Film still

Kirwan is a filmmaker and performance artist: perpetuum mobile reflects her preoccupation with endless journeying as a medium for the poetic and metaphorical construction of memory and her extensive travels in Central Asia and the Middle East.

perpetuum mobile Film still

Screenings and Talks


All events are free, but please book in advance:

Thursday 3 December, 4.15 – 5pm
Memory Theatres and Hegel’s concept of repetition
Talk by Helen Kirwan

The second of Kirwan’s films in her recent trilogy on mourning and memorial is called Memory Theatre, the title directly inspired by the philosopher Simon Critchley’s book of the same name and the title of third video, perpetuum mobile comes from Critchley’s thinking on Hegel. Memory Theatres were a kind of information retrieval system. Kirwan explores the history of Memory Theatres as explicated by Critchley, his references to Hegel’s concept of memory and the importance of repetition in her work. Illustrated by selected video footage of Kirwan’s use of repetition and performance of futile tasks in her work + Q& A with the artist.


Thursday 3 December, 5.15 – 5.45pm
Film Screening ‘Fragment and Trace’ (2015)
Video/sound, duration 23:42

Fragment and Trace (2015) a two channel video was inaugurated in the European Cultural Centre’s exhibition ‘Personal Structures during the 56th Venice Biennale and is the first in Kirwan’s trilogy of videos exploring loss and mourning. The scenes were shot mainly in Iceland and in Flanders, Northern France. In mourning, a person, played by the artist, paces across a sparse, featureless landscapes in the autumn and in winter. She picks stems off dead weeds and places sticks in the snow to measure the ground. The endless repetitions of absurd, futile tasks express the physical traces of mourning giving visual expression to concepts of bereavement, aloneness and loss. Kirwan explores the notion of the haptic in this work; in the fog of bereavement, contact between the body and environment is a form of mapping or way-finding and the artist’s intuitive connection with the snow, stones, and sea, conjure up the intensity of grief. + Q&A with the artist.


Friday 4 December, 1 – 2pm
Film Screening of Memory Theatre (2017)
Video/sound, duration 44:42

Memory Theatre (2017) was inaugurated in the European Cultural Centre’s exhibition ‘Personal Structures – Crossing Borders’ at the 57th Venice Biennale. The second in Kirwan’s trilogy of videos exploring loss and mourning: it consists of a series of videoed performances undertaken by the artist mainly in Dungeness and Joss Bay, Kent, and Ireland. The artist repeatedly undertakes futile tasks such as emptying the sea with buckets and counting stones; each repetition being an altered version of that which it repeats. This process of seemingly futile and endless repetition is part of her ongoing exploration into the themes of mourning and memorial. A sound piece by the award- winning Dublin-based composer Tom Lane was commissioned for the video. + Q& A with artist.


Friday 4 December, 5.15 – 6pm
Atlas of (e)motion and the Haptic
Talk by Helen Kirwan

Kirwan thinks of her performances of ‘journeying’ and pointless activities as intensely tactile. She strokes and touches the ground and horses; she picks stems off weeds- activities which become metaphors for wayfinding and mapping through the bewilderment and wilderness of bereavement. Kirwan will talk about Giuliana Bruno’s analysis of the concept haptic in her Atlas of Emotion (2002) in which she maps a cultural history of diverse arts and spatial visual fields including moving image and their relation to the art of mapmaking and memory. Illustrated by selected video footage of Kirwan’s use of touch in her work. + Q&A with the artist.


Saturday 5 December, 4 – 5pm
Screening of Kirwan’s performance-experiments in Venice 2019
With an introduction by Dr Pierre Saurisse

Dr Pierre Saurisse writer on performance art and lecturer on the MA in Contemporary Art course at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art will give a brief talk about Kirwan’s work; followed by a screening of videos of her live performance-experiments during the Venice Biennale, 2019. At Palazzo Bembo she attempted to empty a canal with buckets and in Palazzo Tiepolo she performed what she calls live-performance-experiments with composer Tom Lane who created a spontaneous soundscape, in response to Kirwan’s performances in the space. + Q&A with the artist and Dr Saurisse.

Saturday 5 December, 5 – 6pm
In Conversation
Jennifer Thatcher in conversation with artist Helen Kirwan

Kirwan discusses her work and how she constructs ideas and meaning with Jennifer Thatcher: Jennifer has lectured on the MA in Contemporary Art course at  the Sotheby’s Institute of Art since 2007 and is currently a Ph.D candidate researching the history of the artist interview. + Q&A with Jennifer Thatcher and the artist.