Sinead Ni Mhaonaigh: Dwelling

8 February - 2 March 2024


The concept of home, a place of dwelling, is a complex one. What constituents a home and how it is conceived is informed, if indeed not burdened, both objectively and subjectively, by history, culture, psychology, and identity politics.


In this context, Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s new series titled Dwelling is a challenging one. The title suggests home, where we dwell. But in an effort to strip away the emotive languages of ‘home’ or ‘dwelling’, Ní Mhaonaigh’s work asks us to consider the architecture that defines the spaces we occupy, to consider their making and their meaning, and its collective impact on individuals and society. What are these architectural structures that surround us, the places we nurture and that shield ourselves and our families? To what extent do these dwellings reflect our place in our communities, culturally, economically, and socially.


The viewer is asked to consider architecture, to consider dwelling, beyond design and technical construction. Dwelling can mean a home, a shelter, a fortification, a prison. For some, a building can never be in complete harmony with nature. In exploring the manufactured structure, Ní Mhaonaigh is reminded of Le Corbusier’s Modulor system, a mathematical architectural order based on universalized proportions of the human body that emphasizes, and attempts to resolve, the emotional, physical, and bodily impacts of architecture.


As in all of Ní Mhaonaigh’s work, Dwelling Series the act of making is central. The corporeality of thickly applied oil paint, the manipulated surface, demonstrates the work’s substance and the passage of time in its creation. Dappled layers of paint, which may at first appear hurried, are rhythmic and considered in their application. They swell and recede in density, which in turn energizes the painting. Viewers who lean in are rewarded with rich, multilayered colour, a sculpted painted surface that harnesses light and shadow, enhanced with delicate, fine-lined detailing. The work confidently declares its materiality. Returning to the language of architecture, Ní Mhaonaigh describes her paintings as windows. These are not windows in the conventional sense—she does not represent the natural world mimetically—but, as she does, offers the viewer the opportunity to respond subjectively to what is before them. 


In Dwelling Series structures appear to have no front or back: no way in, no way out. These disconcerting aspects are countered by the assuredness with which the artist composes elements, presenting a series of interlocking volumes, anchored by a barely perceptible grid pattern. Even in her aesthetically charming backgrounds, which at first appear to be random, almost decorative, a gridded pattern is discernible. While defining and ordering space, the grid, a trope of modern art representing what Rosalind Krauss described as the “antinatural, antimimetic, antireal”, declares the autonomy and authority of art.


The oil paintings of Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh confront us in their materiality and asks what it means to dwell, or to ask more essentially, what it means to be, as individuals and as members of society.


Angela Griffith