In the Roundness of Being - VISUAL

VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art &
The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

In the Roundness of Being

Eilis O’Connell

17 February - 12 May 2024

11am - 5.30pm Tues - Sat, 2pm - 5pm Sun
Tuesday - Sunday

Admission: Free

VISUAL is pleased to present In the Roundness of Being, an exhibition by Irish artist Eilis O’Connell. O’Connell lives and works in Cork, Ireland, and has been an important figure in Irish sculpture since beginning to show work in the late 1970s. Anchored by a major new commission for VISUAL’s main gallery, In the Roundness of Being includes new and existing work from O’Connell’s studio in a variety of media, showcasing the ranges of scale and technique the artist works with.

The exhibition title is taken from a wall-based work of the same name included in the exhibition. Of the process of creating and titling the work, O’Connell writes:

[The piece was] Originally carved out of high-density polystyrene then worked in plaster. I noticed that when I carve, my forms are more biomorphic, and I love the underlying geometry. The body’s movements kind of permeate the form and some kind of transference occurs.

This occurrence of seemingly abstract sculpture containing the mark or the trace of the body, or other organic forms, is a central quality in O’Connell’s work. Alongside the presence of the human or man-made, is a strong influence from the natural world. Her work is also concerned with the nature of the material used in its making. Industrial materials and processes such as steel and large-scale fabrication are juxtaposed with the human scale of smaller works in natural materials such as stone or wood. Her work is at first glance abstract, but closer examination reveals allusions to figuration and sometimes literal depictions of things from the natural or manmade world. Curves and edges occasionally resolve themselves into shelters or other quasi-recognisable forms.

In the Main Gallery, there is a major new commission – Capsule for Destinies Unknown – series two (2024). This work has its origin in a piece of the similar title originally made for ARK, an exhibition in Chester Cathedral in 2017. Of that work O’Connell wrote:

Given the current political climate in Europe, I thought it important to make a sculpture that would be relevant to the idea of shelter and refuge that the theme of the exhibition suggests. Being safe today is almost a question of geography, politics, and the randomness of where you happened to be born, or where you happened to be at a certain time of day. For some, though, the terms of existence result in a forced migration, the most horrific being the boats crossing the Libyan Sea and the desperate situations people find themselves in. These stories haunt me and that feeling of helplessness has filtered into my work, so the focus of this sculpture is the need for physical refuge. Often, I make inviting, hollowed-out spaces as part of a sculpture but this one is very different; it’s not that inviting, being made of corrugated galvanised steel and polycarbonate sheeting. These are humble everyday materials, often used to make temporary living spaces. From a distance the sculpture looks like a missile or warhead, objects manufactured for the industry of war, corporate profitable production that leads to the destruction of our fellow human beings.

With this sentiment in mind, this work and others can be encountered and understood as a visceral experience of sculpture in relation to the body but can also take on more emotional resonances in terms of both personal experience and in relation to geo-political events. Always though, the works can be seen as exploring the different inherent potentials of O’Connell’s chosen materials and as a consequence of the drive to make, and to add things to the world.


Born in Derry and now Cork-based, Eilis O’ Connell studied sculpture in the Crawford School of Art, Cork and the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston. She has exhibited at the Venice, Paris and Sao Paulo Biennales, and the Guggenheim Museum, Venice. In 2018 her outdoor sculptures were shown at E1027, the iconic building designed by Eileen Gray in Cap Martin, France. Her first major survey exhibition took place in 2023 at the F.E McWilliam Gallery in Armagh.

O'Connell's work can be found in numerous public locations in London, Cardiff, Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Bristol, Southampton, Milton Keynes and in Dublin, Belfast, Dundalk, Mallow and Cork. Other privately commissioned works can be seen in Lismore Castle, Waterford, Cass Sculpture Foundation, Chatsworth and in private gardens in France and Spain. O’Connell is a founding director of the National Sculpture Factory Cork, a former member of the Arts Council of Ireland and a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and Aosdána.

Using materials such as steel, bronze, stone and bio-resins, O’Connell explores different material properties to make hybrid organic geometric forms that she carves or constructs by hand. Her abstract watercolours mirror the textures and forms of her sculptural works with depth of tone and minimalist markings.