The Miracle of Limerick / The Centre of Attention
The Miracle of Limerick
The Centre of Attention
On our first site visit to the Limerick City Gallery of art we spoke to visitors about the collection. We hear an odd and remarkable story about a painting in the collection; a painting with apparent miraculous healing properties and a tale of a man's mother cured of tuberculosis.
Is it 'blarney' or is there something to it? Our research suggests this is not an isolated phenomenon. For instance a woman was healed of cancer recently. And a doctor's assistant on Pery Square used to send patients to look at the portrait in the 1950s. Someone even mentions one injured Munster player visiting the gallery in 1978 who was found back to full fitness the next week and able to play the match against the All Blacks.
The painting in question 'Stella' has a vague and a mysterious provenance. Little is known to substantiate this attribution to 17th C artist Charles Jervas (or Jarvis) or to the sitter as Jonathan Swift's lover Stella. Much later overpainting is thought to have been done to the features. Recently the portrait has become something of a shrine.
The singling out of one work from the collection forces us as viewers to (re)assess the other works. What do people want from art and expect from art? Something other than its own 'objectness'?
The fabrication of narrative or myth also echoes the constructed narrative inherent to any civic art collection. Feelings of powerlessness can lead people to invest art with unverifiable qualities and extraordinary myths, hoping that it is not just a dead, inert thing.
Art is accessed to provide hope on mythological, rational and mystical levels. All we have is hope and art is one major conduit of hope: that we are not alone; that we existed; that things can change; that things remain. But hope also inures people to uncomfortable realities.
Stella, the Miracle of Limerick is a scenario proposal not just to the gallery visitor but the wider public of Limerick. Stella's healing qualities provoke engagement and the raising of consciousness as to where one stands in relation to such a proposal.