"I am not going to die. I’m going to write a book. To commit to writing, or art, is to commit to living."
Sinead Gleeson is a writer with passion and conviction, bold in her advocacy for other women writers, a self-professed "geyser of sentences". Gleeson’s new book of essays Constellations is a tidal flow of the private and deeply political world of the body. She could be described as one of the foremost feminist voices of Ireland today; an Ireland in which the body, in particular the female body, has become a furtive ground for a new mythic imaginary.
Gleeson’s offering is an empire of hair, hips, bones, blood and cellular particles, drifting in a multiverse of aqueous fluids. She charts this epic journey of the body through both the extraordinary and the banal with poetic force that conjures for the reader a world of the body, which is fragile, fearless and full of wonder. In Constellations, Gleeson brings a life force to the imaginary of motherhood, love, illness and death, comparable to the wonderful Natalia Ginzburg in her epic description of everyday life.
For Gleeson, art has the power to heal our bodies but also perhaps can represent a collective healing.
In many ways, the story of the body is the story of blood. This odyssey of the body is navigated through the deeply personal biography of Gleeson’s own history of illness and survival, merged with the hope that kept her alive; her deep love and connection to art. In Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, the writer takes art as a compass to the urban landscape and loneliness. Gleeson goes deeper again, under the surface of the skin, delving into the very material of the body, how we might not only see art but also, rather, feel it.
For her, the body is both a site of blinding pain and powerful resistance, conjuring our most fundamental will to survive. Gleeson’s deep fascination with blood is shared with many of her favorite artists: Ana Mendieta, Franco B, Jo Spence and Frida Kahlo. Like the author, these artists all find blood a compelling material linked with both life force and taboo. For Mendieta in particular, blood was 'sex and magic; and a visceral memento mori steeped in female experience'.
This odyssey of the body is navigated through the deeply personal biography of Gleeson’s own history of illness and survival, merged with the hope that kept her alive; her deep love and connection to art.
For Gleeson, art has the power to heal our bodies but also perhaps can represent a collective healing. Our star constellations are the first stories, the original myths; the celestial binds between our bodies and our souls. The body in Gleeson’s beautiful work is not 'fastened to a dying animal' but rather inhabits the world with other bodies. It is in the quite unspoken solidarity of a room in which the dead are laid out, or the maternity wards filled with ‘snail shells of bunches fists jabbing at the air'.
For many women in Ireland, there is now, in the wake of the Repeal movement, the deep feeling of relief, tentative hope and possibility. Gleeson now releases the idea of wombs as vessels that once held a trauma into an epic female imaginary: 'The womb carries its fragile cargo, a ship crossing new straits. Salt on the skin, saline in the veins'.
How fortunate we are to have a writer like Sinead Gleeson to help us navigate.
Jesse Jones is a Dublin-based artist. Her practice crosses the media of film, performance and installation. She represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale 2017.
Constellations by Sinead Gleeson (published by Picador) is out now. Sinead will read from and discuss Constellations in the company of Maeve Higgins and Maria Doyle Kennedy at The Pavillion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire on Sunday, March 31st, as part of this year's Mountains to Sea festival - more details here.