Whistling in the Dark, Galway Arts Centre 17 July - 20 August, 2023 was an exhibition of photography, collage, film, print and sound work by artist Ruby Wallis curated by Megs Morley as part of the Galway International Arts Festival 2023.
Wallis builds on the tension between the wild and the domestic, disorder and order, human and non-human. These ideas manifest through experimentation with psychogeography, reclaiming perilous spaces as a nocturn. In order to disrupt the smooth surface of the photograph, she experiments with early photographic processes using exposure to sunlight , analog, layering and cutting, to create slippages between conscious and unconscious modes of perception and knowing.
For Whistling in the Dark the artist forms a site-specific response to aspects of the botanical world she finds within the walls of the Georgian architecture of the Galway Arts Centre, a former residence of Lady Augusta Gregory. Plants ornately embedded in its ceilings—acanthus leaves, palm leaves, thistles—and classical Greek symbols. In a play between order and disorder, taxonomy and the organic, she finds more immediate signs of life and organisms in fungi, as well as in the peeling paint of the gallery walls. This process draws on the eco-feminist thinking, that humans, animals, plants and other living entities can transform in their entwined relationships to one another, agitate and decolonise systems of order and power.
Whistling in the Dark draws on collective and collaborative processes, an ongoing project which launched the publication A Woman Walks Alone at Night, with a Camera in 2022, with writer Phillina Sun. This work links image, video and text through the figure of the flâneuse, framed as a subversive, imaginative explorer. The four-screen video installation Into the Edgelands, is an immersive work filmed on the artist's mobile phone while walking through suburbs after dark — edited by Tom Flanagan.
Brigid…it was she who first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night
— Isabella Augusta Gregory, 1904
The sound installation Whistling in Space was created in collaboration with musician and composer Michael Smalle. Through the layering of collective female voices, the intention is to break the taboo that for women whistling has been deemed unlucky, unfeminine, ungodly, even coarse and beastly. “A whistling woman and a crowing hen fetches the devil out of his den”.
The collage Swarming is freeing plants and insects from the rigid structures of taxonomy and imperialism, as they swarm up in viral chaotic patterns. The images are sourced from an encyclopaedia of insects, photographs from walks in the botanical garden in Paris, and of the acanthus and palm found in the stucco work of the gallery. It was devised by Wallis and co-fabricated by a group of artists/cutters.