Fine Art Lecturer at the TU Dublin School of Creative Arts, Jesse Jones, is currently exhibiting at the world-renowned and prestigious Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Jesse originally produced Tremble Tremble in 2017 for the Irish Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale and has subsequently undergone site-specific adaptations for galleries and institutions in Europe and Asia. The installation, technically and conceptually ambitious, appropriates the historical figure of the witch as a powerful symbol in modern Western history, and a carrier of poetic and political potentiality.
While made under conditions of heated abortion-related debate in Ireland, and also referencing the Italian feminist protests during the 1970s—in which crowds of women sang the motto “tremble, tremble, the witches are back!”—the work functions as a portrait of a timeless archetype beyond national or ethnic identification. The powerful witch in Tremble Tremble may, in fact, be perceived as an incarnation of magical thinking, a figure of radical transformation of the real and a trigger of cosmic chaos. This incredibly charismatic personage is interpreted by the acclaimed Irish actress Olwen Fouéré, who delivers a haunting performance while, beyond the screen, the exhibition space undergoes simultaneous ritual activity. Every few minutes, a circle is loudly inscribed by an invigilator on a black wall, and a moving curtain slides to split up the space with the transparency of a gigantic, ghostly hand. The verticality of self-standing, landscape-shaped video screens opposed to one another, could also be another sign of the transformation of values operated by the witch.
In the entrance space of the gallery, several objects displayed in vitrines account for key references to Jones’s project as well as the artist’s ongoing research on ritual practices and mythologies associated with witchcraft. In fact, the history of the Basque Country, where brutal witch hunts and heretic purges were carried out by the Inquisition during the 16th and 17th centuries, offers a relevant background for the specific presentation of the work in Bilbao. A selection of domestic objects of ritual practice and witchcraft-related belief, original from Gipuzkoa and Navarra, is thus put in dialogue with other pieces used by the artist in her investigation as well as her studio practice.