Odyssey The Return – ‘what the artists say’

Fion Gunn, Niamh Cunningham, Gulistan, Li Xinmo and Qingqing
Fion Gunn, Niamh Cunningham, Gulistan, Li Xinmo and Qingqing

In concluding his essay for this exhibition academic curator Huang Du writes 

In short, whether the featured works are abstract or imaginative, whether rational or perceptual, the five artists participating in this exhibition contemplate, to varying degrees, the links between image making and literature and what these concepts mean in their individual artistic practices. They interpret James Joyce’s work from Irish and Chinese perspectives; in a profound way and in a variety of visual languages, they reconstruct a visual Odyssey from the lens of their personal experience.

They have fully wielded their imagination, judgment and expressive power; they have expressed their lived experience from different viewpoints, either subjectively or instinctively. They have contemplated identity, critiqued gender politics, explored the classics, reconstructed artistic ontology. Ongoing and close investigation of these themes has enabled the artists to construct unique, personal and ideological visions – to develop formidable, artistic narratives with confidence. This is what will enable the viewer to find a deep sense of spiritual connection to their work.

The five participating artists say a few words about their works in the exhibition.


古丽斯坦 / Gulistan《记忆的性质》Essence of Memory Series

Gulistan essence of memory series
古丽斯坦 / Gulistan《记忆的性质》Essence of Memory Series Composite drawing on leather drum, 45 cm diameter (2007)

Both Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus conjure many reflections on the past in Ulysses, these reflections are both individual and collective memories. Gulistan revisits the classics in a postmodern way and reconstructs this classical elegance making reference to the Homeric parallels of the “The Odyssey’.

 Memory of a Portrait II  Gulistan
Memory of a Portrait II Oil on Canvas , 60x120cm Gulistan (2012)

Gulistan: What the artist says:

My particular focus is exploring the nature of memory throughout the journey of life. Works from “Roaming Europe Series”, “The Legend of Time Series”, “Portraits of Memory” seek to capture time and temperature of memory rather than specific characters and events. The ancient and the forgotten are worth probing , Odysseus’s wandering and returning are fascinating to me.

Works by Gulistan at 'Odyssey the Return
Works by Gulistan at ‘Odyssey the Return


Li Xinmo

Viewing Li Xinmo's installation 'Dissociation'
Viewing Li Xinmo’s installation ‘Dissociation’

The book Ulysses focusses on relationships within the male community, full of conversations on philosophy, history and politics often descending to bodily functions, bawdy jokes and backbiting.   Artist Li Xinmo reconfigures this male dominated setting to create a new book with different media languages to tell the story of one day… from a female perspective. The installation includes pages of a hand written book and ink drawings immersed in layers of salt.

Installation detail  by Li XInmo
Installation detail by Li XInmo

Li Xinmo: What the artists says :

The installation presents itself as a new form of book which is written mostly in the framework of images. Integrating various images, both digital and painting and also the written word, my intention is to trace the experience of one day lived by a woman including her memory and imagination. The name of the work is “Dissociation”, a state of departure  and at the same time a state of acquiring oneself.

Installation detail by Li Xinmo
Installation detail by Li Xinmo


Fion Gunn

The Immigrants  Fion Gunn 2017
The Immigrants no. 1 100x100cm, acrylic, canvas, collage Fion Gunn 2017

Fion Gunn: What the artist says:

‘The Immigrants’ refers to my great grandfather James Mintern from Cork, Ireland. From about 1896 onwards he spent his adult life building boats in Cork for 6 months of the year and then sailed to New York for the remaining 6 months where he worked building sets on Broadway. He did this so that his family could avoid the grinding poverty of Ireland at the time. Ellis Island was the gateway to New York for all the immigrants and they arrived with aspirations and ambitions to make good their lives. Today millions of immigrants and refugees are living out the same dramas. ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake’ James Joyce, Ulysses .

The Dream of Zhang He,  Fion Gunn 2017
The Dream of Zhang He, paper, acrylic,collage, 190x57cm Fion Gunn 2017

The trials of Chinese Admiral Zhang’s personal life, family loss, capture by the Ming armies and castration seem an unlikely preparation for his extraordinary journeys of exploration. These voyages would have been impossible without his endless curiosity and fearlessness, his desire to encounter other cultures and other peoples. Joyce is profoundly interested in ordinary, everyday resilience – how a person gets through life, gets through a day. The millions of experiential snapshots create the narrative of a life.

Age of Exloration ( to the right ) by Fion Gunn



Viewing Qingqing’s work centre Han Feng -Artificial Artifact Series
Viewing Qingqing’s work centre Han Feng -Artificial Artifact Series (2016) alongside smaller installations at Odyssey the Return

On the subject of nature and material Qingqing’s works make reference to both the modern epic ‘Ulysses’ and the ancient epic ‘The Odyssey’. Penelope, Odysseus’ wife weaves her textile work (tapestry) by day and unravels  it by night  so that she can continue to wait for Odysseus’s return and thus avoiding the promise to marry another. Qingqings expansive Han dynasty garment is ‘a new dress woven’ of organic grasses and hemp stands strong stately in the ancient Daoist space of Dong Yue Art Museum.

‘Heaven is not far’ by Qingqing 天堂不遥远,庆庆
‘Heaven is not far’ by Qingqing 天堂不遥远,庆庆

Qingqing: What the artist says:

The installation ‘Heaven in not far’ might be interpreted to be about surviving and aspiring to greater things both individually and collectively in the midst of living an ordinary life which I believe Ulysses is about.

The measure of things 走为上计, Qingqing2018
The measure of things 走为上计, Qingqing2018


Niamh Cunningham

Swim Duck (cataracts, whirlpools , maelstroms.. still) Niamh Cunningham 2019
Swim Duck (cataracts, whirlpools , maelstroms.. still) Niamh Cunningham 2019

Swim Duck – Blooms thoughts when filling a kettle

 The video title ‘Swim Duck ‘ comes from a pub scene in the Cylops chapter.  It is typical of a quirky Dubliner style turned/twisted phrase . Joe Hynes offers the narrator drink  ‘Can you put a hole in another pint ?  ‘ where the narrator responds in the affirmative “Can a swim duck “ .  The actual video focusses on the text in another chapter Ithaca when Bloom fills a kettle and ponders on the subject of water.  I aligned these thoughts with underwater filming and above water surface filming of different outdoor waterways and swimming pools.  The idea of swimming in thought is used in Chinese “shényóu”  and so I think this is both  relatable from a Chinese perspective and particularly relevant to Joyce’s writings.

Wandering Rocks Series of portraits

Niamh Cunningham with Wandering Rocks Portraits
Niamh Cunningham with Wandering Rocks Portraits

Dublin Walk – The Sucroses

Sam Beckett Bridge detail Sucrose mixed media March 2018
Sam Beckett Bridge detail Sucrose mixed media March 2018
Sam Beckett Bridge detail Sucrose mixed media March 2018
Sam Beckett Bridge detail Feb 2019

These sugar works are of different parts near the river Liffey in Dublin which are referenced throughout the book Ulysses. One of the sucroses is a view of the Sam Beckett bridge in Dublin. Joyce knew Becket well in Paris and acted as a mentor to him . The sucrose technique explores the concept of transformation, time  and crystallization. This crystallization can push and move the suspended ink as well as obscure the surface of the image. The above images show the transformation occuring over the course of a year with additional surface crenellation but also some interesting shifting of the addtional chinese ultramarine colour in the water .

Exhibition records or art library archives:

Should you wish to a have a copy of Huang Du’s  essay either in electronic or catalogue form please contact me on this website.

I would like to thank the cultural attache at the Irish Embassy Jack Mc Cormack. Also I wish l to thank the Embassy of Ireland in China  and supporting organisations who have made this project possible including: the Asia Pacific Fund, Culture Ireland and Dublin City Council.