Let there be light


FLOATING FORM Artist Tom Meskell puts the finishing touches to his mermaid piece in ‘Silent Answers’.  Pic: Amayo Photography

Ciara Moynihan

January is often cited as the most depressing of months. The days are short, the weather is usually miserable, the bank balance is bleak and the waistband is under pressure. This year, of course, we have the added challenge of the L word. The shops are closed, so we can’t even get in a bit of retail therapy, and stages across the land remain in darkness.
Westport, like many other towns, is keeping its Christmas lights twinkling for January, to help keep us smiling. (In fact, Westport has been doing this for nine years now – RTÉ News take note!) Now, the town is going a step further, with a new light installation that will shine until the end of the third lockdown.
‘Silent Answers’ is an ethereal light-sculpture exhibition that has been installed in the most unlikely of places: the Breheny’s Garage and Bike Shop on Castlebar Street, closed since August 2018.
An unlikely venue, but a perfect one.
Once a hive of activity dominated by the sounds of metal, chains, pumps, bells, engines, drills and hard graft, the family-run premises now stands empty after 164 years, its air no longer filled with clanking, banging, revving, banter and laughter. But there’s something magical in the silent stillness of somewhere that operated for so long, and with such life.
Mayo artist Tom Meskell has now brought that magical atmosphere to a whole other level. Drivers and passersby might notice something glowing in the corner of their eye. They might rub their eyes, or blink. They might be forgiven for thinking that a fragment of their dreamlife has somehow intruded on their more-pedestrian waking time.    
Those who stop will be rewarded with the spellbinding sight of a glowing mermaid and shoal of fish, suspended in time as they swim, emanating light from the depths. The feeling of weightlessness is enhanced by gossamer veils through which the sculptures are viewed from the street.
The exhibition, which was launched on Friday, is one of a series of events that Westival, Westport’s annual festival of music and the arts, will host throughout the year.
Commenting, the festival’s chairperson Willie Walsh said: “Westival are delighted to host Tom Meskell’s amazing light installation, ‘Silent Answers’ … This beautiful otherworldly spectacle will run at least for the duration of this third lockdown and is designed to be viewed at a safe distance, as you walk around the town or drive by.”
The piece itself is a response to the pandemic, initially funded by the Irish Arts Council as part of the Covid 19 Crisis Response Award, which gives artists the opportunity to continue to engage with the public in other ways during the various lockdowns.
As for the ‘meaning’ of the installation, well that’s completely up to the viewer. The artist is keen that everyone remain free respond to it in their own personal way, to decide whatever its special significance is to them. “It is my intention with the work that it is open to be interpreted by the viewer, so I don’t wish to prescribe it any more than the title ‘Silent Answers’,” he  explains.
To this writer, who saw the installation at dusk on Sunday evening, it served as a reminder that in dark days, a glimpse of light, beauty and grace can help to see us through.     
So, if you’re dreading when the Christmas lights go off at the start of February and the dark nights draw in once again without fanfare, be assured that the torch of hope will be kept lit on Westport’s Castlebar Street.

• Please note that the optimum time to view ‘Silent Answers’ is after sunset.