‘Unknown Shores’, was a major, large-scale sculptural installation Méadhbh O'Connor (UCD Science 2013 Artist in Residence) built at the culmination of her residency in the University College Dublin (UCD) College of Science. The sculpture, which took on a dual appearance of a ship and a laboratory, was built by Méadhbh to mark the beginning of a journey, or rather taking part in a continuous journey. The artwork was part of a long-term project she is engaged in with her scientist collaborators, notably in this instance the biologist Dr. Emmanuel Reynaud of the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science. Further to this, the sculpture was both of the academic staff and students of the UCD College of Science, and for them.
The sculptural installation was an assemblage composed of: old laboratory equipment salvaged from the UCD College of Science; steel scaffolding; flexible PVC tubing; handcrafted, working wooden clamps; glass tubes; laboratory glassware; copper wire; netting and other miscellaneous parts. Its dimensions were 6 x 2.5 x 8.2 metres (H x W x L). The work possessed a dual appearance of a laboratory and a ship with 3 masts and a prow. Old laboratory equipment was dotted around the base of the sculpture from which the giant parts and ship’s masts emerged. Despite the vast amount of component parts and the use of heavy steel scaffolding as the framework, the sculpture embodied a light and ethereal presence. The 'ship' was rigged using laboratory tubing tied into a variety of nautical knots.
‘Unknown Shores’ was initially inspired upon learning about the extraordinary voyage Méadhbh’s collaborator, Dr. Emmanuel Reynaud, undertook studying the world’s oceans with Tara Expeditions, a non-profit organisation dedicated to high-level scientific research missions on sea. Emmanuel’s story reinforced Méadhbh’s observation during her residency in the UCD College of Science of scientific enquiry as a collective, human pursuit. As the project progressed, its meaning extended beyond its initial inspiration to encompass the journeys, past and present, of the many students and academics who pass through the institution, each of whom making their own unique contribution to the continuity of science and the expansion of human understanding.
In the midst of Méadhbh’s time in UCD, a new major building, 'The O'Brien Centre for Science', was under construction and many transitions were taking place. She salvaged old scientific equipment that was due to be thrown out from the old laboratories as they prepared to move into the new building. Combining these artefacts with new pieces, she built the sculpture and presented it in the new Science Centre in order to anticipate the many future journeys and discoveries that will unfold there, as part of the continuum of the university’s history. The sculpture was built with the input of many of the staff and students here who collected and donated parts and assisted in its construction. The piece marked the first major exhibition for the UCD Art in Science programme, which is now a long-term project by the UCD College of Science.
This project would not have been possible without the generous support and assistance of Emer O’Boyle, Prof. Lorraine Hanlon and her team of students,
Prof. Joe Carthy, Dr. Emmanuel Reynaud, John Ryan and Dave Madigan.
'UnknownShores', by Meadhbh O'Connor. O'Brien Centre for Science, UCD, 2014.