Nigel Rolfe at The Dock

During March 2006 there was an exhibition at The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon of work from the IMMA collection. Connected – Unconneted had been picked by staff from The Dock and Leitrim county council through a series of meetings and discussions with staff from IMMA. It featured work by Clare Langan, Vik Muniz, Caroline McCarthy, Paul Nugent and Nigel Rolfe.

I attended the opening and very much enjoyed the show and that for one month the people of Leitrim and its environs could get to see some of the national collection. I was already familiar with much of it from my frequent visits to IMMA when I lived in Dublin (I must have seen every show they had there between 1998 and 2005). I had somehow not picked up that there would be a performance by Rolfe that night as well (he also had a triptych in the show, Blood of the Beast) but very luckily for me I just happened to be in the foyer and probably about to leave when I saw that the doors to the theatre were open and someone was standing there announcing that they were about to be closed as there was a very limited capacity for the performance that was about to start. I automatically went inside not having any idea what was about to happen or that I was about to witness one of the most significant artistic moments in Leitrim’s history.

Inside I saw a single file of about 20 people standing and circling the edge of the space and quickly positioned myself at the end of this line. I may have been one of the last people admitted and the performance began very quickly after this. At this stage my actual memory of the performance is sketchy and impressionistic but I think that Rolfe was already in the centre of the darkened room and he had a few things set up on the floor. He set a swinging pendulum in motion which at times would hit and spread various piles or maybe containers of coloured powder he had carefully placed on the floor. I seem to remember there was a sound element and that he crawled about, all the while thinking to myself that this was the most unusual and incredible thing I had seen in my life. I know it doesn’t sound like much from this description but by the time it was over, perhaps 20 minutes later or an hour (maybe we are all still there) I would like to think that each one of us were changed in many different ways. On one basic level I had seen a master performance artist in action and anyone else would now have a lot to live up to. I also understood something more about subjectivity, the moment and the magic of live performance but much more importantly something deep inside me had intangibly shifted forever and this would effect how I was going to perceive the world from that moment on.

This performance has now become ‘the’ legendary event of The Dock’s history (with many more people claiming to have been there than actually could) and over the years whenever I meet someone and discover they were really there too they always tell me of having had a similar type of deeply moving and changing experience which lingers to the present day. I have been in that space for shows and performances many times since and my memory of that performance is never far away. To my knowledge no documentation of it exists but I did find an image of a performance of his from 2012 which looks to bear some relation to what he did at The Dock. (Stephen Rennicks)

Location on map

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