Shearling Felts (Marilyn, Patsy, Iris, Ivy)

"The Shearling Felts (Marilyn, Patsy, Iris, Ivy) are physical and psychological artefacts, yielded through a Wexford flock of pure-bred Zwartbles sheep. They are literal-metaphors. Felt-Things. They tenderly parody a wooly language shored up into its own lyric. Heaving with animal personality and the labour of human hands, Barry’s felt-things are rendered, paradoxically, through fierce and violent gestures of erasure; rubbing, beating, rolling, washing in all directions. These felt-things have no smell. Barry is not uncomfortable with metaphor. She is not uncomfortable letting her ‘props’ indicate what to do. It would be straightforward enough to read Barry’s work as a kind of expression of affinity with home, a reconnecting with land and language; with a sense of vocation. But there is a darker and more intensely engaged activity going on within her felt-things. The nine hangings evoke an impression of muffled tongues, smothered mouths, and seem further to incite something of Kandinsky’s elegy: “The night of the spirit falls more and more darkly. Deeper becomes the misery of these blind and terrified guides, and their followers, tormented and unnerved by fear and doubt, prefer to this gradual darkening the final and sudden leap into the blackness.” There are ill-formed questions disturbing the rural and material narratives packed into this work, most particularly for this visitor: How fares the artist in the 21st century? How fares the Shepherd?”

Excerpt From a review by on ARTDUBLIN by Jessica Foley 2014


"There was something political for me about making these felt works from scratch. The physical labour of the work of times past. Repetitive gestures of shearing, washing, carding, and felting raw wool from my own sheep with my own hands. Creating value where there is none. Creating value through time spent.Giving wool a voice: speaking in dark dystopian tones. These were the first works I made after I moved back to Ireland from Brussels. The shearling felt series are directly inspired by the farm and the animals I am still working with and learning from. It has been a long road. From felting to farming to genetics to pedigree livestock breeding and showing: a perennial labour of love, adopting the past to understand the future. An on-going autoethnographic study. I can make psychological artefacts from wool, but I am doing this to draw attention to the material itself. A rhetorical gesture? Am I a blind and terrified guide? Sheep were breed and genetically selected for their wool. A beautiful, highly valued material has become a worthless by-product. My own wool from 2020 and 2021 is till stored in a shed on the farm because it’s value would not cover the work of the shearer. It’s a real metaphorical pile. Can the family farm survive in Ireland? Can nature survive with it? How can city folk support farmers directly? How can farmers with a creative voice influence the industry? Can young farmers do things differently? Work in harmony with nature? Give something back and still survive? Keep it smallish and ethical and still survive? Keep it ecological and still survive? Look how farmers are struggling. What a moral dilemma we are all in. And how it all matters now..."

Orla Barry


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Shearling Felts, 2012. A series of 9 hand-felted text works made of raw Zwartbles wool sourced on my own farm: Marilyn, Patsy, Iris and Ivy. Approx. 80 x 120 cm