Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, ‘Inscriptions of an Immense Theatre’, 2018

3 mins read

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Courtesy of the artist and domobaal

Inscriptions of an Immense Theatre film begins from within the interior of the British Museum, slowly revealing the museum’s earliest collection; it moves next to the site of a temporary accommodation centre reminiscent of those used to house asylum seekers in Ireland, the camera gliding past exterior views of its anonymous units; it ends within an empty limestone quarry, tracking the quarry’s rock surfaces and factory interiors. Linking the three seemingly disconnected sites is an exploration of inscription, loss and imperial legacy.

The title of the work derives from the earliest known museological writing in the western world – Samuel Quiccheberg’s Inscriptions or Titles of the Immense Theatre (1565), which details the practice of museums and the organisation of the world’s objects into classes and subclasses. This was essentially an instruction manual for the creation of private collections, with an explicit western imperialist agenda.

The museum, here, is scrutinised as a capsule of this early colonial thinking, which disrupted the continuity of the cultures it claims to preserve. Acting as a metaphor for this troubled narrative are the rock surfaces of the limestone quarry, which reveal the deep time of geological history but, again, through the very destruction of that history; the sprayed industry notation and gouges left by machinery speak of the violent extraction behind this geological revelation. Finally, the accommodation centre speaks to a mundane and vivid reality of displacement – a scenario of human dislocation that in the contemporary moment symbolises the ongoing dark aftermath of Quiccheberg’s imperial theatre.

A voiceover references Quiccheberg’s original museological text through collaged fragments. With the context and ultimate application of the text rendered uncertain, wider implications of cultural control and imperial aspiration are suggested.

Single channel film, colour, sound, 33:09 mins, 2018

Cameras: Feargal Ward
VFX: Enter Yes / Looks Loud
Voice: Eileen Walsh
Sound: Susan Stenger


Ailbhe Ní Bhriain is an Irish artist known for her use of film, computer-generated imagery, and photography. Her work has been exhibited widely both nationally and internationally and has increasingly involved collaboration with musicians and composers, with screenings and installations incorporating recorded sound, live performance, and improvisation.

Ailbhe is represented by Domobaal Gallery, London.

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