A Blow by Blow Account of Stonecarving in Oxford
Slide projection with voiceover (19 minutes duration), stonecarving, rubble, photographs, museum artefacts, printed matter
Exhibited in various formats at Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane, Modern Art Oxford and CAPC Bordeaux, accompanied by a 144 page publication
A blow-by-blow account of stonecarving in Oxford is an installation exploring the oeuvre of
nineteenth century stonecarvers John and James O’Shea, whose naturalistic renditions of
animals and plants are still visible in locations in Dublin and Oxford.
From an artisan working class tradition, the O’Sheas completed a series of notable stone
carvings in 1850s Dublin before relocating to Oxford. While specific historical circumstance
remains unclear, controversy occurred when monkeys were carved on the new Museum of
Natural History. Popular belief claimed the O’Sheas were carving a rendition of Darwin’s theory
of evolution, a taboo subject within theological and social debate of the time. As a result of a
resulting quarrel, a series of impromptu carvings were attempted by James O’Shea intending
to transgressively caricature the authorities of Oxford as parrots and owls, and are still visible
at the site today.
A focal point of the exhibition is a carving of a monkey set within an architectural setting,
completed by carver Stephen Burke following the style and working ethos of the O’Sheas.
Accompanying photographs and a slide projection with a scripted narration polemically argue
for the ethnographical relevance of the O’Sheas to the identities and urban infrastructures of
both Dublin and Oxford.