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Dorothy Cross

Updated: Mar 23, 2018


Dorothy Cross, Virgin Shroud, 1993


Dorothy Cross works with diverse media, which includes photography, video, sculpture and installation. Central to her work as a whole are themes of sexual and cultural identity, personal history, memory and the gaps between the conscious and subconscious.

Cross became known when she began a series of works featuring cow skins and cow udders. In her art she amalgamates found and constructed objects. These assemblages invariably have the effect of reinvigorating the lives of everyday things, sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing but always intellectually stimulating.


Cross' work Virgin Shroud was conceived in 1990, when she travelled to Norway where she happened to see in a local museum a traditional sieve made from a stretched cow's udder. The skin had been pierced to allow the passage of grain, while the teats stood upright in the sieve. The object fascinated the artist who, on her return to Ireland, began to work with cow skins.

'Seeing that a cow could be used for something other than producing milk was a total revelation. Using udders makes me feel a cross between a butcher and a scientist. The whole process generates a strange mixture of disgust, hilarity and excitement.' (D.Cross)

Many of the ideas and methods used by Cross evoke parallels with Surrealist art. Cross herself has linked Virgin Shroud to a work by the Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim, Object (For Breakfast), 1936, a piece which consists of a teacup, saucer and spoon, given a mysterious animal presence by a fur covering.

The cowskin, which hangs like a veil over the figure, can be seen as preventing the figure from speaking or communicating, making it seem akin to a 'dumb animal'. At the same time, the presence of the teats around the head suggests a crown.

The title confirms that the figure can be associated with the Virgin Mary, whom the artist has described as frequently represented within Catholic Irish culture as 'the perfect woman'.

The satin train, spread out in front of the figure, was made from the train of the wedding dress of the artist's grandmother, given to Cross when she was a teenager.

Dorothy Cross has always played against certainty and the institution – images of her family bible with a hole neatly bored through its centre are testament to this. It is clear that for her, part of being an artist is creating her own authority and many of her actions over the past twenty years have been based on a strong faith in her practice.

'I feel that being an artist is about faith, you are always delving into the darkness in pursuit of newness.' D. Cross


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