12 October 2023
By Mary Bemingham
“I wanted to create a museum for an outdoor space using large-scale replicas of Bronze Age artefacts found in Cork that are beautifully linked to the street’s hospitality heritage” says Fiona Mulholland
A third sculpture was unveiled earlier this month in Cork City as part of the exciting new Island City, Cork’s Urban Sculpture Trail, a Cork City Council project funded by Fáilte Ireland under the Urban Animation Scheme.The artwork Face Cup by artist Fiona Mulholland is a celebration of the county’s rich prehistoric heritage and sits on the facade of the historic Exchange Building on the corner of Princes Street and Oliver Plunkett St. It is part of a unique cultural trail of five contemporary sculptures that are being installed around Cork City this year to encourage locals and visitors to explore new areas of the city and bring art to life on the streets. The first two sculptures, Sentinels on Carey’s Lane and Boom Nouveau on Cook St were installed earlier this summer.
Linking the past to the present, Fiona Mulholland’s artwork of large-scale sculptural reliefs is based on a collection of exceptional Bronze Age ceramic artefacts – a small clay cup decorated with eyes, nose, ears and feet, another pottery vessel with ears and a spoon dating approximately 3800 years old. The original artefacts were excavated by archaeologists working on the site of the N8/N73 Mitchelstown Relief Road in 2004, who have assisted Fiona with ensuring accuracy for the project.
Artist Fiona Mulholland said, “The Exchange Building is such a unique canvas to work on. The three tiers of coursing along the facade reminded me of an Irish dresser and I wanted to pay testament to the rich history of home and hospitality in the building and the surrounding area. I wanted to bring history to life and create a museum for an outdoor space. The ‘Face Cup’ is a curious anthropomorphic cup. It is a rendering of a human face, which was found with a ceramic spoon, and two other vessels. These wonderful artefacts form the basis of the artwork and are rendered three-dimensionally onto the façade of the building.
“I was really inspired by the remarkable archaeological finds that were discovered in Mitchelstown. These three household pottery relics reminded me of the exchanges that we have over tea – and a nod to the building’s name and the street’s hospitality culture. I loved the notion it would bring a smile to someone’s face – it’s a direct exchange and links our past to the future.
“It was challenging to create a 3D sculpture on the side of a building but I had great support from the archaeologists who made the discovery and some talented craftspeople. The pieces are all handmade in Styrofoam and fibreglass to keep them light in weight and painted gold as a nod to the Bronze Age. I hope that this stops people and they ask what it is. Hopefully they will see it as a nod to the city’s history but with some humour!”
Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Kieran McCarthy, said, “It’s fantastic to see the Face Cup unveiled as part of the growing Island City – Cork City’s Urban Sculpture Trail. The Exchange Building is a significant historic building that informs an important part of our city centre’s character and streetscape. It’s a real delight to see the building take on a new role as host to this beautifully crafted artwork and highlighting the Cork region’s rich prehistoric past. My sincere thanks to Fáilte Ireland for their continued support in exploring the intersection of the city’s stories and artwork.”
Ken Hanley, is a Project Archaeologist with Transport Infrastructure Ireland (formerly known as the National Roads Authority), who oversaw the N8/N73 Mitchelstown Relief Road excavation where the original Face Cup was first discovered by archaeologists from Eachtra Archaeological Projects. He said, “It’s fantastic to see history being brought to life through art like this. The original Face Cup find, dating to the Early Bronze Age, approximately 3800 years old, was truly exceptional in Ireland and virtually unique in Western Europe. Recreating this invaluable piece of history in a modern format will ensure that our history is honoured in the everyday life of the city.”
Michelle Carew, Arts Officer, Cork City Council, said, “We are thrilled to see the third sculpture of Island City – Cork City’s Urban Sculpture Trail, installed on one of the busiest pedestrianised streets in Cork. A hub of outdoor cafes, restaurants and bars, it is fitting that Face Cup is a nod to our city’s heritage and rich tradition of hospitality. We look forward to unveiling the final two sculptures on the trail later this year as we continue to bring art into the public domain and encourage people to discover new views in the city.”
Island City, Cork’s Urban Sculpture Trail is a Cork City Council project funded by Fáilte Ireland under the Urban Animation Scheme, with commissioning support by National Sculpture Factory.