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Film: Shoulder the Lion at Hugh Lane Gallery

29 Sep 2019 (Past)

Hugh Lane Gallery

Using stories of three artists who have lost a sense defining their art, this visual essay explores meaning of images, fragility of memories and desire for relevance in today’s world.

A photographer, who is blind, questions the power of images in today’s image saturated culture. Forced to give up his dream of playing music due to his hearing loss, musician must reinvent his future. A painter, who was the inspiration for the Academy Award winning film “Million Dollar Baby,” searches for her place in life unsure of what she should be to the world. The film attempts to ask what it takes for someone to keep on going in times of uncertainty, and uses unique film form to produce the answers.

Katie Dallam sculptor/painter
Katie Dallam is a painter/sculptor who’s lost half her brain in a boxing match and with that her self censorship as an artist. The film “Million Dollar Baby” is inspired by her story. Katie searched all her life for a place in the world. She earned a degree in art but didn’t see it could help her earn a living. She enrolled in the Air Force yearning for structure and discipline and was stationed in Arizona. After she was discharged, she went back home to Missouri. She enrolled in the university and became a psychologist. Soon after this, her mother died. To deal with her grief she started to paint watercolors of the vibrant desert landscapes she had come to love during her time in the military. Behind these colorful images she was concealing her feelings of loneliness and loss. Seeking a physical outlet for her emotions she took up boxing.

Katie’s first pro boxing match was her last. After 140 punches to the head she was taken to the hospital unconscious. After a week in intensive care she was admitted to a rehabilitation center. She was stripped of her memory and ability to care for herself. She spent the next 12 months relearning everything including learning how to walk and communicate. Hopeless, she became suicidal. In desperation her sister took her to an art class where Katie finally flourished. Art became Katie’s language and gave her a reason to live. Although her injury destroyed everything she had spent her life working for, Katie came to recognize that her injury had also benefited her. One of the most devastating residual disabilities from her injuries was also one of its greatest gifts –she no longer had the ability to plan too far ahead or to censor her emotions.

Graham Sharpe musician
Graham Sharpe is an Irish musician who can’t play music anymore because of his advancing tinnitus. He describes his condition as static noise on a TV channel with no reception. The noise is so overwhelming he’s scared to end up in a mental institution at 40 or 50 and would gladly accept it instantly being ten times worse for knowing that this is the final line. Since the age of sixteen he found his calling in life: to play music. Four years ago everything changed for Graham with the development of his disability. He knows that the thing he loves the most the music is also the cause of great pain. He’s had to give up on his dream of playing in a band, touring, making the next record but he still wants to be involved with making music. As of late, Graham feels a maturity in his song writing. He is consoled by knowing that at the very least he can sit quietly in his room and write music with an acoustic guitar.

Deteriorating economic conditions of his native Ireland motivated Graham and his friends to organize an annual music festival, Knockanstockan. In a few short years it has grown to significant proportions. In 2012 Knockanstockan was named the best independent music festival. Proud of his achievements with the festival he still feels jealous of the performers longing to be back on a stage. It frustrates him that just when he finally has the perspective and experience to say something meaningful through music he can’t take that message to the big stage. Dissatisfied with just writing the music, Graham is in the process of finding what his future holds.

Alice Wingwall photographer
Alice Wingwall lost her sight in the year 2000 after decades of genetic retinal degeneration. Through that period she had a career as a sculptor and photographer with work installations around the United States and the French countryside. With the complete loss of her physiological vision she turned more to photography and committed to it as an artist. But how can images be relevant to a blind person? Blindness has taught Alice how misleading “seeing” can be. Even though the general population can see, they often do not pay attention to what’s in front of them. Perhaps people are “over imaged”, she says, and thus images are losing their meaning. It saddens Alice when people with sight are passive about what they see, while she continues to create and build images in her mind to make her art. She believes the viewfinder is a prison sighted photographers are trapped within this “rectangle of judgement” over what to include and what to leave out. Obsessing on technicalities, they often miss larger meanings to the image.

The question of do images still have meaning plagues Alice. If they don’t, what does that mean for someone who finds images to be a vital part of her existence? Her search goes beyond her disability. She understands that images define our past it’s powerful images that we most remember. If we don’t value images then we end up living in a vacuum with no past only the present.

Shoulder the Lion, 2015 – trailer

Alice Wingwall

SHOULDER THE LION is one of the more unique documentaries I’ve seen — and a work of art in itself

Stephen Pizzello (American Cinematographer)

Katie Dallam