Sguaba Tuinne

My name Ethel, is a special one. Unfamiliar to most people, my parents were attracted by its gentle sound but chose it mostly for its singularity. Although it has only two syllables [etɛl] and seems relatively simple to pronounce, the general reaction is often one of confusion. It just doesn’t sound like any name that people have heard before. For every new encounter, I need to say it several times until it takes hold, making me very aware of its sonority as if I were repeating a line from a text book. Fortunately, I am always complimented on the beauty and originality of such a name. In addition, what makes Ethel particular too, is its meaning in French: ‘est-elle?’, literarily ‘is she?’.

It’s interesting, the effect that a name can have on a person. My name is a mystery to most people and evokes an interrogation: is she? I can only relate it to my first vivid souvenir, aged five, when I began questioning myself about who I was, and what it meant ‘to be’. Who’s speaking inside me? What are thoughts? How does it work? Is this magic? Maybe there is no connection. Most children are curious about the world, it’s rather common for kids to be inquisitive. Still, not all children become artists, so that they can add more questions to the ones already unsolved.

Recently, I sent pictures of my art pieces to a dear friend. Her first reaction was to ask me why the works had no names (titles). She’s right. It was probably because most of these works were either in process or still hadn’t found their place in a series. But it didn’t have to be this way — I could find names for them, even temporarily. Being the first viewer of these works, I see them often, over long periods of time, from close, from far, from every angle. Nonetheless, I could’t see them as independent creatures yet, and therefore they remained unnamed.

Giving titles can be fun, yet it’s not an easy task. Saying that, it’s an interesting one: the good marriage of instinctive and analytical thinking. It’s a fine balance. For me, a good title gives some context but leaves enough space for the viewers’ imagination. The rest is a matter of style and taste — for example I like to add a touch of humour and irony, even if I’ll be the only one perceiving it. But for the exercise and out of curiosity, I checked ‘Tips on Naming Art’ on the internet. Advices like ‘keep it short and simple’, ‘not too descriptive but not too personal’ or ‘never use Untitled‘, came up; a good reminder that I could do better on my own. In this case, my intuition led me to approach this task as one of naming a song, somehow it felt more open and free.

Searching through my notebooks and going back to texts I wrote for different purposes, I could find here and there an idea to dig deeper, a line to extract, or simply the perfect match. The connections that emerged between the works and their names were very surprising, yet fitting. It made me question my so-far desire to understand a work before defining it. The sure thing is that from the moment these works got titles, they came to life. I understood that I offered them a context to exist in, and a possibility to be interpreted in many more ways. Their names activated a sense of imagination.

The Ceilings Are No Good for My Feelings, 2018-2019 – staples on polystyrene

While writing this text (and wondering about its title), I was listening to the Doors, and especially The Crystal Ship. I couldn’t help but googling the title of this song. Of course, I found references to drugs but I was more seduced by the comment of TheWallsScreamedPoetry, administrator of the Doors’ fans forum. He explains that in the Irish famous ‘Book of Invasions’, the Celtic Wizard had a ship called Sguaba Tuinne (Wave Sweeper) which was made of crystal and didn’t need sails as it was propelled by thought alone.

This image was the most beautiful thing I experienced that week and it stayed with me. Maybe names are also ships propelled by thought?

Love, Ethel

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