Home » Past Exhibitions » Brigid Phelan on Mnemonics

Brigid Phelan on Mnemonics


 Definition:  assisting or intended to assist memory

BP Artwork 1


 About the works

Mnemonics is a body of work on paper, board and cloth that references botanical and scientific illustrations, the naturalworld and nostalgia.  Each piece acts as a mnemonic device and invites the viewer to reflect on notions of place and memory.

Nostalgia is the underlying reference, where disintegrating patterns, textures and layers are presented in a way that creates a contemplative and intuitive narrative of the world around me and presents an interconnection between past and present, however fleeting.

As a child, I would spend hours poring over encyclopedias, filling my imagination with illustrations of exotic plants and insects, butterflies, birds, maps and more.  I collected flowers to press between the pages of books and marveled at the transparency of the petals and the imprint each flower left behind on the pages of the books.


This interest in nature – ordered, recorded and categorized – was also at the centre of the Victorian domestic imagination and provides the framework of the exhibition.

The Victorian era was a time of major cultural upheaval, as industrialization reshaped nearly every aspect of daily life.  New national holidays and improved labour laws gave working people more time off, which they could spend at home or enjoy by the seashore – often a quick train ride away.

With this new concept of leisure time, people could explore their personal interests and hobbies.

Influenced by the work of naturalists and inextricably tied to religious and moral edification (the study of nature was viewed as a way to gain a deeper appreciation of God), the development of a popular interest in science and nature emerged.  Women were drawn to its study as a culturally approved form of recreation, seen as aesthetically pleasing, educational and morally beneficial and a passion for collecting and organizing all aspects of the natural world was formed.

From local seaweed and mosses to exotic birds, references to the natural world found their way into the domestic sphere.  Bird watching boomed; taxidermied creatures filled middle-class homes; fur, feather and natural motifs dominated fashion trends.

Seaweed collecting embodied a cross-section of Victorian era pursuits, allowing people to explore nature, improve their scientific knowledge and create an attractive memento to decorate their homes.

Anyone could appreciate and collect flowers, but affluent Victorians spent hours painstakingly collecting, drying and mounting underwater plants into decorative scrapbooks, demonstrating patience, artistic talent and the refined sensibilities necessary to appreciate the more subtle beauties of nature.  The chaotic outside world was ordered and beautified through home furnishings and decorative collections.

In creating these works for the exhibition, I too, have walked, collected, drawn, assembled, printed, eco-dyed and stitched as a way to map my responses to the natural world around me.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *