A Study in Garlic

Lockdown has forced us all to adapt and improvise; art students are no different. Without access to our usual materials and workspaces, we work in kitchens and bedrooms, using the contents of our recycling bins and fridges to meet our project briefs.

My current rotation is ‘polymers’ (aka plastic, but with an emphasis on sustainability and recycling these days). I’ve ended up looking at the material properties of alums – namely garlic and leeks – to try to create a new craft that appears ancient.

Along the way I explored existing customs around garlic; it’s a fascinating (and delicious) plant that sits in between medicine, folklore and cooking. Although extensively used as an apotropaic, it is not traditionally associated with vampires in Eastern Europe, but with witches (both are called strigoi which confuses things slightly).

Bram Stoker, the Irish author who wrote Dracula, never visited Transylvania. Although the name Dracula is likely lifted from Vlad Tepes’ nickname (according to the author’s own notes), the garlic myth may be local. Interestingly, in both cultures there were witch-like creatures who steal milk although it seems the Irish were much less concerned by these compared to the dreaded fairies.

final ‘effigy’ made entirely of leek and garlic

It seemed fitting to make the final piece an effigy of Moranna, the Slavic goddess of winter, witchcraft and nightmares and equivalent of the Greek Hecate (whose offerings, incidentally, included garlic). In agrarian societies, Moranna’s symbolic drowning represents the end of winter and beginning of Spring.

In tourist-based societies, such as Brighton, we are all waiting with baited breath for our own year-long winter to end.

Clockwise from top: Marzanna figurine made from FIMO and leek; garlic mesh; oragami crane made from woven leek fibres; hollowed-out garlic bulb


Published by helenemccarthy

Helene McCarthy studied art at high school before a chance encounter with the career's class algorithm resulted in a 15 year detour into medicine and histopathology. In 2019, Helene (pronounced Heh-LEN) studied part-time foundation art at Brighton Metropolitan College, gaining a distinction, before progressing to study 3D Design and Craft at Brighton University. During lockdown, Helene continued to experiment with firing ceramic pieces on the beach using a wood-burning camping stove, the family stove and paper bins. Her materials range from paper-mache to garlic to clay. Recently this has focused on parian, a type of porcelain now only used commercially in her home county of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. She also uses wild clay from the fields surrounding her family's home, part of which is made from the same clay. Helene's work focuses on narrative and its impact on value. She works on miniature scale, utilising fine-detailed skills aquired from years of organ dissection and autopsy practice. Her work has been varyingly described as both 'tasteful' and 'macabre' and often crosses over into both.

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