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Sofa by Rita Duffy: Conservation Project

‘I kept looking at the sofa as a piece of furniture on which you would relax – on which you would throw yourself when you come home to breathe out and relax. And yet I didn’t feel very relaxed in myself, and Belfast was certainly not a relaxing city.‘ – from interview with Rita Duffy at the Hugh Lane Gallery

Sofa, a prickly piece of art with thousands of hair pins in it, was acquired by the Hugh Lane Gallery in 1998. It was selected for the exhibition Bones in the Attic, which featured 11 Irish women artists.

The condition of this object, which has never undergone treatment before, was examined by intern Monika Rumanova as part of the Heritage Council Internship. Non-invasive analyses including digital microscopy and ultraviolet light examination were complemented by a visit from Rita Duffy herself. Duffy shared her recollection of the inspiration behind making this piece, created during the difficult time of The Troubles in Belfast, as well as providing practical insights into the process of its creation. Her thoughts on how some of the wear should be viewed as a part of the artwork’s life were essential for the treatment, which involved removing the accumulated dust, consolidating the loose parts of fabric and repairing the damaged hair-pins, bringing Sofa back to life again, after its vivid red colour reappeared.

‘I took the furniture look away. I wanted it to be just red and a little bit angry or bloody. There was a sense that there was a darker life within that piece of furniture.’ – Rita Duffy

‘I don’t want the time to be irrelevant. I like objects when I can see some of the scratches. It’s had a life in the Hugh Lane Gallery. I think a bit of a tidy up is what I would suggest. When it’s pristinely restored, it loses all the centuries of its own story. The dust on it settles – that’s what we are. I can’t remove all the time that’s passed between making that and sitting here and now. And why should I try? It’s more authentic, I think, to leave that.’ Rita Duffy

  • Profile

    Rita Duffy was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1959 and was educated at the University of Ulster studying Art & Design and then Fine Art. Her work consists of oil paintings, drawings and mixed media installations and projects. Her subject is mainly autobiographical and feminist in terms of Irish identity, history, and politics. She is also influenced by surrealism and magic realism.

    Rita Duffy’s artworks are a part of permanent collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and the Imperial War Museum in London. Her work has been exhibited internationally, in London’s Flower’s Gallery and Spectrum Gallery, in Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art. One of her most well-known projects is The Souvenir Shop (2016) – associated with centenary of the Easter Rising.

  • Details

    Rita Duffy (b. 1959)

    Sofa, 1996

    Hair pins, wax, pigments and oil

    Work 91.5 x 162 x 88 (LHD cm)

    Crate 109 x 176 x 115 (LHD cm)

    Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

    Object number: 1917

Sofa before treatment.

Rita Duffy visiting the Conservation Studio – describing how she felt living in Belfast during The Troubles.

While carrying out digital microscopy examination.

Digital microscopy examination: Detail of a hair pin inserted in linen fabric and originally fixed in place with wax.

Picture taken during the four-month long cleaning process revealing Sofa‘s original vivid red colour.

Monika Rumanova working on reattaching the loose parts of Sofa‘s fabric.

Sofa after conservation treatment.

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Mrs Lavery Sketching Sir John Lavery 1910