Alastair MacLennan

© Alastair MacLennan, EMIT TIME ITEM, 1999. Photo Paul Couillard.

b. 1943, Scotland

Alastair Maclennan was born in 1943 in Blair Atholl, Scotland. He studied at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee from 1965-66; and received his teacher training from the College of Education in Dundee in 1966. From 1966-68, he studied in the USA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received his MFA. 

During the 1970s and 1980s he made long durational performances in Britain and America, of up to 144 hours each, non-stop, usually neither eating nor sleeping throughout. Subject matter dealt with political, social and cultural malfunction. Since 1975 he has been based in Belfast, and was a founder member of Belfast’s Art and Research Exchange. Since 1975 he has taught at what is now called the University of Ulster, Belfast, Northern Ireland, and for 11 years ran the postgraduate Fine Art Programme in Belfast. He is curently Emeritus Professor in Fine Art (University of Ulster); an Honorary Fellow from the Dartington College of Art (Devon); and an England 
Honorary Associate from the National Review of Live Art (Glasgow, Scotland).

He continues to travel extensively in Eastern and Western Europe, Asia and North America, presenting actuations (his term for performance/installations). In 1997 Alastair MacLennan represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale with intermedia work commemorating the names of all those who died as a result of the political trouble in Northern Ireland from 1969 to date. He is an original member of the European performance group, Black Market International.

EMIT TIME ITEM by Alastair MacLennan

FADO continues its 12-month duration performance art series, TIME TIME TIME, with EMIT TIME ITEM, a new work by internationally acclaimed Irish artist Alastair MacLennan. Famous for his ‘actuations’, MacLennan’s term for his performance installation works, he is a key practitioner in the field of durational performance.

In EMIT TIME ITEM, MacLennan uses the number 30 as a departure point to explore the past 30 years of political and social turmoil in Northern Ireland, known as ‘The Troubles’. The piece will run for 30 hours, presenting a subtly but ever-changing image of 30 place settings at an expansive white table. Like MacLennan’s previous work, this piece deals with political, social and cultural malfunction. ‘The Troubles’ are an ongoing concern for the Belfast-based artist, who represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale in 1997 with an intermedia work commemorating the names of all those who died as a result of the political trouble in Northern Ireland since 1969.

In keeping with TIME TIME TIME’s curatorial focus on duration and its effects in performance, MacLennan will place an emphasis on marking time as his key role as the performer in the work. He writes, “As well as ecology of natural environment, there is ecology of mind and spirit. Each is a layer of the other, interfused, three in one. The challenge for us today is to live this integration. Already we are late. Time we have is not so vital as time we make.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, MacLennan made long durational performances of up to 144 hours each, non-stop, usually neither eating nor sleeping throughout. Since 1975, he has been based in Belfast, and was a founding member of Belfast’s Art and Research Exchange. He is currently a research professor at the University of Ulster, travelling extensively throughout Europe and North America presenting his actuations. MacLennan is also a member of the European performance group, Black Market International.

MacLennan says of his practice, “A primary function of art is to bridge our spiritual and physical worlds… Art is the demonstrated wish and will to resolve conflict through action, be it spiritual, religious, political, personal, social or cultural.”

Eyewitness Account: EMIT TIME ITEM by Alastair MacLennan

(In an email to Jenny Strauss)

From: Francis Comrie []
Sent: Monday, February 22, 1999 8:12 PM
To: Strauss, Jenny
Subject: Alastair’s Show

Well, Jenny, Alastair’s show was indeed in my [former] studio which gave it even more depth for me.

* Place had been painted white. It is a long room 20′ X 60′. Windows were covered with white parchment
* A row of 6 long tables covered with white tableclothes went from corner to corner. On this was strewn out what I believe were the pages of the Belfast telephone directory.
* Down the center of the table was a row of black toques ( which I believe the IRA use to cover their faces). between the toques were alternately a dead fish or a pig’s ear, all rotting.
* strewn over all this were strips of paper with names on them, thousands of them like straw.
* at the 2 corners of the room where the tables ended were a speaker. Over these speakers were broadcast names read alternately by a male & female voice.
* Alastair was tall & bald with a white beard. He was dressed in a long black coat and dark glasses. He began the presentation by placing a white dinner plate at 1 corner of table. He then inflated a black balloon and tied it through the handle of a white cup which he placed beside the plate. In the cup he poured water and then put a tea candle to float in it. he then lit the candle.
* He then folded 2 paper airplanes, one of plain white paper & one of what I believe to have been a map of Belfast on white paper. he placed the planes on the dinner plate side by side facing in opposite directions.
* He then wound an alarm clock, set it to ring in 1 hour, and placed it beside the place setting.
* For the next hour he walked slowly around table carrying a dead fish on a wire in one hand and portion of a rotted gourd in other hand. From his shoulder hung a string of toe tags.
* When the alarm went off in an hour he repeated the same procedure until after 29 hours all 30 places were set. He then sat in a corner immobile facing the wall for the final hour.
* I didn’t see how he set them but at the end of the 30th hour all the alarms went off. He then went around the table setting all the paper aiplanes ablaze. When all had burned leaving ashes on plates he quietly announced “It is finished”

There were never at any time more than a few people there when I was. For the finale there were about 10 of us including 2 or 3 I think were organizers. they were videotaping the event. It was very moving for me. My friend was brought to tears & claims it has changed her forever. I wanted to talk to Alastair but he left before I was ready. …


TIME TIME TIME presented works ranging from 12 hours to several days. Ritual, endurance, attention span, community-building, altering states of consciousness, boundaries between public and private, narrative, linearity and transformation were explored in the series by artists presenting their compelling, urgent visions of ourselves and our world at the end of the 20th Century.

Writing Blue

Writing Blue is the smell of interpretation. Composed of materials that many "know", blueberry candy offers a flicker of nostalgia. Grounded in blue cypress like a hunch that comes from speculation, it is the lavender that offers overwhelming explanations.

Top Notes

blueberry candy

Middle Notes

lavender, mens shaving cream

Base Notes

hyacinth, blue cypress