Sean Hillen describes his design for the Omagh memorial:
The actual site of the explosion will be marked by a pillar, apparently of solid glass, about 4.5m high. Near the top, inside, appears to float a 3-dimensional ‘heart’ in a faceted cut-glass style. The immediate image is that of the ‘heart’ suspended high in a frozen beam of light.
Because of its position, the site is almost constantly in the shade. In the Memorial Garden, about 300 metres around a corner, large mirrors which are positioned by computer control will track the sun constantly, and when it shines will pour constant beams of sunlight onto 31 pole-mounted small mirrors, one for each fatality.
These mirrors are fixed and directed to bounce the light over the intervening buildings and via one more mirror mounted high on a nearby building, down onto the heart inside the obelisk.
It should sparkle and glitter gently with the light. It will be a beautiful and remarkable sight.The approach to the artwork was that it could remember and honour the the victims and offer something to the wider community by attempting to simply, uninhibitedly and vividly express the natural feeling, and the outpouring, of compassion for them.
During my final year of undergraduate degree in Dublin City University I had a module entitled ‘Best Practice’ where various media creators from video game designers to film producers held weekly presentations for us in which they outlined their work, the industry they operated within, the challenges they faced and the opportunities they saw for us as graduates.
One of the most interesting speakers was the artist Sean Hillen. Previous to his visit I was unfamiliar with Hillen and his work but as with most of the best artists his eccentricity shone through brightly during his detailed review of his life and work and held us all captivated. Hillen spoke emotionally about his experience growing up in a deeply troubled and violent Northern Ireland which he first captured through the medium of photography. His work evolved into a fascinating body of collages which heavily utilized both his own photography of the North and a variety religious images. These detailed arrangements and juxtapositions often reflect the impression I was left with of the man himself, deeply witty but with a sad and deep personal understanding of the subject matter behind his work.
I looked back at Hillen’s website a number of times since then. He finished his talk by describing some of his current interests which included photographing abandoned and broken umbrellas found on the streets of Dublin City. This piqued my curiosity enough to view the online gallery and since then I notice he went further by photographing individuals alongside their broken umbrellas!
Until now it is his Irelantis series which has attracted the most recent acclaim. If you haven’t seen the work its well worth a browse. However the artist suddenly came back into my consciousness when I read that he’s been awarded the commission to design and build the Omagh Bombing memorial. I wasn’t aware that sculpture was a medium that Hillen worked in but the design sounds highly unique and ambitious and I’m delighted he has won the commission. Having heard the artist talk about his own personal experiences of violence in the North of Ireland, I doubt there are many creatives more qualified to create a beautiful and lasting memorial to those lost in this most tragic of events.