Connect>Create 2008

Dorothy Cross, 'Ghost Ship', 1999

Dorothy Cross attended the Crawford Municipal School of Art, Cork from 1973-74. She then went on to do a (BA) from 1974-77 at the Leicester Polytechnic in England and finally from 1980-82 she studied at San Francisco Art Institute, California where she achieved an (MFA). She has since become an acclaimed and respected artist holding an extensive amount of solo and group exhibitions worldwide. A major retrospective of her work was held in 2005 at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, including works such as Shark Lady in a Ball Dress (Hugh Lane Collection), Virgin Shroud 1993 and the films Teacup 1996, Eye Maker, 1996 and Medusae, 2003. Forty five works that incorporate sculpture, installation, performance, photography and film.


Cross is particularly well known for the public art work entitled the Ghost Ship in 1999. It was a commission through the Irish Museum of Modern Art by Nissan Cars, to create a non-permanent site-specific public art work in and around Dublin. Cross put in a proposal; in her mind “a very simple proposal” (1). It was to paint a lightship with luminous paint to create the illusion of a ghost ship. This work was to commemorate the lightship that was once a protective vessel for the surrounding ships to warn against the reefs.  In this proposal, particularly the Daunt reef in the Dublin Bay. The ghost ship represented a literal coming into being (being born or having a realisation) and then fading away, a reminder of the life and function of the lightship.


Cross did indeed borrow a light ship which happened to be the original light ship for the Daunt reef in Dublin Bay. Once a ship was decommissioned it kept its original name “the Albatross”, which was the ship she remembered her father taking her out to as a child to deliver newspapers and cigarettes for the men on board. The lightships were named after the reef they were protecting from the plight of ships.


Not only did Dorothy Cross borrow and paint a lightship with the help of many, she also took a video of the ghost ship. She went out nightly when the ship was in Dublin Bay and filmed the ship’s luminosity. Cross felt that “…it was at its most beautiful when the luminosity faded and the ship was fading into imperceptibility” (1).

The installation of the ghost ship in Dublin Bay lasted only three weeks but the video she took lives on, and has been screened in Liverpool, the Swansea ports and Boston Gallery in Massachusetts. Now it is in the permanent collection at the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.


It was purchased through the Contemporary Art Society Scheme with Lottery funding from the Arts Council England in 2005. It is a three minute atmospheric video circling the great ship as the luminosity begins to fade. As the ship looses its inner glow – or what may be perceived as the light from within - it becomes disparate, a great big empty shell with only remnants of what once was. Lights can be seen in the distance which on the one hand are very beautiful and comforting yet on the other hand, adds to a great feeling of being alone, a spooky piece of video, engineless or perhaps lifeless.


By Dawn Lord, student from the BA (hons) contemporary Fine Art, Hull School of Art and Design 2009.


Dorothy Cross Born 1956, Cork, Ireland

Lives and works in Connemara, Ireland.

Video still from Ghost Ship (1999)

[1] Interview with Dorothy Cross. 2007. Ferens Art Gallery ‘Illumination’s’ recording. © 

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