On being awarded the commission by the National Library of Ireland, David Lilburn began a period of fieldwork as well as textual and visual research which culminated in the work entitled
In Medias Res, a multi-layered work that sets out to map both the Dublin of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the contemporary city.

The title In Medias Res, Latin for ‘in the middle of things’, indicates a work that starts straight into the action as Ulysses does, without any introductory chapters setting the scene or placing the story in context, reflecting the all encompassing nature of Joyce’s novel. The title also refers to the character of the map, which guides the viewer to the places and scenes of the novel.

In Medias Res is a dense map, constructed from a multiplicity of drawn marks and viewpoints, packed with references to the topography of Dublin and to plot fragments, characters, anecdotes, conversations, historical events and classical allusions all mentioned or implicit in the text. The work enables the viewer to orientate himself or herself within Dublin as it appears in Ulysses and as it is today and to follow the routes taken by various characters in Ulysses as they criss-cross the city throughout 16th June 1904.

The acts of drawing and mapmaking are central themes of In Medias Res. Where Joyce parodies different types of writing in Ulysses, In Medias Res contains a great variety of types and styles of drawing and mark-making. There are references to historic and contemporary maps e.g. John Speed’s map of Dublin in the 17th-century, Michel Etienne Turgot and Louis Bretz’s Plan de Paris, 1739, and the Isometric Map of Midtown Manhattan, by the Manhattan Map Company in 1989.

The images were assembled from a multiplicity of sources: the text of James Joyce’s Ulysses, historical prints, photographs, maps and manuscripts, from the archive of the National Library of Ireland; selected publications on ‘James Joyce’, Dublin, drawing and map-making; and the artist’s own drawings, photographs, and experiences of both Ulysses and Dublin.

David Lilburn is a well known printmaker, much of whose work involves the printmaking medium of drypoint. This is a technique of drawing directly onto a metal plate using a selection of tools including a carbon steel drypoint (drypoint needle). The technique allows the greatest freedom of line, producing soft subtle lines to rich velvety dark ones. The surface of the plate is scratched with the drypoint tool, throwing up a rough ridge of metal (burr) along the incised line. It is this burr which collects the ink and gives the the drypoint line, its typical velvety appearance.

In Medias Res was first drawn and engraved on zinc plates using a variety of tools such as engraving burins, knives, wire brushes, special mark-making ‘roulette wheels’, sandpaper and punches. The drawing was then ‘inked’, a process whereby etching ink is pushed into the marks made by the drawing. Finally it was printed on an etching press on special etching paper. The print includes occasional pieces of paper which were added using glue and the pressure from the etching press, a process known as ‘chine collé’. There are also occasional touches of watercolour.