Irish artist Dorothy Cross explains how she made her Virgin Shroud, by stitching together a cow-hide, complete with udders, and her grandmother's old wedding dress.

The extraordinary sculpture that resulted is a favourite in Tate's collection. Dorothy Cross was born in Cork, Ireland in 1956. She attended the Crawford Municipal School of Art in Cork before undertaking degree studies at Leicester Polytechnic, England, from 1974 to 1977. She also studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, California, 1978-9 and 1980-2.

Cross has had a number of solo exhibitions including, in recent years, Dorothy Cross, Ebb, at The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin 1988, Parthenon at Camden Arts Centre, London 1992, and Even: Recent Work by Dorothy Cross at the Arnolfini, Bristol in 1996. Important recent group exhibitions include Bad Girls, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1993 and Fetishism: Visualising Power and Desire, first shown at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in 1995. Cross uses a wide range of materials in her work, including found objects which have been in her family's possession for many years, constructed objects, photographs and animal skins.

She has recently made several works using cow hides and, in particular, cows' udders. Central to her work as a whole are themes of sexual and cultural identity, personal history and memory. The artist lives and works in Dublin.

The piece is called Virgin Shroud and I made it in 1993, and it was part of a series called The Udder Series which originated when I found a sieve made out of an udder in Norway which was a functional object that had fantastic surreal implications. I had never considered the udder, the use of an udder, in any other way than just as a milk giving thing and I found it fascinating. And I returned to Ireland and sourced cow skins including the udder and started making this series, called The Udder Series. So, I made the structure actually out of an old wheelie clothes rack and I wanted to locate the udder where the head is implied, so the teats of the udder are now positioned on the head as opposed to between the legs. And the silk lining actually comes from the wedding train of my grandmother, who got married in 1914 in London, and she gave me the silk when I was about 14 and said “go and make a blouse from this” and I kept it in my studio for years, and combined the train with the skin. I was conscious that… the kind of brutality of the skin that I stitched together when it was torn, and the slightly old cow that has a lot of tears and rips… that I wanted to compensate for that kind of brutality in a way with the beauty of silk, which also tied in with this notion that there is some figurative entity under this shroud. Her head is made of plaster - but it doesn’t really matter what she is made of - and she is kind of shrouded from the front so there is no anatomy, there is no human anatomy, really. The titling of Virgin and Shroud - the shrouding of the dead cow with the kind of virginity of the bridal veil - that is the kind of notion around the title. I will never say how people are going to react to my work at all and I learned my lesson very early on that I don’t ever presume. But I am very interested in multiple interpretation and I know that I am orchestrating people in terms of titling. The facelessness of it too, the fact that the back is turned is kind of important, that it’s not clearly…you know when I was in my studio I did have a statue of the Virgin Mary and I was thinking very literally in the beginning… And at one point I had the skin draped over the Virgin Mary but that was too… It was too direct. She is more ambiguous and she is big enough to be powerful I think.