Monday, 30 March 2020

Folklore and Fairytales - Artists in Residence 13 January to 17 March

Responding to this year's theme, “Irish Folklore and Fairy Tales” of Skibbereen’s St. Patrick’s Parade, artists Ana Ospina, Alice Halliday and Michael Stephens were commissioned by West Cork Arts Centre and awarded a funded residency at Uillinn from 13 January to 21 March, in partnership with Skibbereen Chamber of Commerce and Cork County Council. Together, the three artists created an engaging and explorative approach towards Irish mythology, inviting the staff of Field’s Supervalue as well as members of Skibbereen’s community to participate. Over the last two months many workshops took place at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre at which people came together, creating and crafting beautiful costumes to add on to the parade.

But wait a second. Folklore and Fairy-tales. St. Patrick was Christian, wasn’t he? Christianity and Paganism, how does this work? These were my thoughts when I heard of this year's theme for St. Patrick’s Day. 

Irish Folklore dates back millennia, Ana told me, transmitted orally, shaped and changed over time. Only since the Christians arrived in Ireland, the stories were written down - by monks, ironically. Some of the pagan gods and heroes were adopted as saints by Christianity, similar to the Romans adopting Greek Mythology. 

Artist Alice as Brigid

One great example for that is Saint Brigid. In pre-Ireland she was the great Goddess of spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. According to Cormac’s Glossary (that’s the one monks wrote when they arrived in Ireland in the 10th century) Brigid, Goddess of Poetry had two sisters: Brigid the Healer and Brigid the Smith - a triple deity? That sounds very similar to the Christian triple deity of God, if you ask me.

However, in Christianity there is only one God. Luckily, the old Christian monks did not simply wipe out all the old Irish gods and forced people to believe in something completely different, like it sadly happened during colonisation so many times. Forcing people to ignore and forget their cultural heritage is not what the monks had in mind. Instead, they were more considerate and allowed these old Gods a place as Saints in the new Christian world. Arguably, that is how Brigid became a Saint, too. This way, Brigid is kept alive and can be worshipped until this very day. When I researched this, I couldn’t help but be amazed by how respectful of each other's culture people were back then, compared to what I know about colonisation. Religions were merged rather than one forcefully substituted by the other. And I think I better understand now, why this Christian holiday celebrates folklore and fairy-tales: as a reminder of Ireland’s cultural roots, which certainly have a place in today’s Christianity. 

Head Pieces for Main Characters

So let’s get back to the artists in residence at Uillinn, Ana, Alice and Michael who have put so much work and energy into this great project. Many workshops have taken place, and even in times of COVID-19 and the cancellation of parades planned for 17 March, the creative team continued building beehives, sewing costumes, painting masks, crafting bluebells and grain ears and so much more - and they never have stopped smiling and keeping a positive attitude towards the situation, always welcoming those of the community who wanted to contribute while respecting the new social distancing and hand washing directives as they began to role in.

Costume Draping Bee Hive in the Making
Artist Ana making Bluebells Stitching Flowers

At the heart of their creative vision are main characters based on traditional Irish folklore - Puca in the shape of a fox, the mermaid, Goddess Brigid, the Green Man and Gobnait, queen of bees - which will be supported by minor characters and surrounded by spectacular props during the parade.

There have been positive responses from so many people, keeping spirits up during these difficult times. Thanks to the artists’ great stamina and the community's engaging work, we can all look forward to finally seeing the colourful outcome of the project. Once the situation allows, the costumes will be staged in an on location photo shoot, the results of which will then be displayed in a virtually for us all to see. For a live experience we can happily await next year's St. Patrick’s Day, where the costumes are likely to be paraded. Until then, stay healthy!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Committed to Falling - Gabhann Dunne

The James O'Driscoll Gallery
29 February to 4 April 2020

Gabhann Dunne's painting installation comprises almost one hundred small oil paintings of migratory birds that are known to visit Ireland, accompanied by a new series of panels depicting extinct or non-native but naturalised plant species found in West Cork.

Gabhann creates eclectic narratives to show how Ireland’s wildlife and human inhabitants have dealt with previous climate change and how we are responding to the climate challenges we are now facing. In the past, hyenas roamed Munster but in the future, water will be diverted from the Shannon to be consumed by millions of citizens in the greater Dublin area – an undertaking with profound implications for the environment and Irish culture. Gabhann says “the commodifying of a resource like the Shannon with all its natural and historical associations was the starting point for reflection on changes wrought by the journeying on water and the migration of wildlife and what they tell us about their identity”.
May you never see the corncrake again!’ (Nár fheice tú an traonach arís) was once a way of wishing someone bad luck or worse, since you were hoping they wouldn’t live to see another summer. The imprecation implies a culture familiar with the corncrake and its distinctive call, and perhaps, more significantly, with the knowledge that it was a summer visitor. Once common throughout Ireland, the corncrake is now almost extinct due to human and climatic factors that stretch from here to its wintering habitats in Africa and the migration routes in between.

Gabhann reflects on changes wrought by the movement of water and the migration of wildlife and what they have to tell us about our identity. He uses colour and gesture to evoke the vulnerability and energy of his subject and asks the viewer to think on issues of emigration, migration, absence and our changing climate.

The artist believes all of these ideas can be mediated through painting without resorting to conceptual conceits. “Gabhann Dunne’s work does not deal in conceptual irony,” Seán Kissane, curator of exhibitions at IMMA, has written, “he is a story-teller and his narratives are those of nature and the world around us. In this he can be compared to Scottish Canadian artist Peter Doig, who demonstrates a similar preoccupation with nature in his painting. Doig, like Dunne, works in a style that straddles figuration and abstraction but he said of his practice, ‘All painting is conceptual. Every painting is an idea. Conceptual art just removes the pleasure of looking – colour and beauty, things like that’. Despite the tragic themes underlying much of Dunne’s [work] he revels in these ‘pleasures of looking’.”
From Co. Kildare and now living in Dublin, Gabhann Dunne is a former winner of the RDS Taylor Art Award and the Hennessy Craig Scholarship at the Royal Hibernian Academy. He studied Fine Art Painting at the Dublin Institute of Technology and at NCAD, Dublin. His recent shows include When the wolves own the island, Molesworth Gallery, Dublin (2019); Crossing the Salt, Limerick City Gallery (2018); In the Presence of Birds (2017) and The Flower’s Pilgrim (2015) at the Molesworth Gallery, Dublin, and Magenta Honey at The Lab, Dublin (2015). He was described by Cristín Leach – writing in The Sunday Times in May, 2015 – as ‘one of the best Irish painters of his generation’.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Identity and the Natural Environment: Land Walks, Land Talks, Land Marks - an Exhibition by William Bock

Environment. This big word we encounter everyday. We are assumed to be aware, treat it kindly and with respect. Our negative impact has become uncomfortably apparent over the last decade, as reports about climate change have become louder and louder. One reason things have come this far might be our neglect of the fact that our relationship with the environment is not one-sided. Nature has an undeniable impact on our identity, whether personal, national, cultural or otherwise. With our behaviour towards the environment we do not only directly shape nature itself, but consequently our own identity. One thing we need to remember is:  “We are nature, too!”  as the current Artist in Residence at Uillinn studios, William Bock points out. However, we seem to be so disconnected from our environment that we view the natural landscape as an alien space, a counterpart to our usual life. 

On 29 February 2020 William Bock’s exhibition Land Walks, Land Talks, Land Marks opened together with Gabhann Dunne’s exhibition Committed to Falling at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre. William uses this opportunity to raise our awareness to how entwined our human world and the natural space actually are.

At the opening event, two artists held an engaging conversation about both of their works, inviting all guests to join in, comment and ask questions. William described his approach in using walks through the landscape as a basis for his current artwork. Over the last year of his work, which was finalized during his one month residency at the West Cork Arts Centre, William Bock initiated many walks around West Cork with diverse groups of people in the locality inclusive of asylum seekers based in Clonakilty. Along the way, he recorded their conversations and nature’s sounds and collected different materials found in the landscape - all of which is exhibited in this current show. 

Within the gallery, William Bock creates a whole world linking the outside space to the inside. By beautifully installing inconspicuous objects, plants and paintings the artist uses the gallery as a stage to give a voice to things that are often overheard. This idea is taken literally during the opening as William asks Composer and Musician Justin Grounds to play on a flute that was made out of wood collected on one of the walks and is now displayed in the exhibition. As visitors we are encouraged to take along Bocks many walks and discover what wonderful things our environment has to offer. Alongside a beautiful display of reed one can find a delicate bevy of Fuchsia, a plant from Chile named after the German herbalist Leonhart Fuchs. Next to it there is a leaf of the Giant Rhubarb or Japanese Knotweed. Both Fuchsia and Knotweed are widely spread all around West Cork. Once foreign to this country, they nowadays are a defining feature of Ireland's landscape - a visualized metaphor for the diversity among West Corks people and their various backgrounds.

William Bock’s exhibition talks about our environment and its impact on our identity. His family’s history is one shaped by migration, flight and movement. Being of Jewish, German and Swedish Background and having grown up in West Cork William Bock is very connected to the idea of leaving. But leaving one place also means arriving at another - and William appears to really have arrived at this place. His works express a deep appreciation of West Cork’s landscape, an environment that he himself calls his ‘natural workspace’. Visitors are invited into this workspace and experience nature, its colours, its sounds, its smell. 

Among all the natural materials we also find relics of human presence: a boot, a mirror, a glove. Here William expresses that we often have a false idea of nature. There is no romantic landscape as a counterpart to our human world. Quite on the contrary, we are inevitably linked to one another. Our concept of nature is a constructed one and there is no such thing as untouched landscape. Everything surrounding us is shaped by people. Especially Agriculture has influenced West Corks environment fundamentally. Therefore, traces of humans within landscape as a part of nature are the most natural thing. The only question we have to ask ourselves is in what way we want to shape it. In this exhibition William Bock suggests that we should try and listen to our real environment, not cling to some romantic fantasy that only exists in our head.

As the focus draws on the colourful pigments collected during his walks and later used for the paintings exhibited in the gallery, people were especially fascinated. To paint with such simple and original colours is not something you encounter every day. Paint usually comes in a tube or bottle, at least that is what we are used to. But in fact, people have used these ‘natural’ materials for centuries. Gall ink, as Bock explains, is one of the oldest inks ever found in historical writings. Again it becomes apparent how disconnected from nature we really are. However William does not point fingers. Rather he opens up the chance of having a share of his thoughts and rethink one’s own ideas of the environment in a peaceful and homey atmosphere. As wooden furniture invites us to sit down we can simply listen and let his beautiful exhibition work on us at its own pace.

Photographs by Stella Gilfert and Maik Gödecke

Saturday, 12 October 2019

International artists unfold time and space in new performance created at Uillinn 

inSkin is a live video, dance and art installation
This new work is created for a gallery setting by a group of international artists all with a connection to West Cork and Uillinn.  Originally conceived by West Cork dance artist in residence at Uillinn Mairéad Vaughan (Ireland), in collaboration with Tomasz Madajczak (Poland), Helle Kvamme (Sweden), Lily Horgan and Charlie Dunne (UK), it will premiere at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre on Saturday 19 October. This is the first performance of this year’s Uillinn Dance Season

Mairéad who moved to Ballydehob to work as dance artist in residence at Uillinn at the beginning of the year, is originally from Blarney, County Cork and has spent her career travelling the world, learning and performing, “I am passionate about highlighting our deep, inherent, embodied connection to our environment through my dance practice”.  She travelled to remote regions in India, Borneo, Malaysia, Thailand, Artic Circle, Peru and Equador and these remote environments influenced her choreographic work. She recently completed her Arts Practice PhD researching our embodied relationship with our environment.

All artists collaborating on the project hold a connection with the local environment. Multimedia artist Tomasz Madajczak originally from Poland has been living and working as an artist in the West Cork for the past ten years and only recently began exploring dance and movement in his work.  "This new way of work is very inspiring and will influence my further artistic explorations" explained Tomasz.

While on residency at Uillinn, Mairéad met UK dance artists Lily Horgan and Charlie Dunne who delivered a community dance project this summer, ‘Anonymous’ that explored social perception and gender difference. The dance duo, known as Meta4 Dance Company are regular visitors to West Cork, staying with family in Schull, where Lily spent much of her childhood.

Helle Kvamme, a visual artist from Sweden is also a regular visitor to the region having lived in Clonakilty after studying art in Crawford College of Art and Design. Helle also spent time on a residency at Uillinn early in 2018.

All of the artists recognise the value of working in West Cork and Uillinn especially, as a place that nurtures diverse collaborations, providing a unique platform for artist to come together and create new work, “We have such a strong connection with the local area and therefore it feels like we all have a common starting point from which our creative process for inSkin unfolds”

Performance Credits
Dance, Video, Choreographer Mairéad Vaughan
Visual artist Tomasz Madajczak
Visual artist Helle Kvamme
Dance artist Lilly Horgan
Dance artist Charlie Dunne
Sound and Video Art Dara O' Brien

Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Saturday 19 October, 12noon, 3:00pm and 6:00pm

inSkin has been funded under the Arts Council’s Dance Residency Award in partnership with Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre and Cork County Council

Artist Biographies:

Mairead Vaughan ( is a dance artist, choreographer, researcher/writer and facilitator. She graduated from Northern School of Contemporary Dance (UK) with a degree in Performing Arts (Dance), The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance (IWAMD, University of Limerick) with an M.A. in Contemporary Dance Performance and more recently with an
Arts Practice PhD (IWAMD) researching our symbiotic relationship with our environment.
Mairead co-founded Shakram Dance Company (1999-2014) for which she created thirteen original choreographic works supported by the Arts Council of Ireland. Her travel to remote regions in India, Peru, Ecuador, Borneo, Malaysia and Thailand informed her earlier choreography. Her work is multi- disciplinary in nature and ranges from theatre, live voice and sound, dance video and film, site-specific and installation performance, all of which toured and performed nationally and internationally (Dublin Dance Festival, the Illios Festival, Norway, the World Congress of Dance Research, Athens and Kalmar Art Museum, Sweden). Mairéad has been highly influenced by the choreographers she has worked directly with, including Mary Nunan (IRE),
Steve Paxton (USA), Yoshiko Chuma (Japan), Wendy Houston (UK), Joan Davis (IRE), Sondra Loring (USA), K.J. Holmes (USA), Christine Devany (UK), Mark Baldwin (UK) and Jody Melnick (USA).

Tomasz Madajczak is a multimedia artist who lives in West Cork since 2010. He emigrated from Poland where he obtained MA in Photography and Multimedia Art. Tomasz works with concepts related to space and the relation between our way of internalising our experience of who we are and how that relats and influences the creation of the space which surrounds us. Tomasz's works incorporate photography, video, sound in forms of interactive installations which are complemented by the presence of the visitor (the viewer).

Meta4 dance Company was created through a love of movement between both Charlie Dunne and Lily Horgan, stemming from a creative rapport and language that we could freely converse in. The dancers found a shared career path having studied together at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. We want to make work that is transparent, important and engaging. As well as delivering meaningful, worthwhile and exciting experiences for all.

Helle Kvamme, Norweigian artist based in Sweden, graduated from Crawford College of Art and design 2004. She creates a dialogical space through photography; film, movement, found objects and organic materials. Fundamental to her practice is the creation of new platforms where artists can meet and dialogue can emerge. For several years, her place of research and point of departure has been a hazelforeston the east coast of Sweden. She invites people to interact, work and engage with. She has in recent years worked with cultural heritage sites in collaboration with Archeologist to question how we read time and findings that are of immaterial nature.

Photographs by Tomasz Madajczak

Friday, 12 July 2019

Elective Affinities

It's been a week of introductions.

Hi, I'm  Aodhán, in Studio One. Yeah, like A-gon, after O’Rathaille, the poet? A writer actually. Yes, it's short residency, just this month and in connection with the literary festival...

And I find myself relying again and again on the word ‘introduction’ even as I introduce myself and we, in our Cork way, locate ourselves.

Right, it’s something of an introduction really - to people here at Uillinn and to the other artists... No, no, I live near Inchigeelagh, near Lough Allua, near where the Lee begins.

And each time trying to rephrase a little what it is I've said I'd do or what I thought I wanted to do with my time here. And each time perhaps, getting closer to understanding how I might go about it and where it might lead.

Then, of course, there are online introductions to make. Happy announcements and updates, busy projecting a self-image. Public panels also require an accompanying image: an artwork, book cover, an artist headshot. The latter I ordinarily consider a humbling ritual best avoided but within the portrait taken on the first day is a surprise, an image within an image. It will serve. 

Studio One. Day One
I can see it’s related to a curious genre of self-portraiture, the ‘gallery-selfie’ in the reflective surfaces of glassy architecture that makes a habit of coy stagings of indexicality. But still, I am surprised to see someone recognisingly me projected onto the elevation and etched into the Corten as if picked out in the patterning of rain-darkened rust. Most pleasing to me is the way my own ‘image fantôme’ is visually integrated with the elements of the drawing installation spilling out from Tomasz Madajczak’s next door studio. Reflected in the glass, the ink rhythms on the torn strips of paper seem less graphic and more elemental, taking on the character of the rust of the building’s weathering steel. They flock about my head, enigmatic ‘thought clouds’, as I look out at Skibb and a long linear carpark defined by the Caol Stream, now encased in her concrete walls.

Looking again I notice it’s a double portrait, not only of me in abstracted mood taking in the view, but a portrayal of some of the experiential qualities of the buildings’ architecture. As Micheál O’Connell observes, Uillinn is a beautiful building,
simultaneously bold but appropriate to the landscape, monumental not domineering, standing out, blending in, having a colour, not submitting to the ubiquitous corporate aesthetic, functional and open, penetrated by light.
It’s fitting with those design principles of ‘just proportion’ and ‘openness’, that Tomasz and Micheál and I (all currently artists-in-residence) readily established a code or policy amongst ourselves: if the door of our neighbouring studios is open then passing heads are welcome in. And as an art writer that’s where I want to be - participating in the kinds of conversations that can take place in places like artist’s studios. Or in the corridor. Or on the stairwell, or anywhere where people who value critical exchange might wish to speak. 

Art writing for me has always been a personal experiment - one’s initial thoughts and intuitions are the inchoate materials the writer endeavours to assay and bring into connected discourse. Thoughts are never conquered; they resist command and ordering; ideas change over the course of their exploration. But through the discipline of a creative practice, what starts in conversation or idyls in the run of one’s private thoughts can lead one to discovering a territory of engagement. 

My project, 'Elective Affinities', is, at heart, a proposition about mutual inquiry. What the arts does best is point us to the inherent affinity between intellectual cross-fertilization and the expansion of our imaginative vision. I believe our best chance of reimagining the world is simply to begin with an open question:

Hi, I'm Aodhan. What are the questions of importance to you?

Aodhán Rilke Floyd is an artist and art writer living in West Cork. As part of his research and critical writing residency this summer he has been invited to write in response to programmes at Uillinn and at the West Cork Literary Festival 2019 on ideas of ‘collaboration’, a recurring theme in both our programmes. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Coming Home experience

We are coming to the end of the Coming Home experience here at West Cork Arts Centre, the exhibition closes next week on October 13th. This is an exhibition that has undoubtedly resonated within the community and throughout the country. Even in the exhibition's closing week the anecdotes, awareness and autobiographical revelations continue to emerge. Claire Lambert, practicing artist and Front of House and gallery assistant here at Uillinn, is one of the latest to unearth her own personal connection to the Coming Home exhibition.

Claire is a Front of House and Gallery Assistant here at West Cork Arts Centre

Claire arrived in Ireland from London in 1989 before eventually settling in West Cork to embark on an art career. A graduate of the DIT Visual Art programme in Sherkin Island, Claire has recently joined the team here at West Cork Arts Centre. The arrival of the Coming Home exhibition in June was her first introduction to Irish Famine history. The exhibition approaches the solemnity of An Gorta Mor by discussing the socio, economic and political landscape of Ireland in the nineteenth century. Claire began actively engaging with the historical context of the exhibition  in order to interact with visitors and out of personal interest. This research coincided with the visit of a relative from New Zealand who had an interest in the family tree. Claire had a vague recollection of an Irish ancestor being mentioned somewhere in her family history. Eventually she discovered John Lehane her great-great grandfather was born in Cork in 1842 and her great-great grandmother Jane O' Connor was born in Killarney in 1840.

Coming Home caused Claire to realize that her great-great grandparents were children at the time of the Great Famine. Shocked by this revelation, she delved deeper into her family's past to discover that her family, like so many others, emigrated in the hopes of finding a better life. Their destination was not the much acknowledged Liverpool or Ellis Island, but Argentina. The South American country is today home to the fifth-largest Irish community in the world. Claire's family is among the many that settled and raised a family in these foreign environs, trading the small island nation for the immense plains, deserts, forests and tundra of Argentina . Eventually Claire's  family found themselves further South in the Falkland islands. It was Claire's grandmother who ventured back across the Atlantic Ocean to settle in South Hampton and now, remarkably it is Claire who has set down roots in Cork.
The exhibition's title Coming Home can be understood in a new personal light for Claire as she is the first generation of her family to 'come home' following the cataclysmic event that was the Great Irish Famine.

Claire's story is the story of many. Emigration is one of themes of Coming Home that has become a perspective for understanding events like the Great Irish Famine. Stories like these remind us how small the world can be and how interdependent we are as human beings. Narratives unfold in far flung corners of the world that effect and involve all of us, the world is in a constant flux and those in riches today may be in rags tomorrow. The fragile nature of the status quo has caused many visitors to consider the European emigration crisis today in relation to Ireland's emigration crisis in the nineteenth century. Unfortunately the story of Claire's family is repeating around the world today with people being forced to leave their homes in the face of war, famine or persecution.

It is this ability to address the past and analyse the present that has caused Coming Home to become poignant visitor experience. If you haven't already, experience it for yourself before the exhibition closes this Saturday!