Friday, 15 October 2021

Uillinn Dance Season - Dēmos

Uillinn Dance Season is about to begin - which from my experience working at Uillinn the last two years - covers the finest selection of dance performances you are likely to see, not only in the county but the country. In preparation for the upcoming performances, I spoke to the choreographer, Liz Roche, who will be bringing us the opening event in the main gallery.

Liz Roche 

Liz was born and raised in Dublin. Her Cork connections come from her father's family, who are from Cork City, with her grandparents living in West Cork for the last 10 years of their lives. Passionate about dance from a young age, Liz left school at 15 and like most young people wanting to be dancers in Ireland, left and went to train in London. After completing her training, Liz worked as a contemporary dancer in Ireland, throughout Europe, the UK, and for choreographers from the United States.

During this period, Liz created her own dance company, Rex Levitates Dance Company, with her sister Jenny, who is also a dancer. During the company's beginnings, Liz continued gaining experience by working in theatre and opera productions. Over time, her sister pursued a more academic route so Liz became Artistic Director, and the company became Liz Roche Company.

Ever since the company has been producing one large and one smaller-scale work each year. This work typically tours Ireland and Europe. Aside from their performances, Liz's company also does community outreach projects, developmental programmes and much more besides. Liz's goal is to 'connect with people and audiences to develop and raise awareness of dance'. In 2020, she was rewarded for this work when her peers nominated her as a member of Aosdána, one of Ireland's highest artistic achievements.

Fast forward to today and Liz has completed her latest body of work 'Dēmos - films of separation and togetherness with composer David Coonan and filmmaker Josē Miguel Jiménez. Dēmos refers to the Greek word meaning democracy.

In development since 2019, the piece was originally planned as a performance piece for a large stage with many dancers involved but those plans fell through once Covid-19 hit. Liz then evolved the work and made it into a film with that film currently touring.

The film director is José Miguel Jiménez. Liz has known José for many years, describing him as 'a creative person who knows dance very well'.

Dancer Yumi Lee

Soon Dēmos - films of separation and togetherness will reach Uillinn, where it will be transformed from a film set in a theatre into an installation piece in a gallery space with projection and live performances. These performances will be by cellist Kate Ellis and dancers Emily Terndrup, Luke Murphy and Yumi Lee, with composition by David Coonan, recorded and performed by new music specialists Crash Ensemble.

Liz described the work as having themes of 'separation and togetherness' and what those words mean as they relate to us in today's society. As the performances were initially created for a big stage, they have an epic quality to them but throughout the process, Liz has moulded the performances to become more 'gentle, grounded, and intimate'. Liz added that 'Life is often so dynamic so it is nice to be able to make something that shows the softer, more intimate side of life'.

Dancers Emily Terndrup and Luke Murphy

If you're like me, you might not have much knowledge or understanding of contemporary dance. It may seem too vague and hard to pin down. During my time at Uillinn I've learned to not look at contemporary dance too literally. I would watch these performances and I'd be racking my brain as to what they were supposed to mean or what the performance was trying to get across. As soon as I quietened the analytical side of my mind, I found myself appreciating the movements and music for their own merit. Dance is so unique, present and alive that sometimes you just need to let it happen to you. Liz hopes that more people can give contemporary dance a chance because it is such a rewarding experience.

Liz aims to make the piece as accessible as possible to as many people as possible so if you want to get this rare opportunity to see Liz's new work in Skibbereen, please visit Uillinn West Cork Art Centre on October 22nd. For more information please visit:

Thursday, 23 September 2021

The Road to Creativity.

I must admit I was ignorant about many aspects of the artistic process before I began working at the Art Centre. Abstract art in particular tended to fly over my head. I'd often see blocks of colour on a canvas, and I couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to represent or if it was even supposed to represent anything. When I asked some of my colleagues for their opinions on such art, I learned of some different perspectives.

One of them said she imagines the artwork as if it was on her wall at home; whether it would match the colour scheme of her house and if it could help bring the room together. Another colleague said they find that style of art very relaxing and found that there was a meditative quality to the seemingly minimalistic design of the piece. These ideas began a process of awakening in me and taught me how to appreciate and find quality in all styles of art. 

Through the blogs and podcasts I produce for the art centre, I have been able to speak to dozens of artists from different fields of expertise. A question I often ask is ‘How did you come up with the work you are creating?’ The responses I get are nearly always fascinating. Some artists have had their ideas for decades, formulating and tweaking their work until it has gone from assimilated dream to a manifested work of art on the canvas in front of them. Others work straight from a feeling and the process becomes almost a therapeutic and/or cathartic experience, helping them come to terms with any of the emotions that span the range of our human existence. Others still are interested in honing in on areas of everyday life we tend to ignore. The crack on a pavement, the colour shift when looking through a window on a bright day, the intricate detail of a water droplet when you zoom in. As you can imagine, it can be exceedingly difficult to verbalise all the work and personal input required to make a work of art.

I’ll put it like this: a painting of a banana is very rarely just a painting of a banana. Not exactly a genius insight I know but the truth nonetheless. 

Moving on. Many of the artists I have spoken to are on a residency program. This essentially means they have a private room in the centre where they can work on their ideas. Sometimes these ideas are coming to fruition for display in an upcoming exhibition. Sometimes there is no idea, and they are hoping to use their time in residency to formulate a new project. The room itself almost represents the creative mind. A blank empty room that soon explodes with colour and material. One idea on one wall, a totally different idea on another. As time passes you see these ideas blend, evolve and some can be abandoned entirely.

It was in one of these rooms that I met Róisín Lewis for a chat. Róisín was, at the time, one of our artists in residence. 

                                                           Roisin in the creative process.  

Such is the quality of Roisin’s work that she has exhibited both locally and internationally. Róisín is a Dublin based artist. After graduating from NCAD in 1996 with a 1st Class Honours Degree in Fine Art, Róisín went on to pursue postgraduate studies in fine art at the University of Ulster and in multimedia systems at Trinity College Dublin. She has had solo exhibitions at Pallas Projects, Kevin Kavanagh Gallery and Ashford Gallery in Dublin, at the Proposition Gallery and the Old Museum Arts Centre in Belfast, and at the Roscommon Arts Centre. Her work has been included in a number of international exhibitions including the Drawing Centre, New York, The Berkeley Art Museum, California and Yanagisawa Gallery, Tokyo. 

I walked into the room where Róisín was conducting her residency. Every corner of the room was filled with materials of every colour. From wool to flowers to penicils of every shade. Róisín was clearly immersed in the developmental/ creative stage of her residency. She had 4 or 5 ideas all going at once. On one corner of one wall, she had a small pencil drawing which consisted of a block of lines in different shades of many colours. Naturally, I didn’t understand its meaning at first. Then I got talking to Róisín about her process.

                                             The beginning of one of many of Roisin’s ideas.

Róisín it turned out, was exploring an idea of blending scientific statistics with nature to create something hybrid, something new. The block of coloured lines on the wall was an example of this idea being explored. The story behind that particular idea was intriguing.

Róisín had been living outside of Skibbereen for her residency time. Every morning she would cycle several miles into town to get to the Art Centre. In doing this every day she started noticing the wealth of colours that would blur past her as she moved along. Eventually, she began to slow down to properly appreciate what she was seeing. The bulk of the colours were from late summer flowers, holding onto their last vibrancy before the Fall. Within a patch of a few feet, there could be a dozen different colours. Róisín wished to know the name of these plants, so she bought a book on the names of local flora and began studying. Fuschia, Ragwort, Foxglove, Montbretia, etc. This led to her being able to associate certain plants with certain colours. Shades of Yellow, Carmine, Magenta and many more besides. Progressing on from this, Róisín would record herself calling out the names of every plant she would see on her cycle into town. On a journey of several miles, this audio recording became significantly longer, so Róisín started compiling all of the data on her laptop. Soon enough she had a road map drawn with the colours of each flower along that virtual road on the screen in front of her. On top of this Róisín had been measuring her heart rate to add even more data for her to consider. Each hill a peak of her pulse beats, represented by certain flower colours. Then a relaxed heartbeat downhill with colours coming thick and fast as she glided by. This overall idea then spawned into having a block of coloured lines on a small canvas. Each colour representing the changing colour of the nature she saw on her everyday step by step journey into town.

                                           A snippet of what Roisin would see on her journey. 

So not just a vague, abstract block of colour on a canvas. An extremely meticulous, well researched and disciplined process in order to create something simple-looking but beautifully complex. I found that to be amazing and it opened my eyes even further to what goes into the artistic process. Again, a painting of a banana is very rarely just a painting of a banana.

Bear in mind this was just one idea Róisín had going on. An idea that could be advanced, melded or scrapped entirely. One idea in one room in one corner of the world. Róisín had earned another fan by the time I had left that room. 

                                                     Roisin’s residency space at Uillinn.

If you would like to see what Róisíns past and future work looks like, then please visit her website at

Saturday, 8 May 2021

The Metaphors of Movement.

There's always someone dancing at Uillinn West Cork Art Centre. Be it young people coming in for classes, one of our dancers in residence working on their latest ideas, or maybe just myself when no one is looking. The centre has a dance studio upstairs and the floor in that room has hosted a million musical movements since I first walked through the door. I'm no stranger to dancing myself. In the past, I've taken classes in Salsa and Jive and while I'm no Michael Flately, I thoroughly enjoyed my time learning the ins and outs of expressive movement. I was hesitant to take these classes at first but the dancing community that I've experienced in West Cork were nothing if not open and welcoming. That was a number of years ago now so it's been a while since I've had exposure to that world. Since starting work at Uillinn, that has since changed.

Out of the countless styles you can find in the dancing world, I've seen many of them represented at Uillinn in some shape or form. One of the less conventional styles of dancing I encountered was contemporary dance. I was admittedly ignorant of this aspect of dancing at first. I simply didn't understand it. Over time, however, I saw the whole process of these dancers. From practising their movements right up to their final performance. This helped to open my eyes and mind to the beauty of the style. While watching the performance I had a dozen thoughts cross my mind as I tried to contemplate the meaning behind the movements I was seeing in front of me. Elements of grief and loss as two dancers moved from chest to chest until suddenly pushing away from each other and falling to the floor. Thoughts of connection and comfort as dancers crawled along the floor to each other and moved into a cuddle, a fading vulnerability etched onto their faces. Dramatic expressions of joy and excitement as the performers leapt into the air, limbs open and outstretched. After the performance was done I was left amazed at the creativity I had just witnessed and It was on my mind for the rest of the day. A day spent thinking about humans and love and energy and more. I walked away with a newfound appreciation for what contemporary dance can invoke within me and others. During my time at Uillinn, one such group that left me profoundly impressed was Lily Horgan and Charlie Dunn of Meta4 Dance Company.

Lily Horgan & Charlie Dunn

Since their founding in 2018, Meta4 and Uillinn have collaborated on a number of occasions. In 2020, Meta4 worked at Uillinn on their 'Annonymous' project. Meta4 described their goal with this project as an attempt to explore 'The identity of a dancers’ movement, how our identity is preconceived before we dance and how we can break this mould. Despite being in a creative environment where we are encouraged to push boundaries and stereotypes, we still find ourselves being typecast and put in a box depending on our image and dancing image. We will look at how our dancing identity can be shaped by those that are around us, how we conform or learn from others and adapt. Through our work with different groups, we will challenge their preconceptions of us and our preconceptions of them. We will expose them to different ways of expressing themselves and find their natural movement language. We will also learn from the various groups which will develop our movement identity.

This project culminated in a performance outside the front doors of Uillinn where participating community members danced with Meta4 for all of Skibbereen to see. I remember that day fondly as it was wonderful to see the people of Skibbereen exposed to the wonderous performances I had grown to greatly appreciate.

Covid 19 has since turned all of our lives upside down and Meta4 were no different. Obviously, with social distancing, you couldn't dance close to people so Charlie and Lilly had to evolve their company in response. Part of this process has been moving their work online by making video packages, communicating and helping people create from the safety of their own homes. Lilly and Charlie said that 'we've improved as a company because of these challenges and some of the changes we had to make are going to be helpful to us even when the restrictions are over'.

Meta4 firmly believes that dance can be for everyone and they have backed up their beliefs with action. They created a division of their company 'Meta4 Youth' which works with young people with learning disabilities. The dancers have described this as 'not only a place for young people to learn contemporary dance but it is a safe haven to create friendships, to express and explore within themselves and allows them to let go and immerse themselves in the group'.

More recently, Meta4 has once again teamed up with Uillinn to work on their new project 'Confluence'. Part of the inspiration for Confluence was to make a performance that's available for everyone to view, including people who typically can't make it to a theatre for a show. This project is a live streaming performance happening online at 7pm on the 14th of May 2021. After the live stream ends, the recording will be displayed via a projector on the side of the building at Uillinn. This projection will begin at 9pm for anyone interested. Check the links below for further details.

Charlie and Lilly to me are very open-hearted individuals who have a deep care for people. Their ability to help bring people out of themselves and make them feel a part of a whole is amazing to witness. Dance can be a wonderfully human form of expression, and few humans express themselves as wonderfully as Lilly and Charlie from Meta4 Dance.

To keep up to date with Meta4 and with Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, please follow these links:

Shots from the production of 'Confluence'

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

Kate McElroy: Finding a place for art.

My name is Gavin Buckley. I work as part of the Front of House team at Uillinn West Cork Art Centre. I work with a wonderful group of people at Uillinn and one of those people is Kate McElroy. Recently I got to speak to Kate for a podcast centred around her art practice which you can listen to here. This blog, however, is a deeper look into Kates more recent work as Uillinn’s Public Engagement Assistant.


In her Public Engagement Assistant role, Kate has covered a lot of ground. The job can entail anything from engaging with the public through social media to giving tours around the Art Centre during exhibitions. More recently however Kate's focus has been working with primary and secondary schools around West Cork and providing them with a variety of art packages with the aim of keeping the connection to our arts programme and supporting their art interest by working remotely

To achieve this, Kate collaborated with local artists to create a 'project package' which were sent out to primary schools. These packages typically contained information on a featured artist and an introduction to a project idea. Artists materials were also provided as part of the packages so that the students can try out some of the ideas at home. Before the lockdown, Kate would visit the schools in person to discuss the project ideas but these days she does this through Zoom meetings. Attending online will be Kate, the students, their teacher, and sometimes the featured local artist. From there, everybody can discuss what they saw and give their own outlooks on the subject. I asked Kate how these calls are received by the students.

''They are very open to it. They often come up with fascinating ideas that I wouldn't have thought of before. Their capacity for creativity is brilliant.''

Kate assembling project packages

Once the students have discussed ideas, they are then encouraged to create their own art, usually with some sort of theme or prompt to guide them. For example one of the projects Kate assembled was called 'Postcards of Place'. For this project, packages were sent to three first-year groups from secondary schools in Dunmanway, Schull and Clonakilty. The materials provided were watercolour pencils and watercolour sheets. After the creative discussion, the students were tasked with making a postcard about their area using the watercolour materials. The text on the back of the postcard would have information about the place on the postcard as well as some information about the local artist that inspired the project. 

‘Sensing Place’ a project done in collaboration with three primary schools; St. Joseph’s NS, Clonakilty, Our Lady of Mercy NS Bantry and Scoil Mhuire NS, Schull

‘Sensing Place’ took its starting point from three artists in residence. Pascal Ungerer covers painting. Mary O' Sullivan covers performance and installation. Then Kate herself covers a multi-media approach. Kate then made separate videos featuring the individual artist in their own studio discussing the ins and out of why and how they make their art. Those videos are then sent to the participants to get them familiar with the artists and what they're all about. Kate would then have set up a Zoom meeting to discuss the content of the videos. The idea of Sensing Place is to find somewhere within the participants 5km radius that's important to them and create art about that place. It could be a river, or a building, or a bedroom, or anything in between. Whatever they feel comfortable with. With three artists to take inspiration from, you can imagine the creative spark created within the participants would be strong while at the same time, the art coming back can remain eclectic, open and personal. Some of this work is going up on the Uillinn galleries website until 14 March which you can check out here Having the participants' work eventually end up on the walls of the Art Centre or featured online (as the Centre remains temporarily closed) goes to show Kates commitment to having art be for everybody. Kate has said as much herself. 

''We want people to feel comfortable and know that the Art Centre is always a place for them. Many people grow up thinking art can’t be followed as a profession or that it is exclusive. These projects hopefully show that art is for everybody.''

Some results of the Sensing Place project

Kate is continuing her work with her upcoming project 'Marks of Place' with Transition Year students at Skibbereen Community School. This project features artist Siobhan McDonald. Siobhan's work typically deals with the environment and Kate has said that Siobhan's work ''has a beautiful, atmospheric quality to it.'' Although Marks of Place is still in the processing stage, the idea is to have participants ''look at their place with new eyes'' and then make a landscape piece using unusual materials. Things that they can 'make marks' with essentially. Again, the participants have taken this prompt and have run with it. Kate has said that the participants have come back with ideas for materials such as grass, make-up, flower petals, even tooth-paste. The results of this project should be up on the Uilinn website late this month (March 2021). Some of the students Kate has worked with on this project have commented on their involvement. 

''I really enjoyed doing this project - I particularly liked how it gave me the freedom to experiment with all different kinds of materials and do something a bit different from the kind of artwork that I usually make '

Another student said:

‘A lot of the time when I am doing art I am very focused on detail and making sure everything is perfect. Here I tried to try out new things that I wouldn’t have thought of before, without putting too much thought into detail… I used banana skin for the trunk and Nutella for branches. I used coriander as leaves and toothpaste as clouds.

Examples from Marks of Place

It's clear to me that Kate's role in the Art Centre and the community as a whole is invaluable. She actively gets involved in the community and helps people become comfortable with art. She shows them that it is a worthwhile life to pursue, as she herself is a testament to. 

To keep up to date with Kates work and the West Cork Art Centre, please click on these links:

Exhibitions viewable at:

Students work and information on projects  is regularly posted on our social media channels

Kate artwork is viewable at: