Thursday 28 September 2023

Interview with Dominic Thorpe

As the inaugural recipient of the Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre Artist in Residence Award, supported by the Crespo Foundation, Dominic Thorpe arrived at Uillinn at the end of July in order to expand his work focusing on the scale of perpetrator trauma in contemporary Ireland. Usually working with both domestic objects and multi-media performance-based imagery, Dominic was aiming to use his time at Uillinn to develop ways of presenting these performance-related elements as sculptural objects for prospective installation.

Having already held an open studio earlier in his residency, Dominic was preparing to hold a talk about his art practice in the Uillinn workspace when I arranged to meet him for a chat. While talking to Dominic, what struck me about discussing his practice with Dominic is the sense of care to which he affords his work and his deep respect for holistic and nuanced outlooks and perspectives. Equally impressive is his openness to, and willingness to engage in challenging conversations and take the required time to formulate his thoughts and responses.

What I took away from meeting Dominic was an impression of an artist with an empathetic and considered positionality,a wealth of knowledge around Ireland and the North’s pioneering history of conflict-related performance art, as well as a theme that recurred throughout our conversation: the pivotal importance of getting back to a sense of play in an expanded arts practice.

Dominic Thorpe, Smothered smothered. TMAG 2023 taken by Michelle Brown
Dominic Thorpe. smothered smothered ... age taken by Michelle BroDowne

How have the background and themes of your current work developed starting from your PhD research at Ulster University to the present?

It’s interesting doing a PhD as an artist, even when it’s practice-led it’s still largely an academic exercise and so it’s quite different from a studio practice point of view. You can get sucked into a mire of theory and having to work with writing to ground and qualify many things through existing research and so on. 

This can make it difficult to head into a PhD as an artist, but it can also make it difficult when coming out of a PhD, because you can remain problematically lodged within that deluge of text and philosophical thought - as valuable as it is. So, I have found that to come back into a studio practice is really about continually reminding yourself of the importance of play as a process of discovery and understanding – and not needing to articulate a justification for every manoeuvre or gesture or other possibilities.

In studio practice engagement and encounters with materials and gestures and forms and structures and colours and shapes and embodied and contextual activities is an endless way of beginning.

Did you settle on the theme of perpetrator trauma as you were starting your PhD research or was it something you were doing before that?  

I largely make performance art, and there is a history in Ireland – and internationally - of performance artists addressing trauma-related content through embodied practices. I think this is, in part, because the body is very often the site of violence and oppression so embodied processes can be an appropriate means of response. 

Ireland and Northern Ireland were significant contexts for the development of conflict-related performance art and gender-politics-related performance art, with people like Alastair MacLennan, Andre Stitt, Sandra Johnston, Nigel Rolfe, Alanna O’Kelly and Pauline Cummins making extraordinary and pioneering work. 

Artists, such as myself and many others, who came along afterwards have been profoundly influenced by that. I have long tried to make work addressing various forms of institutional abuses in Ireland. In the process I became very interested in the complexity of perpetration. 

For example, in certain situations of atrocity it is often not one person alone that does a terrible thing, rather, there can be a broader context and spectrum of activity in which a range of people are directly and indirectly complicit and implicated. You begin to wonder, in relation to certain kinds of violence and oppression, how far away from it would one need to be not to be implicated in some way? 

If you don’t try to understand the complexity of atrocity, you limit the possibility of preventing the same atrocity now and into the future. I began to ask the question: “what’s the consequence for society of a vast spectrum of proximities to perpetration.” From there, having looked for many years at the trauma of victimhood, I also began to think about the possible trauma of perpetration, for the individual and for the collective.

When you’re exploring and representing experiences of traumatised groups or individuals, what would be a fundamental principle or guideline in doing this work correctly and carefully?

I think this is a really good word – ‘carefully’. There is an ethics to it and one of the imperatives for me is not to falsely assume that one can lay some sort of claim to the experiences of others. The fact is, very luckily, I have not experienced trauma as a victim or a perpetrator in any significant way, and nor would I or should I want to.

In the discourse on social media (generally), you can sometimes see a lot of instant reactivity to work, themes and topics, for better or worse. Have you encountered that and if so, how would you deal with it? 

I am not aware of any responses on social media. I don’t particularly mind if work turns out to be contentious and at times you might get someone questioning the validity of something. Where I am present and where I am showing work, I try to do it thoughtfully to contextualise it and the motivation underpinning it. That’s one reason why I am happy to give a talk at the end of this residency because it allows me to unpack and qualify certain points of focus. 

Some people have questioned the consideration of experiences of those who hurt others, and I totally understand that. It is of course crucial not to lose sight of the damage done by people directly and indirectly involved in inflicting violence. But suggesting that there should be no focus on those that do harm can be problematic on several levels, for example, sometimes - though not always - perpetrators may also have been victims. Importantly, while there may be empathy involved, giving attention to perpetrators is not forgiveness.

The intention is not to take any focus away from victims, but to identify and tend to a wider range of pain that can result from perpetration. Again, what happens if we don’t? I think about the word ‘silence’ a lot. While silence can be a very useful and productive thing in various contexts it can be toxic in others. I find making perpetrator trauma related work can, in part, be an attempt to resist and not contribute to certain toxic silences. Like all artwork, ultimately, it is about trying to engender some transformative potential.

Has there been an aspect of performance art in the work being produced in this residency or are the pieces going to be more standalone?

I am frequently drawn to working with domestic objects in performance art, such as forks, tables, chairs, glass, doors and so on. And often, when a performance has concluded, you end up with very sculptural outcomes and objects. Currently, I am exploring possible ways to represent such elements as an installation. I suppose in a way I’m trying to expand the scope of my practice, to look for other ways to do things. Getting back to that word, ‘play’ - just trying to allow myself the freedom not to worry too much.

This interview was edited slightly for clarity.

Dominic Thorpe's Residency at West Cork Arts Centre

'Creating Art in Skibb' from The Cork Independent

Tuesday 26 September 2023

A glimpse inside Studio 1 by Janet Murran, 18th September 2023

Hi, my name is Janet Murran and I am a landscape painter living and working in West Cork. I would like to welcome you to studio 1 at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre where I am doing a month long residency. (5th September until 7th October).

For the last few years I have been painting the Ilen River as she makes her journey from Skibbereen to the sea at Roaring Water Bay but for the purpose of this residency I am concentrating my research on the river within the urban setting of the town.

My work is process led, when I discover new places I am caught up in the curiosity of the moment, not questioning or over analysing. The taking of photographs is always my first response, then I write in my notebook, often my writing is about how I may be feeling or how a place makes me feel, what I can see, hear, sense. I might make a note on a colour, the weather or something that I noticed that is relevant to that spot, anything that relates to my time and experience of that location. Then it’s back to the studio where I make some monotone drawings/paintings of these new areas (see drawings below). I find this practice a great way of getting to really explore and know a place before I launch into making a painting. I often time myself when making these which keeps them loose and spontaneous. 

My work is never about one place at one time, but about one place at many times. It often takes me quite a long time to finish a piece, I have to revisit that location at different times and in different weather in order to work out what it is that I’m trying to convey in the work. Yes I’m interested in beauty and painting an aesthetically pleasing artwork but very often there are more complexities within a piece. I very rarely put people in my work but the mark of human intervention is all over the landscape, that is what I find most interesting especially in my work right now. Skibbereen has recently had flood relief works finished on the river and its riparian environs, while I’m not setting out to make comment on that, I can’t help but notice changes in the river which may be as a result of those interventions.

Photograph taken in September 2023
of the rivers gravel bank covered in plants.
Photograph taken in May/June 2023 of
the rivers gravel bank with only a few plants. 


I work from photographs, but there always comes a certain point in the making of the painting that I have to let the dialogue between myself and the paint and the painting have the louder voice. The photograph is a tool that I use and I never set out to make photo realistic work. A big benefit that I have found in being in a studio open to the public is that visitors are experiencing my work in the making and realise the multiple layers and loose mark making and even destruction that is involved in producing one of my paintings. I am in my studio at Uillinn Monday to Saturday and if the door is open you are welcome to come in.

Work in progress of Ilen River’s gravel bank.
Acrylic on solid wood panel

Busy at work in studio 1


Friday 1 September 2023

Casting - Sounding out Lough Hyne

Title: “Listen”
Medium: Photograph
Description: Hydrone on map of Lough Hyne.


Different conditions everyday... what I could capture on the best days .. so many variables dictated what I would record in the lough, sea, its shores above or below the surface. Using time-lapse video to see how time and tide look and sound in real time from under the surface .

Title: “Me”

Medium: Photograph

Description: Photograph selfie catching myself coming back

Preparation-  I will use field recordings of samples collected at mapped locations around the shore surrounding the Lough. I have been collecting sounds and experimenting with hydro phonic recording microphones.  Testing is ongoing with the rapids being my next main possible site visit .

My plan 

1. Attempt to record on a kayak tour to the sea if I can tie off and retrieve mics on landing & launching.

2. Walking around in the shallow water today with mics testing the sound mics.

3. Investigating sounds of seaweed from direct contact sea sounds. 

4. Record underwater video and sounds of the underwater. Creating clouds of colour texture forms creating floating strands and sculptural carpets where light projects from the surface above. First underwater tests… recording the lough playing the pipes. 

5. Filming and testing mics in the  shallows around walls island walls north quay- shore sounds currents and swimmers etc. 

6. Samples to test sounds visual vibration illustrated using simple cymatically or Chladni plates sands/ sediment/salt etc ..  Gels or films seaweed and soap - illustrate spectral effects created.

7. Black out conditions needed and sound proof testing conditions to test the visual patterns of the samples recorded in or under Lough Hyne  

6. Recording has been so many opportunities calling out or maybe the pursuit of those not yet heard? 

7. Time, tide, weather, environmental conditions changing through many rhythms that draw humans and nature closer. 

8. Whilst recording I gain a healthy respect to the natural flux. I hoped to learn what would be intuitive yet in this place perhaps unknowable .

Map- Mapping Lough Hyne - My maps google link

Lough Hyne Mapping


Title: “Collected”
Medium: Photograph Sea flotsam and jetsam stuff.
Description : Physical samples responsibly collected on my first time in Lough Hyne.

Title: “Toe Float”

Medium: Photograph

Description: Swimming in Lough Hyne

Title :"Wild Swimmer"
Medium: Photograph
Description: Wild swimmer in Lough Hyne

Casting : An Overview by Julie McGowan



  • Exploring man’s interaction, impact and effect on unique and challenging natural environments. 

  • Conducting a series of experiments with field recordings of bioacoustic, hydro phonic, manmade and environmental sounds.

  • Interactive identifying: mapping my journey, coastal, lough and shore based. 

  • Developing a simple Cymatic rig to test the samples and the effects of each site-specific sample.

  • Testing sounds through the substances collected on location.

  • Filming the complex relationships investigated - Recording the vibrational, interference, diffraction and cymatic, visual and physical effects. 

  • This body of work will be developed for exhibition and public screening, exploring this community’s connection to the environment.


Recording the sound under the sea, inland lakes, underground, mechanical, industrial and incidental interactions and how they acoustically impact on the natural soundscape.

Developing sampling techniques to record site-specific samples for 

visual and sonic investigation.

Recording - field studies - focus bioacoustics, hydro phonic, subterranean, emissions samples collected at natural and manmade environments.

Investigating how the natural environment sounds over time, and man's interaction and effects on each different environment. Exploring new recording techniques and processes to create sound samples, tones, frequencies and more challenging complex compositions.  

Long term 

Developing a body of work by recording and processing sounds over a period of time, investigating how to record and test acoustic and physical elements to process, generate and test cymaticaly, using Chladni plates - vibrational testing. 

Creating sculptural bubble structure type forms and deployable structures to aid the observation of the effects of sounds on minimal film surfaces: which are particularly reactive for non-active ranges on the acoustic spectrum. 

Site-specific sound & visual and physical samples.



Learning how to record underground, underwater, at sea, in harbors, inland, in and on the body of water, on shores and subterranean and mechanical environmental sounds.

Testing hydrophones in different conditions on moving kayak from the waters edge in, under and around the surface.   

Site specific - sound and physical samples. How, where and why they were collected is key to exploring and recording their unique sonic visual qualities.

Recording short video clips of sites identified and investigated on site visits.  

An online map has been created to follow and map my progress,  exploring my process- experiential techniques and testing. Initial results presented in short clips, images and sound clips.


A unique journey from the mountain, tracing the shoreline, down to the depths through the lough and creek out into open sea. 

Creating a narrative that the local people and scientists use to preserve the unique coastal community whose connection and relationship with the lough is as old as time.

Local community 

The first conversation on my first lough swim was with Eoghan Harris, who wrote the elegant foreword to Terrie Kearneys, “Lough Hyne Prehistory to Present.”

This was the first book I read about Lough Hyne. I couldn’t quite believe it but this was to be the way happenstance encounters would shape my curiosity and learning about this place and its people.

Eoghan explained the unique acoustics of the lough, explaining that the sounds of our voices could be heard as clearly from the viewpoint on the mountain. A natural amphitheater was created by the mountain cradling the lough and it has been used as such throughout history. 

The current relationship between man and the environment provides the  focus for exploration. The future of the lough and the impact of man’s increasing curiosity and uses of the lough is accommodated and overseen by a wide network of experts.

My first open studio guest- an artist- was very interested in sounds unheard. It rightly reminded me, as a former lifeguard, that safety in ever changing conditions deserves respect and careful planning. 

Wild swimmers, paddlers, guides and scientists alike shared their  knowledge, experience and their stories of the lough with me. 

Inspired by ingenious collection methods and investigative sampling techniques developed by the scientists that have studied the lough for over one hundred years. 

The scientific community have championed the significance of the lough and its inhabitants onto a world stage. They work practically unnoticed by most except the superstar inhabitants they have the privilege to study.

The importance of the local community, visitors and the dedicated scientists who are all entrusted with the ongoing preservation of this jewel.

The people here have a deep connectedness to the lough and that is why they are entrusted with the care taking of Lough Hyne through the ages. 

The local community’s connection to the lough and to the sea is deeply interwoven over time. Layers and surfaces are constantly changing the variety of unique environmental conditions.


Eoghan Harris- “Yes, it’s is truly a privilege to behold….”  

My mission has been developing since my first encounter - I was overwhelmed and little disorientated, almost dizzied by the beauty.  It was indeed “a privilege to be behold.“  Asked my direction I didn't truly know and couldn't know what effect this place and its people would have. Our voices could be heard clearly in the surrounding mountains which have (held) the waters of Lough Hyne for thousands of years and had daily exchanges with the sea.

Bioluminous- I ran my fingers through the mini pulses of light that are so slight that recording the experience was not possible. I was hoping to get the call that goes out to tell people when it’s at its strongest. They meet and swim in the glowing waters in the black of night. Heat, movement and complex environmental conditions all contribute to this natural light show. 

Atlantic Kayakers - preparation & planning on the water journeys to learn about the conditions and the history of the coast and identify sites for recordings.  

Lough to sea - acoustically recorded -with my hand made hydrones in a macgyvered backpack attaching drag and contact mics off the side of the boat. I had a human power boat engine and expert guides who let me record the sounds from the side of a kayak from the lough shore down the rapids into the caves and out to the sea. My back pack with two hydrophones captured: lough, rapids, creeks, caves, sea, a causeway and finally a friary glide across the incoming tide. It was an experience I will never forget and provides sounds unheard. 

Collecting field and subsurface samples from the side of a kayak fairy gliding across rapids. My mics were to pick up so many unexpected sounds, some vaguely recognisable, incidental sounds and sounds unheard.


Fishing Supply - using weights and floats to experiment with underwater suspension of microphones in different flows and depths. 

The guy in the shop wanted to know if I was trying to hear the fish talking to each other. 

Western shore - playing the water wall, a babbling stream with steps into the water created a variety of video and sounds. 

Professor Rob McAllen from UCC arranging access to the rapids for day of field, hydro phonic and video recording which I will never forget.

" The Flood"
Hydro phonic sound collected at the rapids.

Follow Up

To know this place is part of a way of living that connects it to the people who develop a deep intuitive understanding of its rhythms and ever changing conditions. Those who delve deeper into longer term scientific study have developed ingenious experimental techniques and methods to collect and monitor a uniquely challenging working environment.

Cymatics and Chladni type plates provide the mechanisms through which the geometry of sound vibrations have been tested and visually illustrated through several different mediums.

Experiment with acoustic modeling and the use of spectral analysis techniques for use on live field recording trips.

Short film of all the slipways, steps and shoreline tidal exchanges using time lapsing, underwater mics to record the sea level as it rises and falls through constant tidal exchanges. The voices echoing through the ancient mountain tops that form a unique acoustic soundscape . 

The challenge of capturing the unique land and water based visually and acoustically is as complex as it is varied. 

My first underwater footage … where seaweed meadows and vegetation create clouds of color texture forms free floating strands and sculptural carpets where light projects from the surface above.

“Steps In”


Intentional photography ..for my return.

 Youtube links

Hill top view of Lough Hyne and the rapids

  1. Western Shore - Western cliffs view of Goleen Creek.

  1. Western Shore - Playing water wall.

Water Wall

  1. Western Shore- Goleen Creek 

Goleen Creek

  1.  Barloge Creek

Barloge Creek

  1. Kayak Tour - Whirlpool Cliffs - Rapids- Creek- Fairy Gliding

Out At Sea - Kayak 

Causeway crossing


6.  Research boat to the rapids- exchanging tide and sounding the depths the trench.