Festival / Biennial | EVA International 2023
THOMAS POOL INTERVIEWS THE EVA PLATFORM COMMISSION ARTISTS MAKING NEW WORK FOR THE FESTIVAL.
Thomas Pool: How does your work responded to the ideological, administrative, and social implications of citizenship, outlined in the EVA Platform Commission brief?
Amna Walayat: This theme is an extension of my previous work, based on my personal experiences of living as a dual citizen of Pakistan and Ireland, in which my own position as a migrant activist and artist is constantly evolving. Like many other displaced people – and as a migrant, mother, and Muslim woman – I try to find ways to accommodate the dual ideological poles that have existed for centuries. These dualities are constricted by nationalism, culture, and religion, and are often in conflict with one another. Uprooting from one soil and re-rooting in another offers a sense of something left behind: loss and grief on one hand, and stigma, otherness, estrangement, loneliness, adaptation, integration, survival, and a profound sense of being what Edward Said described as ‘spiritually orphaned’.
Cliodhna Timoney: In recent years I have been researching and creating work that explores subjects like enclosures, edges, and wildness. I have simultaneously contextualised these ideas using specific sites, such as backroads, crossroads, and farmyards in the Northwest of Ireland. What interested me in the Platform Commission brief was not only the opportunity to continue this line of research, but to build a body of new work which considers the relationship between boundaries, access, and connection in response to citizenship.
The work aims to highlight moments where gatherings of people challenged the defined limitations of landscape through acts of journeying, dance, and music. Through the Platform Commission, I will map culturally significant dancefloors that existed on the island of Ireland, particularly in rural and peripheral areas, and will outline the power of the dancefloor as a shelter for kinship, a space for resistance, and a site for re-imagining new forms of existence.
Frank Sweeney: My project proposes to examine the legacy of Irish and British state censorship of The Troubles. The work attempts to address the absence left in state archives by censorship of the Northern Ireland conflict and political movements during this era. In Ireland, censorship under Section 31 was extended far beyond its stated aims, preventing journalists from carrying out interviews with various community and activist groups during the time period.
In response to the themes of EVA 2023, I was particularly interested in views of citizenship and democracy popularised by Walter Lippmann in his 1922 book, Public Opinion (Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1922). Ministers responsible for censorship refer to views “appropriate for citizens to hold” and to matters which “would tend to confuse citizens”, reflecting paternalistic and authoritarian ideas developed in Lippman’s work, most notably what is referred to as the necessary “manufacture of consent” in democratic societies.
Phillip McCrilly: Broadly speaking, I’m interested in the transgressive and interdisciplinary possibilities of food, hospitality, and education. My research is centred around collective acts of land and property reclamation, often considering cruising and foraging as likeminded deviant practices, and exploring the potential for queer desire within a rural Irish context. My work navigates between fixed research, stories of individual biography, and collective memory. The work is grounded and informed by growing up in the North in an area known as the Murder Triangle.
Sarah Durcan: My film project, The Invisibles (2022), takes a ‘spectro-feminist’ approach to the story of Ella Young (1876-1956), a lesser-known Irish writer and revolutionary activist. Young was both a member of Cumann na mBan and a theosophist who believed in the agency of trees, mountains, and fairies – the original invisible entities. Disillusioned after the formation of the Irish Free State, Young emigrated to California in 1925. There, she had a ‘second act’, forging her own spiritual citizenship as a ‘druidess’ and independent lesbian woman who became part of the liberated West Coast artistic scene. The Invisibles speculates on Young’s identity, and an ‘otherworld’ of subjects excluded from the nascent Irish nation state and the heteronormative orthodoxy enshrined in the Irish constitution. The film deploys the aesthetic register of spectral visibility/invisibility to express the intertwined struggles of Irish women suffragists and nationalists for equality and national identity. These women maximised their lowly semi-invisible status as women to engage in subversive activities and inventive forms of protest.
Sharon Phelan: Citizenship is conditioned by constantly evolving protocols. These protocols are (re)articulated based on historically conceptualised modes of collective belonging and being-together. What constitutes this sense of community is the exchange of speech, action, sound, and agency. At the same time, to cite political theorist Jodi Dean, we live in an era of ‘communicative capitalism’, where language has been co-opted for capitalist modes of production, and speech has become distinct from the individual. In my work, I’m responding to, or following, the ‘prosody of citizenship’ – a concept proposed by poet Lisa Robertson as “the historical and bodily movement of language amongst subjects.”
TP: What research methods are you using to develop the commission and what artistic or theoretical sources are you drawing on?
AW: My work is informed by Michael Foucault’s ideas on power and Edward Said’s views on orientalism that I studied during my MA in UCC; my final dissertation was based on these ideas. My work seeks to devise a survey of power and control relationships between various cultures, genders, races, economies, and nations. Citizenship is a highly charged term in its own right. I try to convey these complex ideas in my painting through simple storytelling using symbols and iconography. Currently, I am working in the Indo-Persian miniature style and reading a lot of books on the Indo-Persian painting tradition, contemporary miniature paintings, Celtic motifs, medieval art, and the designs and illustrations of Harry Clark. I get inspiration from these eastern and western sources to create new symbols. I have also purchased new and expensive organic materials, mostly imported, to experiment with techniques and to make my own colours and materials.
CT: This work will primarily draw influence from The Showband Era and how the central cultural motifs of this era, such as the star and magic, shaped collective imagining. Throughout 2022, I made several research visits to sites of disused dance halls and ballrooms in the Northwest, as well as to archives like The National Folklore Collection at UCD, The Donegal County Archives, and The Derry City and Strabane Archives. By undertaking this kind of research, I had the opportunity to view photographs, audio recordings, written documents, and material culture which relates to dance, music, and architecture.
FS: I will be carrying out several interviews with people censored during The Troubles era. The Oral History Centre at Mary Immaculate College Limerick will be archiving the full unedited recordings and making them available for public access to coincide with the 40th EVA International later this year. A core text in the development of this work has been Betty Purcell’s memoir, Inside RTÉ (New Island Books, 2014). I will be discussing censorship with Betty and several people who worked for state broadcasters in Ireland and Britain during this period.
PMC: There’s a disparate list of sources I’ll be drawing from within my research, including: the tradition of road bowling, the early productions of Ulster Television at Havelock House, the remains of a garrison fort on the Tyrone-Armagh border, the ‘room’ installations of William McKeown, and an Anglo-French gentry sauce, as well as a history of alternative and queer social spaces in the North. I’m working across informal and formal archives in my research, as well as out-sourcing some elements to local Limerick-based expertise in the development of the commission.
SD: I’m drawing on Young’s writings, her beliefs in theosophy, the occult and Celtic mythology. Young was involved in the staging of tableaux vivants, a theatre practice developed by the activist women of Inghinidhe na hÉireann, and wrote several collections of Celtic myths. This led me to a collaboration with Sue Mythen, a movement director, and two actors to devise a contemporary tableau vivant for camera. Young and her associates were well aware of the power of images and myths to inspire and create identity, focusing on strong female characters, a practice that continues in activism and silent protests today. We also devised a warmup sequence based on eurythmy – Rudolf Steiner’s movement practice that aims to connect the body with the spiritual world. Eurythmy is one of several esoteric dance movements originating amid the bohemian circles and societies that Young aligned herself with.
SP: There is a gendered and marginal aspect to my research, guided by filmmaker and feminist thinker, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s concept of ‘listening to intervals’. For Trinh, rhythm opens a dynamic to expand on “[r]elationships between one word, one sentence, one idea and another; between one’s voice and other women’s voices; in short, between oneself and the other.” Language, of course, is never neutral, and since capital has entered both civus and domus, sociologist Saskia Sassen’s writings on predatory formations help give shape, as amorphous as it is, to the artificial entities that circulate in much the same way. This has led me to questions of personhood, listening, and speech in relation to corporate power, and how we give bodily form to citizenship today.
TP: How do you envisage the manifestation of your work in the context of the 40th EVA International programme?
AW: This project is a huge commitment for me and a very important development in my career. Most of my paintings are performative self-portraits that are conceived for an indoor gallery setting, along with some sculptural elements. Some of my paintings will be single pieces and others will form part of a series. Instead of presenting paintings in a traditional way, options have been discussed with the EVA team to experiment with the exhibition space in a more unconventional manner and I am producing work accordingly. So, I’m excited to see how it unfolds.
CT: By using the framework of a dancefloor and the archetypal forms and ideas found within nightclubs – such as the star, magic, and glamour – I plan to create sculptural forms using materials such as mirrors, ceramics, and textiles. Alongside this, I am developing a video piece that charts a sense of journey and envisions new ways of togetherness and gatherings through soundscapes and imagery.
FS: The project aims to make an intervention in the canonical archive by recreating a television programme that never existed under state censorship. The resulting film will be screened in some form at EVA, and I hope to organise some related public events and discussions between people involved in the research stages of the project.
PMC: I purposefully kept my original proposal extremely open with a number of possible outcomes to the commission. At the moment, I imagine the work will be performative and event-based, oscillating between active and dormant stages over the run of the biennial. I’m hoping to successfully embed the project within Limerick itself and to allow it to exist without me in the centre.
SD: I’ll be working with the EVA production team to show The Invisibles as part of the 40th EVA International programme. Foregrounding the sound mix and spectral quality of the work is going to be key to the installation.
SP: I’ve been engaging in field recording, particularly by exploring the relationship between two forms of recording: words and sounds. Language, as a recording medium, isn’t as fixed as institutions would have us believe. Similarly, I haven’t wanted to impose a predetermined form on the recorded material. I tend to begin a new piece of work with a gathering of intensities on the page. These often develop into text scores, which I later attempt to shake off the page, either through performance or installation. Working with EVA, I’m excited to set out in some unanticipated direction, finding ways for the work to co-exist with the wider programme.
Amna Walayat is a Pakistani born visual artist based in Cork.
Cliodhna Timoney is a visual artist from Donegal currently based in Dublin. She holds a BA in Visual Arts Practice from IADT, and an MFA in Fine Art Sculpture from the Slade School of Fine Art.
Frank Sweeney is an artist with a research-based practice, using found material to approach questions of collective memory, experience and identity through film and sound.
Phillip McCrilly is a Belfast-based artist and chef. He is a former co-director of Catalyst Arts, and a co-founder of the artist-run café, FRUIT SHOP.
Sarah Durcan is an artist and writer based in Dublin.
Sharon Phelan is an artist whose work spans performance, installation, writing, and composition, with specific attention to sound, voice, resonance, and the poetics of place.