Wednesday, 16 October 2013

7 p.m., Wednesday 30th October, 2013
Conroy Hall, Park Road, Killarney, Co. Kerry.
Dish is an insider's look at gender, power, and the art of service. Former waitress and award-winning director Maya Gallus dines out and dishes the dirt with waitresses, restaurant owners, and maƮtre-d's about the demands of the job. From the hustle of a busy truck stop to the discreet hush of a Parisian house of fine dining, Dish serves up a delicious and illuminating look at the lives of women in the restaurant business.
The screening is brought to Killarney by artist Eleanor Phillips to kick-start her research into the possibility of creating a series of art works in collaboration with the residents of Killarney.
The research phase is funded by the Arts Council through Create's Artist in the Community grant, and with the support of SIPTU and Fair Hotels

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

So here's an article I wrote in 2011 for a St. Louis, Missouri, newsletter, which I then posted on my blog but forgot to press the 'publish' button. sigh.
During October 2011 Artist Eleanor Phillips and Community Worker Jean Bates traveled from Ireland to take part in Project BUD, an artists’ exchange and residency program between the Irish Arts Support Agency Blue Drum and St. Louis arts collaboration which included The Allen Avenue Transitional Program community collabARTive at Peter & Paul Community Services. As part of their residency Eleanor and Jean spent time with the men in the transitional program and together they initiated the Bureau of Enquiry, an open studio space on Cherokee Street which will be used as a space where community residents and participants of Peter & Paul programs can meet each other, make art together and ask questions about the kind of community they want to create and maintain.

Artist Eleanor Phillips reflects on her time spent working with the program.

“America is a highly mediated country consequently someone who has never been to the USA could be forgiven for thinking that the majority of Americans are white, rich, surgically enhanced and religiously and politically conservative. As a first time visitor to the USA St. Louis presented an alternative America, one that is not visible outside her borders.

I’m a smart woman, I know that there is a real world beyond the illusion of the media, I’ve read the books on poverty in the USA; Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed left a particularly strong impression of America’s working poor. But it takes work on the individual’s part to find out the facts about the real America beyond its mediated illusion. And if we let it the TV keeps us lazy, negating personal experience in favour of TV dreams.

As an artist whose practice is based in socially engaged art (more commonly called ‘community art’ in St. Louis) I am more interested in the voice less heard, and the reasons for that lack of voice or the systems that can prevent a hearing. The pundits of the media refer to that voice as the “marginalised” without questioning who is doing the marginalising or why. In fact it was quite a shock to the system to see how the media colludes in demonising and therefore marginalising the most vulnerable of American citizens.

Being able to spend some first-hand time with the people of the Peter and Paul Community Services (PPCS) provided the perfect anti-dote to that media bile. To learn about the city of St. Louis through the eyes, history and experience of Floyd Lacy was an even greater privilege. Floyd is a gentleman who has qualified for the transitional programme run by PPCS and he very kindly offered to be both guide around the city and vital member of the team that worked on the Bureau of Enquiry art studio on Cherokee Street. In fact without his dedication I doubt we could have completed the project on time.

The privilege in spending so much time with any individual is that you get to learn what makes that individual unique, and in that uniqueness you are reminded of the grace that each human being brings to the experience of life. Floyd's many graces lie in his upbeat humour, his consideration of others, his generosity of spirit and his talents. Floyd has a gift with words, in particular the "unspoken word", sounds contradictory doesn’t it? The "unspoken word" is a grass roots poetry movement where poets often perform the words, sometimes to music, more often not. The "unspoken" refers to the voice of the under-represented, the marginalised. This movement is also referred to as "poetry slam" and began as a working class phenomena over 25 years ago, legend has it that it was begun by a construction worker in a bar in Chicago. My kind of legend! So walking through the city with Floyd was like having a St. Louis style James Joyce by my side, brutal in his honesty, sublime in his turn of phrase, too grounded in reality to be fooled by other's illusions, and always, always courteous in the face of adversity. Joyce would have happily stolen Floyd's expressive words.

During our time working together we talked about the realities of homelessness, the daily experience of the many countless tiny barbs which scratch away at a persons sense of worth and dignity. Floyd patiently answered all my questions about systems of support (or lack of) for American citizens who run out of work, money, food, healthcare, a roof, a bed. What are the support systems for "post-emancipation" youth (the euphemism refers to children who are "aged out" of foster or state care)? What about the disabled, the elderly, the low-paid? The more I learned the angrier I got, but not Floyd. Floyd continued to smile and be patient with me, this naive Irish woman who found it hard to believe that America does not care for all its citizens equally, that America finds it convenient to blame the individual for his poverty rather than take responsibility for the system which maintains the status quo and harms that individual and consequently the whole community. That it's ok to pay for the continuing welfare of bankers and wealthy gamblers but not for the most basic of human rights for the poorest of her citizens. Yep, I'm still angry. I'm angry at an administration that creates this cruel system, and at a people who spend too much time watching TV and not listening to what the poets are saying.

American citizens need to get angry, as of September 2011 46.2 million of you are living below the official poverty line, the highest number in 52 years. The poverty level for a single person under the age of 65 was $11,344. It’s not hard to see that many people are a hair’s breath from living on the streets, with the rest of the population just a pay cheque or two from that same spot, excepting the wall street gamblers and their lackeys of course.

Turn off that TV, go visit the Bureau of Enquiry and hear Floyd, Larry, Gerard, Tom and quite a few of your neighbours tell you a thing or two about your city, your country. And then help them change it!
As Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Thursday, 19 March 2009

WHERE ART GROWS GREENER? -art in a rural context.

I was asked to write my thoughts on a seminar held in PSSquared for the VAI. The (better) edited version appears in this months edition of the paper (pg. 36). Below is the unabridged version.

I grew up in Killarney, a rural town of around 20,000 souls during the months of December and January. The rest of the year the population fluctuated reaching a metropolitan sized peak with the annual flood of workers and tourists during the summer months. Each year this flood left behind a smattering of people who became members of that town, both adding to and altering its character. A typical Irish rural town? Killarney perhaps is busier than most but it is not an atypical experience for the coastal regions of Ireland. Jenny Haughton (Arts Adviser on Public Art to the Arts Council) in her presentation, pointed out that “according to research some 60% of the population may be described as rural and that they live outside the 5 major urban centres and predominantly in coastal counties, with all but an estimated 10% of the population residing within a 14 kilometre radius of the 13 larger urban centres"(1) The perception of Ireland, by many tourists including Irelands own urbanites, is of a rural idyll where the pace of life is slower, with a traditional culture that is all singing, all dancing and ‘mighty craic’. At least that is what they come to expect and Killarney duly obliges, along with a dash of American style country and western, the ubiquitous burger, and house music from late night hostelries. Nobody notices the frenzied pace at which the residents work within this ‘rural economy’. Jenny Haughton quotes from the NDP (National Development Plan): “rural communities are closely associated with Irish traditions, heritage and culture which have been critical in shaping the national identity.” Implied in this statement is an understanding of rural culture as a vessel which contains and preserves ‘Irishness’, a fixed unmovable discourse, and ultimately, marketable.

The speakers in PS2 were or are involved in making art within a rural context. It was a relief to see that none of them subscribed to the NDP’s reductive notions of rural as fixed, but in fact, questioned and interrogated its premise.

Artist Gareth Kennedy, along with his partner and colleague, Sarah Browne, lived and worked in Leitrim for 3 years. Kennedy took part in ‘After'(2) part of a public arts programme, TRADE, run by Roscommon and Leitrim arts offices. Inflatable Bandstand (10 year crescendo) is an apt vehicle through which his many observations of rural living can be read. He researched land ownership finding the most likely developers were locals rushing in to get 30 yellow houses on their couple of acres in anticipation of the wave of commuters expected to sweep into the villages. As the global economy grinds downwards these houses stand largely empty, without even a ghost to haunt them. There is a kind of post apocalyptic banality to them which recalls the post famine landscape of empty villages, but with a very modern economic twist. The landlords of the famine era were given to building follies as an answer to that crisis and Kennedy became interested in using this as a structure to ‘frame’ the content. But a mobile structure, reflecting perhaps the expected mobility of our society, and the impermanence of buildings. The inflatable bandstand was used as a performance site where Ian Wilson composed and played a different work for each location. It travelled to a number of places creating a momentary social interlude into an everyday space.

Poet Alice Lyons was eloquent in her reading of the housing gold rush fever of recent times. Her work is sited in the old Barracks of John McGahern’s boyhood which now looks across to the empty promises of The View, another folly of a housing estate. In her poem Viewfinder she refers to McGahern’s short story Korea where a young man overhears his father chatting to a neighbour of his plans to “sell his son downriver”(3) She uses texts on mirrors around the exterior of the Barracks allowing for different points of view as her text is read. Buildings reflecting back on each other refracting Cootehills layers of history.

Housing, the built environment, is the most visually explicit way to read the effects of political and economic policies on a landscape. Another visual indicator is the avenues of distribution. Philip Napier is one of the lead artists in the arts programme ‘Regenerate’(4) a 5 Council initiative in West and South Ulster. One of the main locations this programme engages with is Craigavon, a 1960s artificially created town land, with a largely urban community relocated to the countryside that at the time was supposed to meet all its inhabitants’ needs. A Belfast taxi driver described it to me as a place surrounded by roads with “that many roundabouts that you get seasick”. So it was appropriate that Napier began his roundtrip history with stories of adventurers and explorers from the area who travelled by sea and later led us to the engineering feats which created the links of communication between Dublin and Banbridge. He reflected on the rural as a site of endless distribution, a culture of white vans which reflects the transience of the rural community, the loneliness of the traveller, the required mobility and flexibility needed to survive in a liberal global economy.

Fiona Woods(5) was the first speaker of the ‘Where Art Grows Greener’ discussion at PS2, and in many ways it was her extensive work in a rural context which provided the framework for positing so many questions around notions of rural, urban, public and art. Jenny Haughton had said when asked “what is public art?” she looked at art practice itself to find the answers. Woods outlined a little of what was possible in ‘Ground Up’ a four year “experimental programme of contemporary art in the rural, public realm” in Co. Clare, involving 22 artists, a series of public events, two publications and eleven temporary art works. It was artist led and laid a strong emphasis on research. “Art in public was understood as both a process of research and a mode of dialoguing between artists, rural communities and the wider cultural discourse.” This programme has since led her to problematise some of the terms she used when writing the original brief for ‘Ground Up’, some of which she attempted to “unpick” at the discussion. She found herself questioning ideas of engagement in public art, that it had “become almost synonymous with participation and occasionally the terms are collapsed into one another … a reification takes place where participation becomes an end in itself.” She was worried by the signs that this was becoming an orthodoxy occluding “other equally political aspects of art.” She referred to the problem of public as opposed to a multiple of public spheres who coexist, overlap and compete which leads to questions around proximity, function and the foregrounding of the social use of art. There were many points Woods made which hit home with my own practice not least concerns around the use of the term community in “consultation processes and policies that actually mask an absence of democratic politics” and a “kind of lazy use of the term, specifically where there is a kind of consensus agenda and in that process an antagonistic politics of difference might be suppressed.” She looked for ways to understand the problems of defining rural and found herself “reverting to a discourse of spatialisation, a study of the practices – discursive, cultural and institutional - by which place and place-related identities are constructed”, influenced by a paper given by Rob Shields, A Sense of Place and Region(6) She says that Shields “argues that there is nothing natural or essential about the identities of place or region, but that place must be continually reproduced through practices.”

This rather brings me back to where I began, Killarney, a place which is continually reproduced through the flow of people, the changing origins of those who become local, the holiday home bonanza that clutter its hinterland, where you can go from Riverdance to Prodigy in one night. A place which relies heavily on the buoyancy of global financial markets whose executives like to play in its exclusive hotels. What monuments to Ozzymandis will litter this rural town should the recession bite as hard as is predicted?

Haughton, in pointing to the NDP’s catch line of “a better quality of life for all” and “enhancing culture and leisure facilities for rural communities” asks for whom and by whom? She recalls a project in Sligo where small farmers from the outlying areas were forced to migrate. Housed in social housing estates they found their skills redundant and “inadvertently entered into an impoverished lifestyle”. She reminded me of the older farmers who had been moved to the back of our estate, people we rarely encountered except when choosing that cul-de-sac to escape the all seeing eyes of our parents.

There were many pertinent points raised by this discussion, chaired by Daniel Jewesbury, which are relevant not only to a rural context but to all facets of society, and in particular to those where practice looks to the alterior to tell us something about dominant discourse. Haughton believes that “neither expert nor judge can be offered as the remedy for the failure of democracy, we must not accept what we thought democracy was but actually create democracy …We must learn to govern ourselves, to create rights, to invent the machinery that will get a social will created. Democracy depends on local democracy processes … the power produced by relationships is a qualitative not a quantitative thing.”

Just as in the urban, just as in life, the rural is not a static vessel. The varied approaches taken in the art practices discussed reflected this. For me the most exciting element in art is the questions it generates which allow us to reflect on where we are, but also, that art practice is never rigid and its fluidity reflects our human natures.

(1) Rural Ireland 2025 – Foresight Perspectives available at

(3) Quoted from Lyons poem Viewfinder.

(5) The full text of Woods’ talk can be read at

(6) R. Shields, A Sense of Place and Region, Notes for a Talk, Putting Region in its Place Conference, University of Alberta, October 2007.

Friday, 2 January 2009

2009 without the w(h)ine

All blogs should start with a glass of wine but unfortunately I am sober. It's been a sobering end to my year: my car, house keys, purse, 6 bottles of wine, tea, coffee, prescription sunglasses and most importantly of all, my digital voice recorder, were all stolen. I discovered this on the morning I was due to leave Belfast for the beautiful Co. Kerry.
The car is insured so presumably I will get some kind of money back to get another rust bucket. But the voice recorder had on it a series of interviews that can never be recovered, this is a huge loss as it was to be part of an installation due to be put together in two weeks time. Hah! What fantastic fun the gods have been having with me this last year.
Remember when the scientists did that big 'smaller-than-an-atom-smash-it-up-thingumy-might-create-a-black-hole-but-didn't' in September. Well it did, create a black hole that is. It's plainly evident, the banks collapsed, I broke my right wrist, smashed my left index finger, and then my voice recorder was stolen. My life was perfectly fine until they did that 'looking for the source of gravity' thingy!
So - 2009 - how bad can it get?

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Just an Ordinary Sunday

Nope - this time it's true. I have had a truly uneventful Sunday. I've played with my notebook, gathered my photos, sorted some vids - it can all mean only one thing - my hands are bandage free!
And I'm heading towards the end of the final semester (Oh Joy!).
I still have to work out my relationship with the public, a vital component of my project text, so if any of you have any bright ideas on that one feel free to drop me a line.
For those of you who don't know - I'll be filming this Tuesday, in the public, hopefully with the public ...
More news later.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The F**@@!N Black Hole

Dear Loved ones
It will take me a long time to type this out, when last I wrote I had at least the use of one hand, today I have had the full effects of the black hole experiment (those bastard scientists should have been stopped at birth, abortion is good, science is wrong: aside-yes it's a Shakespearian moment) and now I type with my nose. If I knew how to operate the web cam via use of nose I could prove this (8th) wonder of the world to you. (This is very tiring) The banks blame me personally for world collapse, I was about to take on a pot washing job to prove I could deal with this momentary loss of faith (i.e. pay them back, all would be well) but the black hole caught up with me and 5 minutes before I walked into said job I slammed the good hand in car door. I have two legs ready for the next black hole effect, in the meantime I'm learning the joys of a sticky arse.