Notes From a Performance Art Piece – Culture File

Download: ‘Notes from a performance art piece’

Notes from a performance piece

Phase 1 – Destroyed by Life

NO EXPRESSION, EYES OPEN, SLOW
NO FEELING, EMPTY, SLAVE
EXHAUSTION

1 – Electric awaken
2 – Rise, slowly painfully
3 – Crawl to feet
4 – Splash alive
5 – Trudging walk
6 – Slow pickup case
7 – Ride invisible train
5 – Smash with hammer
6 – Knocked back by an invisble wave
7 – Collapse
8 – REPEAT 1 to 7
9 – Hanging / rope break
10 – death

When Sebastian Dooris asked me to help him with one of his ‘projects’, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I had recently been knocked down, pushed off a forty story building and shot through the heart.

Seb and Emma Injection make up the experimental musical duo ‘Deathness Injection’. Improvising each ferocious new performance, the pair don outrageous costumes, dual theramins, and fuse industrial beats with pedalled improvisation. They perform on beeches, in art centres or abandoned space, sometimes with fellow noise makers like Luxury Mollusc, occassionally with hundreds of passers by. Now me, I’m about as musical as a puppys snore. Luckily Deathness Injection didn’t want me to play with them, they wanted me to dance.

I didn’t let my lack of formal training, or the fact that I’ve never danced in public slow me for a second. I realised I had everything needed for such a performance. Cycling thighs, a house mate with a bachelors degree in special effects make up, and no shame what so ever.

My inspirations – Beckett’s Catastrophe, Bob From Twin Peaks, and Oliverier de Saganzan, whose 2008 piece ‘surmodelage du crâne et de la face’ is the number one hit when you google ‘French performance artist’. The obvious ridiculousness of a middle aged man wigging and twitching to improvised industrial noise music, only increased the appeal. regieme

I begin to craft a skull cap, a waxy nub to keep my hair clean during my on stage transformation. I ordered a silver one piece suit from the internet, that would faile to arrive in time – decreasing the shiny strippyness of my planned denoutement. I began a regieme of physical training, cycling daily around the Pheonix park, dilligently entering all meals into MSN diet tracker.

Phase 2 – Transformation and rejection

1 – Rise with new life
2 – Discover brief case
3 – Worship / find solace in case
4 – Meet audience eyes
5 – Open case – HANGING OVER (pushup, crawling in)
6 – Build face – hiding in case – ORGASMIC – SLOW – MOVING and crawling
7 – Start with beak – rolling eyes
8 – Moaning / uncovering
8 – PAINT face – with hands
9 – Self discovery / celebration – BEND BACK – RISE with awkwardness
10 – New Body – Animation dance
11 – REJECTION – quivering fear walk – Tormented by music
12 – Cowering – invisible box
12 – collapse
13 – On back limb writhing
14 – Fight to rise – stand
15 – Cruicified

In the video of our first rehearsal, I’m visibly nervous, pacing about in a Trinity FM hoody, awkwardly making shapes. Little did I realise how a mere month of rehearsals will build from this quivering flesh a transfiguring artist.

Private parties, crustie hippies in their water logged mountain idyls growing vegetables, juice and credibility – not so much bugging out as tuning out, turning off and plugging out. Their music an ironic mix of 90’s hardcore, high BPM industrial techno and Bauhasian baroque retro classics.

Somewhere between a large house party and a small festival, Species Gothic Arts and Culture Gathering – wilfully hidden in the Leitrim mountains, is part of a new breed of curated parties. Not quite the debauched bacchanal of the 90’s rave scene, neither the security heavy Disnified boutique festivals that have sprung up on the wake of the death of Oxygen: Vantastival, bestival, Knock * Stocking – for every one of these mini festivals there are a douzen events like this. New age hippies, crusties and outsiders coming together to make psychedelic art, play their music ear bleedingly loud abd wear their freakiest clobber. Performers include Tragedy Vampires, Sugarplum Suicide, Kraven Brainz, DJ Fracture, Burden, DJ Flesh, Venus De Vilo, Last Bus to Nowhere, Bending Wrongs, Fallen Demon.

Phase 3 – Persecution and Assimilation

GRADUALLY BECOME MONSTER

1 – Shake off / break off face
2 – Sliding feet leg invert
3 – Hand across face to reveal expressions
4 – Lapping and suckling / abjection
5 – Feet together move top waving plant – Bob
6 – Lick and creep forward in one place – predated to predator
8 – Trusting legs in place
9 – Slow lurking walk – Pappa Lazaru
10 – Hands over head – Guermo Del Toro
11 – Shit on case
12 – Molest and consume case
13 – Engage audience
14 – Start to suffer
15 – Calcify
16 – Breaking and slowing and crumpling
17 – Can’t reach the case – fighting the seizure
18 – Horrible realisation and standing – this is real

We are deluged of course – what else in early May Ireland. Everywhere tents collapse like soufflés or blowing away all together in the gale force wind. We congregate in a corrugated shed plastered with Halloween themed folk art. A shrine to Wednesday Adams & Cthulhu shares wall-space with a Rubenesque blacklight water nymph and a two tone skull gobbling Laverne wood cut.

After civilisation collapses we’ll all live like this – small clumps of sustainable humanity hammering club thumpers into the encroaching night. The rolling hills of Leitrim are an ideal location for this kind of escapist awakening. The moss eroded walls of ancient small holdings climbing erosion rent hills of gorse and bracken. Old polymorphous woods concealing fairy secrets and freudian sins.

The outskirts of Leitrim are one of those places, like Waterford and Kinvara, where Britain’s new age travellers settled in large numbers as the UK grew rabbidly intolerant of their wandering ways. All across Ireland little enclaves of second and third generation hippie kids have grown up, fertilising the local arts scene.

King of the mountain is Illiocht O’Brainz, a dread locked Irish American clad in a kilt, Dennis the Menace jumper with a storm cape thrust over his shoulders like a lord of Winterfell.

Along with his wife, artist Harriet Myfanwy Nia Tahany, they serve as a nexus for local artists. Their property is a haunted mansion dotted with ram skulls, soft core fairy pinups, a bottles of potions with names Life Renewal Potion. The grounds have been prepared by a corps of young artists, dotted with decomposing corpses, miniature graveyards and alien sculptures.

Armed with a vague familiarity with the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and the instruction to create a physical interpretation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, I set out to make a holy fool of myself. I don my skin wig and paint my face with clay in the portaloo. Hurrying back to the performance shed I swaddle my head in a rain coat to stop it melting off. I lie on a hemp tarp in this overly bright room. The music begins. Time slows. I am the tormented man, struck down by the weight of society. I smash my mime hammer against the rocks of social obligation. As the first act reaches it’s titanic crescendo I bend down to pick up an invisible noose, and end my futile existence.

I rise again in act two, crawling desperately towards a case containing what? Some salvation? Some dream of a better existence? I paw and lap the case with ferocious need. Finally it springs open in my hands and I bury my face within. The audience crane forward, what’s he building in there? Finally, after an eternity of thrusting and heaving I emerge from the case, a hideous creature of clay transfigured by their disapproving eyes. I stumble about, screaming and twitching, like a fawn born wrong. Finally I am crucified – my arms hammering themselves into the air, as my breath collects in great simpering clouds. A one man allegory for lots of deep things.

Act three, I am born again – a sexy rapacious beast, revelling in the horror. I shake off my latex skull cap – unashamed of my human hairThey have made me one of them, and they shall suffer for it. I crawl about on hands and knees, lapping at them, in a display of terrifying eros. Seb climbs from the stage and I rise to twitch with him. But it’s too much for me, I turn to the audience in horrendous revelation. This is what I have become. I look down at my hands, drenched in clay, my suit, a mix of the white and black paint I previously poured over my head. I turn to them as if to say – see, see I am a man after all. I assume a pose at once proud and abject. I wait for the music to finish. It doesn’t… I’ve horribly mistimed my big finish. Think fast, I think… I could stand like this for a bit, or wait, no, the old faithful foetal position. That’s the ticket. I shrink into a ball and wait for the end, as we all do, ultimately. It is magnificent.


Tracks used

Live recording, ‘Deathness Injection at Species 2015’
Deathness Injection – Deathness Before the Storm
Deathness Injection – Testament
Deathness Inection – Sexy Veil of Shame
Deathness Injection – Clangwarp

Ed Devane’s Dodeca Cycle – Culture File

Ed Devane, featured in part six of ‘Mad Scientists of Music‘, is one of Ireland’s most innovative musicians. Having moved away from producing rigid programatic electronic music, Ed is at the forefront of combining electronic sounds and analogue instrumentation. For his recent Dodeca Cycle piece in Dublin’s coach house exhibition space. Ed constructed an installation that allowed up to twelve people to collaboratively construct or accompany a performance. His work is centred around this opening up of musical collaboration, building on rather than escaping from the ubiquity and accessibility of electronic music. I spoke to Ed for Culture File.

Download: ‘Dodeca Cycle’

Enclave

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Image: Richard Mosse, The Enclave at RHA – Michael Foley

Whether or not you think you’re ‘into’ contemporary art, I promise this show will shake you to your core. The RHA gallery (near Stephens Green) is currently featuring an amazing installation of photos and video from Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (essentially a hell on earth perpetual war zone).

The work was Ireland’s entry into the prestigious Venice Biennales last year, and it’s a profoundly moving show. Richard Mosse’s photos of Congolese war lords, soldiers, landscapes and refugees, are shot on colour stock that is also sensitive to infrared light. The resulting images make the invisible, visible – forcing us to confront an unimaginable forgotten conflict. They transform suffering we’ve been conditioned to ignore, into a compelling psychedelic vision.

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Image: The Enclave, Multimedia room, RHA – Michael Foley

The cornerstone of the exhibition is a video installation featuring several screens arranged around a large room. The audience is free to wander amongst them, shifting their perspectives as video leaps from one screen to another. The camera tracks down dirt roads revealing the casualties of recent battles. It takes us up into the forested hills to explore ominously abandoned campsites. It carries us down into an enormous refugee camp, whose silent residents wordlessly communicate our culpability.

The footage features simple, powerful tracking shots filmed by Trevor Tweeten and a resonant ‘found sound’ orchestration by Ben Frost, composed from the explosions of battle and the creeks and echos of the jungle. It’s one of the most deeply affecting pieces of cinema I’ve witness, more reminiscent of the Jungian films of Alejandro Jodorowsky or even Dario Argento’s haunting tripe ‘Suspiria’, than documentary footage. It’s all the more surprising to find something so moving in the gallery context, where video work too often falls into self absorption or obtuseness.

You owe it to yourself to see this show. ‘Enclave‘ is playing every day at the RHA from 11 till 5, from now until March 12th.

Roger Gregg CD: Serpent In The Bee Loud Glade

A couple of months back, the very talented musician, humorist and dramatist Mr Roger Gregg was kind enough to ask me to do some free work for him. I was only too honoured to oblige, and since have had the pleasure of providing the graphical design for Mr Gregg’s latest foray into aural euphoria, ‘The Serpent In The Bee Loud Glade’. The album, a circular piece of plastic electromagnetically engraved with numeric representations of music from Mr Gregg and members of his Bee Loud Cabaret, featuring photography by Tadhg Conway, is on general release in all good Roger Gregg’s bandcamp. It’s the first CD design I’ve done, and learning to wrangle illustrator was pretty fun. The best part is seeing something I designed in the real world ‘live’ as a physical object. You can check out the album, and some of the designs, below.

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Franck Omer, Exchange Dublin Gallery Residency

Some months ago the Block T gallery and studios in Smithfield, organised a show of an enormous number of european visual artists, called Link Culturefest. At the show I noticed the work of an enormously talented sybolist / pop-surrealist painter and sculpter Franck Omer. I’d never organised a residency before, but I took a chance and contacted Franck about potentially returning to Ireland to work and show his pieces at Exchange Dublin. I’m incredibly proud to say that Franck has been kind enough to join us for the month of December. The show, inevitably a response to the impending end of the world, is called ‘Apocalypse Calypso’, and launches in the gallery on 12.12.12 at 4PM, all welcome.

Check out some images of the show set up below.

Hollywood Ending

I’m running an exhibition of video art this week at Exchange Dublin. Below is the text that accompanies the work. Hopefully as entertaining a piece of pseudo-philosophical junk as ever graced a graduate art show. Show is 16th – 23rd of August, with a launch at 8PM on the 17th (no booze but cake, all welcome).

Hollywood Ending is a series of movie re-edits, each of which alters the meaning or significance of the ultimate moments in a film. Simple changes to the order of images and dialogue subvert the viewers expectations of familiar cultural products and tropes. By altering the final minutes of the narrative, the expected redemptive arc (or by contrast its countercultural subversion) is disappointed. Our expectations of the cinematic medium and of the concrete memory of adored myths are insulted. These pieces provide a commentary on a creator’s control over their creative work, and on how meaning is changed by apprehension. Each piece asks and answers a question, directly dissolving the ambiguity that lends the original its frisson. The show’s title plays with the purported threat to Hollywood presented by copyright violation and remix, as well as the historic tendency of studios to butcher cinematic greats.

Auteur Theory fetishizes centralizing the locus of artistic control in a cinematic narrative to a single component (most often a film’s director). Studio interference in the creative process is today seen as abrogation of the artistic imperative. I’m interested in the bowdlerised product, and by contrast the fan edits that attempt to reinvigorate the perceived betrayal of directorial vision by commercial imperatives. Both are responses to our feelings of collective ownership over the cultural products of the creative process.

Corporate entertainment and comedy in particular frequently derives worth from its reference to pre-existing cultural products. Star Wars parodies appear on shows like Turner Broadcasting’s Robot Chicken, and 20th Century Fox’s Family Guy. Wood Allen’s directorial debut ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?’ humorously overdubbed the Japanese film ‘Kagi No Kaji’ (Key of Keys). Today, the comedic political criticism of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report rely on remixing and re-contextualising others ‘intellectual property’. Such ‘authorised’ riffing on copyrighted and patented characters, iconography and footage is not open to those operating outside the corporate media system.

‘Trailer re-cuts’ became popular in the mid 2000’s as the remixing of film footage – a traditional calling card for cinematic editors, became democratised by advances in home computing hardware and software. With the ever growing popularity of Youtube, such trailers revision of a films intent – for example Robert Ryan’s ‘Shining’ which reimagines Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ as a heart warming comedy – became popular ‘memes’, despite violating copyright maximalist laws put in place to control “unauthorised dissemination of films and music”, like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (1998) and the European Union Copyright Collective (2001).

Artists like Matthias Müller have managed to circumnavigate these restrictions by producing work which remixes ‘out of copyright’ video and media. Musicians Girl Talk, Pogo, DJ Danger Mouse and Negativland have all defied the law to produce innovative remixes that both critique and reinterpret well known albums and cinema. Visual artists like Emergency Broadcast Network have used news and movie footage to satirise political figures, while brilliant detournements like Brad Neely’s ‘Wizard People, Dear Reader’ have parodied Hollywood’s slavish adherence to ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

In the United States a ‘fair use’ provision of copyright law provides a limited exemption to the necessity of obtaining permission from copyright holders in cases like parody, news report and research. No similar exemption exists under Irish law. A parliamentary ‘Copyright Review Committee’ is currently examining this and other deficient elements in our legislation. Meanwhile, new international regulations like the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s proposed ‘Broadcasting Treaty’, would make even limited derivations from our cultural detritus impossible, by granting additional copyrights to the first broadcaster of any piece of media.

Digital Rights activists argue that popular culture should be subject to fair use, as it provides (and is derived from) a common cultural capital, much like folk songs and stories. This necessary foundation of cultural criticism and creativity is being whittled away as new technology makes practical the application of copyright laws that have historically been ineffectual posturing. Already we see the abuse of these technologies in the form of Youtube ‘ContentID’ video removals, and DMCA ‘Takedown Notices’, based on automated scanning for ‘copyrighted content’ (such as music playing in the background of a home made video).

A set of new, permissive licences called ‘Creative Commons’ have been developed to allow creators to specify to what extent their work can be remixed – explicitly allowing or disallowing ‘fair use’ or commercial exploitation: Sacrificing for example, compensation in favour of attribution. However, in my own work I’ve been confronted by the paradox that the ideals of creative commons actually act to restrict the distribution of ‘derivative work’ produced using such licences. The possibilities opened up by Creative Commons licences and the commercial restrictions they place on derivative works mirror the historic conflicts between elements of the free software movement (free software vs open source).

This is in the end an exhibition in love with piracy. Movies rearranged without authorisation, cut from illegally downloaded rips with cracked warez tell stories their creators never intended. Characters pulled out of their fates whisper knowing lies, half aware and desperate to escape their scenes. Credits dishonestly claim authorship over censored ends. Songs carefully selected to contain a mood, drown their supported dialogue and shatter it. Our stories are larger than their tellers, continuing to grow after the last reel has been run. Escaping their bindings and galloping through mind fields. Returning home to whisper their alterations as we try in vain to sleep. They are awakening.

‘But do you love me?’

Annie Hall details a troubled affair between a neurotic Jewish intellectual (Woody Allen) and a pretty but vacuous WASP (Diane Keaton). The pairs doomed passion raised questions of class, ethnic tension and fidelity at a time when contraception was first becoming widely available; and changing the attendant potential for betrayal. The film’s non-linear, self-reflexive narrative and decidedly unromantic ending defied Hollywood convention while fitting neatly into the dramatic trope of tragically doomed love. This has been excised, leaving both audience and protagonists with a hollow dissatisfaction, which oddly has another kind of anti-dramatic authenticity.

Re-cut from Annie Hall (1977), Dir: Woody Allen

‘What song are you gonna play me, huh?’

Before Sunset is the second part of a romantic duet (alongside 1995’s Before Sunrise), two films that attempt to capture the essence of limerent love at first sight, both fleeting and enduring. The original ending satisfies a romantic imperative and retains a sweet equivocality, but raises questions about the morality of infidelity and the superficiality of intense (if enduring) erotic connections, as both Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy’s characters are both in long-term relationships with their respective partners; Hawke’s character being married, with a young child. Here the ending has been subtly betrayed by increasing the sordidness and sexual purpose behind the couple’s final assignation.

Re-cut from Before Sunset (2004), Dir: Richard Linklater

‘Can I sit up front?’

The Virgin Suicides, a collaboration between director Sofia Coppola and author Jeffrey Eugenides, is a seductive meditation on adolescent melancholy, imprisonment and sexuality. Narrated by a group of neighborhood boys who initially idealise and then grow to identify with the pretty but overprotected daughters of a local teacher, the film is one of the most poetic and sympathetic depictions of the ‘dreamy summer’ trope of adolescent cinema. The original ending manages to be desolate yet deeply romanticised, creating a problematic romantic ambiguity surrounding the titular suicides. Here the ending has been subtly altered to subvert the movie’s purpose, by switching whole heartedly into a kind of American Apparel music video fantasy.

Re-cut from The Virgin Suicides (1999), Dir: Sophia Coppola

‘Where the fuck are we?’

Adam & Paul is an award winning Irish film which depicts a desolate day and night in the lives of two heroin users approaching the limits of addiction. The original film uses humour to soften the bleakness of its narrative, but ends with a typically unremitting ‘drugs are bad’ trope, which seems almost parodic in its misery. This re-edit imagines a ‘best possible world’ ending, where a glimpse of polyamorous loving redemption is offered to our beckettian duo.

Re-cut from Adam & Paul (2004), Dir: Shane Meadows

‘Don’t you have a daughter?’

The Wrestler tells the tragic story of Randy ‘the Ram’ Ramzinski, a dying wrestler who has allowed his relationships to fall away. The film’s ending sees Randy put his career before his health and his nascent relationship with a sweet-natured stripper. In this re-imagining, Randy makes a different choice, choosing to renew his relationship with his daughter rather than sacrifice himself like the veritable lamb.

Re-cut from The Wrestler (2008), Dir: Darren Aronofsky

‘Anyone got a problem?’

This Is England is a film (and ongoing series) depicting the confluence of race, poverty and extremist ideology in Thatcher’s Britain. The penultimate scenes of the film depict a brutal, racially motivated attack by the brutal and conflicted gang leader Combo. Here, Combo and Jamaican / English skinhead ‘Milky’ dissolve their differences over spliffs, creating a heartwarming evening of experimentation and personal growth for naive protagonist Shaun.

Re-cut from This Is England (2006), Dir: Shane Meadows

Dead Medium

Crouched under the blankets, stealthily adjusting volume to match the volume of my parents voices. Moving my heavy yellow and black Sony Walkman like a rod under the sheets: Netting lost signals on long and medium waves. The romance of radio suffused my childhood. It’s claimed that eighty five percent of Irish adults still listen to the radio, but the essence of the medium is dead. The radio play, radio sketch comedy, distant reportage, long form high brow discussion – these things have melted away under the harsh studio lights of the visual culture. What has survived of popular radio, wilted and burned by the television is a kind of anxious banter – a desperate heavily compressed cry for attention out of a wall of similar noise. Chummy Mid-Atlantic DJs pattering like rain on paper. These sketches represent a spandrel. The culmination of a dead ritual. They are created not to reinvigorate, as graffiti in the 1970s and 80s revived and rebirthed street art. But to celebrate a beautiful and civilised anachronism.

Here the sketches are presented along with a USB key offering their source files for remixing. Rebalancing the pilfering of the video remixes in this show.

Artists Bio

“I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher, but above all I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.”

Art for Arts Sake?

I recently gave an email interview, the answers to which were included in a feature on arts funding in Ireland. The article, ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ was published in the January 26th edition of The College Tribune (not yet online), a University College Dublin publication. Perhaps like everyone who’s ever been interviewed, I feel the quotes chosen for the piece slightly misrepresented my answers. This is first time I’ve written at length about my involvement in Exchange Dublin, Exchange Words and ‘the arts’ in Ireland generally, so I’m pasting the full text of the interview here ‘for the record’.

Tell me about Exchange Dublin and your involvement in the organisation.

Exchange Dublin is a collective art centre in Temple Bar. It was established initially by a group of artists involved in something known as ‘The Office of Public Works’. These were Jonah King, Dylan Haskins, Rosin Beirne, Anna Khan and Andreas Von Knobloch. The initiative grew out of their interest in creating a non-profit, youth orientated space to facilitate the creation of innovative, publicly accessible art & music initiatives in the city. Exchange Dublin is part of a new, perhaps recession driven interest in non-profit, collective arts in Dublin. Longer running initiatives in the same vein include Seomra Spraoi & The Shed.

I got involved in the Exchange on 15th August 2009, at the first Exchange general ‘open space’ meeting. I’d become interested in storytelling events by listening to podcasts from ‘The Moth’, a US storytelling organisation which along with shows like PBS’s ‘This American Life’ has done much to drive the current revival of the American oral tradition.

I had the idea to do something similar here, though in a more collaborative, less exclusive way. My experiences visiting Seomra Spraoi, and personal disillusion with authoritarian styles of organizational structure drew me to the Exchange initiative; and have been key in my approach to helping to organise the Exchange Words group.

Exchange Words is the group that ultimately developed out of these disparate interests. We’re an open group meeting weekly in the space, who’ve so far put on three events at monthly intervals; featuring a mixture of spoken word theatre, standup comedy, poetry and more experimental work. We’ve also helped out with other spoken word initiatives in the space, like the enormously successful ‘Milk and Cookies’ storytelling group. Currently we’re focused on organising a series of free writing and performance workshops.

It’s been a very strong emphasis on my own personal involvement in the group from the start to document the group process. Both in order to make it as accessible for new members as possible, and to provide a record of what we’ve done. To do this I’ve implemented a website (http://words.exchangedublin.ie), making all our meeting minutes public; and more importantly making available (as audio podcasts and streaming video), as complete as possible a record of our participants participation in Words events.

Outside of Exchange Words, I also volunteer on a weekly basis in the space; greeting new arrivals, making tea, and helping with general upkeep. I also attend the weekly Exchange Counsel meetings which govern the running of the space as often as I can.

What obstacles have you encountered in establishing yourself in the arts? How much of this can be attributed to your recent graduate status? Do you find youth a help or a hindrance in this way?

My main interests career-wise are in creative writing and standup comedy / sketch comedy performance. I started standup in August, and I’ve been writing since secondary school. I’m not sure how to quantify difficulties encountered… In terms of standup, getting paid work would be the most important problem. There’s a sort of virtuous circle in Ireland, where TV appearances and competition victories land you paid spots in comedy clubs. Right now I’m working for free. Because of the limited size of the audience here (and the poverty of televised and radio comedy), pretty much every Irish comedian plans to move to England at some point; and I’m no different. It’s just a reality of the business that even moderate success here doesn’t provide a living; and ‘big’ success on the Irish scene doesn’t translate abroad. To make it comedians have to go to England or the US.

I don’t feel that my graduate status impacts this at all, and my youth even less so- As a 30 year old former mature student, I’m at the older end of the ‘amateur’ comedy scene.

In terms of writing, I guess the difficulties would be getting published. Fortunately with publication, location is less important. It would be difficult for me to quantify initiatives to make the ‘life of the writer’ easier, beyond grants and residencies, which wouldn’t be granted to someone at my stage of career in any case (one story published, one novel seeking a publisher).

I got my start writing attending free writers groups run in Balbriggan library in the early 1990’s. Initiatives like this- to provide a dedicated, low or no cost opportunity for writers to meet, write and compare their work are incalculably valuable. I’m still trying to organising similar things at an informal level to this day.


In the current climate, is it more difficult to establish yourself in the arts sector? What do you make of the state of health of the arts in Ireland?

I don’t think the health of the arts in Ireland is very measurably related to the economic climate. At least not from my worms eye view. Funding for the arts didn’t swell to useful levels during the economic boom, and haven’t yet dropped to calamitous levels. Due to the lack of government support (beyond capital investment and a few tent pole institutions like the National Museum of Modern Art), my perspective would be that most arts institutions in the country are heavily private financed, and extremely commercially orientated.

That said, an initial grand from the Project Arts Centre, and subsequent grants from a variety of institutions (including the Arts Counsel), were vital in establishing and purchasing equipment for Exchange Dublin. Although the venue itself covers ongoing costs primarily through low price, all ages concerts.

Again- completely from my personal perspective: It’s only when you go abroad that you realise the poverty of visual arts institutions in Ireland. Our galleries and museums are a joke next to British or American institutions like MOMA, the Pheonix Art Museum, the Tate etc. There are of course economies of scale at work here; but Ireland has been supremely ineffective at providing public access to the treasures of modern art. In terms of classical art, the National Gallery has some decent dutch masters and a Caravaggio. Hurray.

In terms of the performing arts, it does seem like (especially in Dublin), there are a variety of initiatives of worth; promoting theatre especially. However, without going into libelous detail, often access to and participation in these initiatives is effectively exclusive to clique of kids that have come up through youth theatre programmes; rather than writers and performers from outside the theatre world. I know comedians in general feel completely excluded from the theatre world. At the same time, I know folks in the theatre world who are all too keen to get more comedic shows into the various theatre festivals. As in all these things, the perception of exclusivity is as important as the reality.

What are your ambitions for the future? Do you see a way to actualise them in Ireland, or is a move abroad necessary?

I think I answered this partly above. Basically I would like to work as a writer of literary and science fiction, and perform as a comedian. Most of my comedy heros got their big break writing and performing on shows for BBC Radio 4, and that channel, together with the BBC digital TV channels, still commissions more original content (especially in comedy), than anywhere else in the world.

I do see traveling as a necessity at some point. It’s something I should probably do sooner rather than later… However it’s hard to see when would be the right time. I’m just starting to get a decent name with promoters over here, and traveling would mean starting again.

I’m trying to keep my ambitions as open as possible so that I don’t turn away from any opportunities. I’m also using this time to try to develop ideas that I could potentially use later in my career when I have more opportunities. I’m still a novice live performer, and I’m looking forward to developing these skills (possibly even in a theatre setting), this year. Personally, the attachments I have to Ireland are financial and interpersonal rather than anything else. I have almost no ‘national pride’, and very little attachment to the ‘imagined community’ of the Irish nation state. This kind of pretentious pomposity is endemic to comedians I’m afraid. Possibly if I do travel I’ll experience that paradoxical exaggeration of ‘national’ characteristics common to ex-pats.

What would be your advice to the current government in the light of the reduction to arts spending?

Spend money on smaller initiatives. Give money to individual groups and artists rather than swollen bodies which sit parasitically on the artery of arts funding. Make ten thousand tiny grants available, with the qualifying criteria bring past and current work- not renown, prizes won, or the current commercial value of an artists output; and you’ll see ten thousand talented artists spring up.

Encourage initiatives which build self efficacy and core skills in the production of visual, written and performance art.

Allow groups to design their own structure and don’t drown them in paper work.

Fund self organised, genuinely open spaces, which place no limits on their use beyond the consensus of their members.

Fund free seminars, masterclasses and courses.

Put money in primary and secondary arts education- I never held a paint brush until secondary school, and by that point Art Class was a glorified crammer for the junior cert.

Offer writers living in the country incentives to teach; and support the initiatives they’ve already started (like Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words group).

Contradictorily, don’t focus all your funding on using art as a method of attenuating social inequality- a vanishingly small number of deprived kids will climb out of poverty through this method.

‘The arts’, whatever that means should be open to everyone. Funding should ideally be meritocratic, and put where it provides most creative freedom, and facilitates the production of the most interesting work.

Create the equivalent of an Open University for visual and performance arts, writing and music.

How necessary is art in the current economic climate? What creative possibilities do you take from it?

How necessary is the current economic climate in the light of art? To me, creative work is the whole point. Consumerism, a fixation on GDP, the exploitation of natural resources, ‘building infrastructure to facilitate long term economic goals’: These are the distractions. If our lives are to have any meaning, then what we achieve and create is all that matters- and here I mean achievement in the largest sense: exploration of space, scientific comprehension of the fundamental structure and processes underlying cosmology and subatomic structure, psychological investigations into meaning and identity.

The arts provide the lens through which we can evaluate the necessity and purpose of our lives. It’s specious to put things the other way around. We should be moving toward a society in which information technology is used to expand the public debate and the public consciousness, to facilitate complete direct democracy and the maturation of our adolescent society. Literacy- be it written, audio-visual or affective, is the core skill set in divining purpose. A skill set fed and watered by the creation and appreciation of art.

What advice would you give to other young graduates who wish to work in the arts in Ireland?

Do the thing you do. If you’re an actor, act. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a painter, paint… And so on. Don’t get a job in arts administration where you help to facilitate the distribution of funding determined by long term strategic blah blah blah blah blah. That’s how you become a clerk.

Meet people, work together on things. Don’t take it too seriously. Try to survive from the products of your creative labour, but do it even if you need to do something else to pay the rent. It’s the whole point.

What is for certain is that the skills you develop playing- busking, making podcasts, painting, messing around with electronics, writing stories at 4AM in your bedroom; will be the basis of the person you become, the people you meet, and the cool stuff you get to do for the rest of your life.

Oh and don’t get a mortgage. It’ll eat your soul.