Two months in Paris

Design for performance, Solo work

I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, but only getting round to it now. Even though it was months ago, I’m still dreaming of my time on a wonderful two-month residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Firstly, a huge thank you to the CCI for giving me the time there.

When I applied, I hoped for a chance to ringfence some time to be creative – something that I find very difficult to do with a dual career as an artist and a manager. In fact, the last time I’ve allowed myself to indulge (is it really indulgence?!) in reading, drawing, thinking, seeing things, and meeting people in such a dedicated way may have been at university. I’m talking about the turn of the century here, people.

The CCI residency itself is luxuriously simple: they fly you over, put you up in the beautiful building in the fancy 5th arrondissement, and give you a stipend of €700 per month to keep you going. I was also given access to my own studio (bliss) across the courtyard.

While you have to give an outline in your application of what you’d like to do, when you’re there you are left to you own devices, which is wonderfully freeing. And does feel like a luxury. It was an extraordinary feeling to be taken seriously enough as an artist to be supported in this way. For me, it means I take my own creativity more seriously too. Which I’m normally not great at.

And what did I do? A big part of what I’d wanted to do was get to know the city a bit better – I threw away 4 new pairs of socks over the two months, worn out with all the walking.

Towards the end of my time there I had a small panic that I’d not really done anything, so I started to make a list. Phew. Exhibitions, talks (given and attended), performances, books, music, countless excellent, thought-provoking chats. And lots of time in the studio, sitting staring out the window, writing, drawing, and (a little surprisingly) painting.

One result was a series of simple portraits on cardboard. Not sure where it’s leading me, but it was really, really refreshing to just try things out with no ultimate agenda. Another small revelation for me was to understand the imperative of safe-guarding the time I need to transition from the ‘admin’ way of thinking to the creative way of thinking. A hugely valuable lesson for me. Now the trick is to find a way to transpose some of the creative, relaxed, invigorating Paris energy into Dublin life. Fingers crossed.

Prague Quadrennial 2015

Design for performance

Thanks to Travel and Training support from the Arts Council of Ireland, I was able to attend the Prague Quadrennial earlier this June. PQ is the world’s largest exhibition of design for performance that takes place in Prague every four years. In 2007 Ireland was represented officially for the first time, and as Exhibition Coordinator, I was lucky enough to get to go, also for the first time.

‘The Submission’ – Vladislav Nastavshev – Latvian national exhibit

A lot has changed in the intervening 12 years. The big, beautiful Výstaviště Palace, which was used as the exhibition space up to 2007, was badly damaged in a fire the following year. This forced the PQ to stretch across multiple venues in 2011, and even more so this year – insinuating itself into the daily life of the city centre for a couple of weeks. The tone of the exhibition has changed too. There is less of the stall-to-stall ‘best of’ of each country’s design, as national curators now tend towards focusing on specific designers or companies, or stand-alone (kinda) artistic installations – with very mixed results. This one by a Latvian designer was one of my favourites.

Russian potatoes

Detail from the Russian exhibit

Then again, I’ve always had an ambivalent feeling about the exhibition. I think it partly comes from how unevenly curated it can be – each country having a hugely varied capacity and budget for their exhibit. Each year I’ve come with high hopes and am often struck by the amount of work I really dislike, or consider bad design. It takes me a long time to root out things that I connect with aesthetically, and often that truffle hunt feels like too much effort. The exhibition is huge, and just navigating the city centre Prague mid-June tourist hordes is exhausting. That said, I know no other opportunity like it to see such a breadth of international design work, so I really shouldn’t grumble.

This year, for the first time, I signed up for two day-long workshops at DAMU, the Theatre faculty at the Academy of Performing Arts – partly to meet people at what can be a lonely event where you sometimes feel everyone else is having more fun that you. In one, a group of us spent a day building a giant two-storey Rube Goldberg machine, and in the other we worked with UK artist James Leadbitter aka the vacuum cleaner to design our ideal asylum, as part of his Madlove project. Highly recommended. Nothing like playing with ideas to cheer you up.

Daily flags

Idea of running up daily flags to tell the world how you feel

Design for Stage and Screen Ireland website

Design for performance

Earlier this year I worked with Ewa Segner and Siobhán Bourke of Irish Theatre Institute to compile a website to highlight stage and screen designers coming from and working in Ireland.

You can access the website here. It is in Beta mode for the next few weeks, and the content is being updated and added to every day – an ever-growing catalogue of the work of costume, set, lighting and sound designers/composers who design for the stage, and production, hair, makeup and costume designers who design for screen.

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing horizon ideas sketch

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing horizon ideas sketch

Most exciting (for me) is the chance to see some of the sketches side by side with the final production images – it’s always a treat to see the development of ideas, and the idiosyncratic ways that designers approach their work.

The timing of the website going live in June was to coincide with both the year of Irish Design and the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space. However, it is a resource that will be kept up by ITI, along the same lines as their Playography and Irishtheatre.ie sites.

Performing Space symposium – DTF 2014

Design for performance

Thanks to Noelia Ruiz and Siobhán O’Gorman for asking me to speak on a panel as part of this event – a day-long symposium on scenography in Trinity College Dublin. It really was a great day, and felt like there was a lot still to say by the end of it.

While I missed some of the papers, I did get to hear some great presentations by:

Rachel Hann on the terminology around scenography (I hope to be able to repost some of what she said soon – it was really useful to hear her own definitions around stage design / scenic design / scenography / set design)

Sarah-Jane Scaife
, talking about her beautiful Beckett in the City series

Cathy Leeney and Elaine Sisson both presenting very interesting papers about the documentation of design

Aoife Monks talking about magic/mundane lives of costumes and props (who also came out with the great line that “theatre is just made out of stuff and work”)

Sodja Lotker, Director of the Prague Quadrennial, talking about their upcoming event in 2015

Abstracts of all these paper and more can be found here.

The Performance Corporation’s SPACE programme

Design for performance

Just back from an overwhelming two weeks in Castletown House Celbridge, as a participant on the 2014 SPACE programme, run by The Performance Corporation.

SPACE participants 2014

Focusing on fostering cross-artform collaboration, the programme threw nine makers together to see how we got on. As a designer it was a real treat to be able to get a taster of working in and with different practices – I know that I will take quite a while to work through a lot of the ideas that came up during the two weeks. Also, I think/hope that some of those collaborative explorations will continue outside of the Celbridge bubble.

Thanks to all at The Performance Corporation for taking me on as a participant, and to Jo Mangan & Hanna Slattne for putting together a challenging and intensive programme. Most of all, many, many thanks to my fellow participants for the excellent chats, provocations and inspirations you provided. Not to mention putting up with me when I was knackered and grumpy, and making me giggle enough to cause damage to my stomach muscles.

Links to my co-participants in SPACE below:

Alejandra Pombo Suárez  –  video artist
Aoife McAtamney  –  choreographer
Conor Hanratty  –  opera & theatre director
Emily Aoibheann  –  multidisciplinary artist
Michelle Cahill  –  dance artist
Morgan Wong  –  visual artist
Paul Curley  –  performer
Rachel Ní Chuinn  –  composer