One year later, red potholes


While on residency in Arteles Creative Centre in Finland last September I got to know the quiet dirt roads of the area by bike. The bikes available at the centre had no gears and only back pedal breaks, which made stopping on gravel surfaces challenging, and the rare downhill swoops felt specially daredevilish. The bikes had upright black frames and made me, in my black coat and jeans, feel like an Edward Gorey character pedalling through the open farmland surrounding the centre.

Cycling was a way to explore, and a chance to get some air after long days spent in my workroom. Having no gears meant I was forced to decelerate from the speeds I usually cycle in Dublin’s city centre. At first it felt hugely frustrating. I couldn’t get anywhere in a hurry. I waved at the few people and cars that I passed, and usually got a wary side-eye.

On those wide open flat landscapes you can watch the weather coming. I often found myself frantically pedalling to get to some kind of shelter – a bus stop, or a particularly lush tree – while heavy bluegrey rainclouds swooped at me over the open farmland. Another challenge was the pockmarked surface of the dirt roads themselves, with copious potholes from, I’m guessing, the harsh winters. Those bikes were not made for swerving, especially on gravel.

Over the weeks, thanks to the residency’s policy of no phones and limited internet access, I settled into the luxury of living at a more tranquil pace. I became happier with my slow cycling. I stopped trying to get anywhere, and started to just explore all the little back roads and woods nearby.

From my first days in Finland, I’d noticed many rowan trees laden with their distinctive red berries among all the silver birch. Irish and Finnish flora seems to have quite a lot in common – between the red rowans and the browning bracken, I felt at home.

Since my automatic impulse to find out more by tapping ‘rowan’ into a computer wasn’t available to me, I enjoyed my ignorance and settled with mentally saluting each rowan I passed on my slow bike.

Cycling back to Arteles one day during my last week there, I wove in and out of the gravelly potholes and imagined filling the holes in the road as a thank you to the centre, to the people living around it – knowing that even if I did the coming frozen winter would reopen those holes, or create new ones, or both. I began to imagine filling the holes with rowan berries instead – to make something beautiful and surprising for the people passing, and also to celebrate the futility of my trying to actually repair their road.

But by the time I’d had this idea, the majority of the rowan berries were already shrivelled or gone – the short autumn was already giving way to frost. I only managed to collect enough berries to test out one pothole, so when I left, I left instructions for next year’s harvest.

A month in Finland

Artwork, Other work

In September 2019 I was accepted on a month-long residency at Arteles Creative Centre in rural Finland. It was a magical time, that in retrospect has changed my life in a quiet way.

My stay at Arteles felt like it might be a stepping off point, but I don’t know yet where I’m stepping off to. I don’t usually make work on my own, so this was a challenge and an opportunity for me to see what kind of things emerged from myself alone. (The next challenge for me is to work out what to do with some of these thoughts and potential projects. What form they take, and where/how I can show them. That’s the hard part…)

I came with no specific project in mind and tried to listen hard and follow interesting thoughts as they appeared. I took photographs, I came across unexpected new friends, I made things with my hands and gave them away, I wrote things and kept them to myself, I drew things and burned the drawings, I cycled very slowly and waved at passing cars.

I thought a lot about hospitality, about obligation, about misremembered colours, about hugs, about being happily lost in translation, about rowan trees, about things in pairs. I tried to think about my brain from the inside. I tried to recalibrate how I think about the body that carries that brain around. I tried not to think about what to do with all these thoughts.

For the month we had no phones and limited internet, and being removed from the world was pure pleasure. It felt good to be among people who were always fully present. It felt good to be warmed through by the sauna. I was happily selfish and missed no one. I stopped reading the news, and haven’t started again. I ate too much smoked salmon. I saw the northern lights.

Being introduced to meditation and starting a daily practice gave me something new that I’ve taken into my Dublin life. The beautiful land, the changing clouds, and the little gravel roads around Haukijärvi are still in my thoughts every day. I’m very grateful for the lessons in how to be still and quiet and present.

After I came back I found it difficult to explain what I’d been up to for the four weeks. A friend said to me – you basically let yourself be an artist for a month. And he’s right, I did.

Two months in Paris

Artwork, Design for performance

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.