Something strange happened. Stranger than a global pandemic? It’s linked. As people reflect on how long it will take for artists to create works that respond to the state we’ve all been in, the reverse is happening. It seems I respond to all art as if it has Covid concerns at its core. The Galway International Arts Festival program released today immediately catches my eye with its image of the leaf figure of John Gerrard from the Mirror Pavilion on the cover.
Leaf Work was one of a pair of Gerrard’s pieces commissioned by the Festival as part of Galway 2020. If ever a European Capital of Culture could have had a worse fortune than Galway 2020, that’s another story, but some heritage projects remain. Corn Work, the first part of the Mirror Pavilion was installed at Claddagh Quay last September. Showing straw-clad dancers moving through an endless ritual, it harassed the senses, tugging at ideas about collecting and appeasing the gods of nature.
Leaf Work, which was supposed to be located at Derrigimlagh Bog in October has been postponed, as Ireland entered restrictions on Level 3 and then Level 5. Now Gerrard’s lone figure clad in leaves, surveying an outline in the virtual landscape on one side of a huge mirrored cube, itself seems haunted by Covid concerns. The artist presents it as “a complaint about the effects of […] accelerate human technologies on non-human worlds ”, but for me the dominant feeling is loneliness, isolation and the feeling of being out of step with the models of the world. The feeling of being very small in the face of natural forces sank deeper into my mind and soul throughout the pandemic.
This will be Gerrard’s third installation at the Galway Festival. Another festival regular, Enda Walsh, premieres a new piece called Medicine with Landmark Productions. Featured as a work in progress last year instead of the planned large-scale performance, the piece explores, via a star cast of Clare Barrett, Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson, with jazz percussionist Sean Carpio, how we treat those we call mentally ill. . Socially distant audiences will be seated in specially designed booths in the Black Box Theater, turning the need to be apart into a new landscape of separation. “LA had reopened,” GIAF artistic director Paul Fahy said of the juggling and commitment it took to keep the cast available a year later, given the Hollywood film industry returned to action, in particular dragging Gleeson with her.
Mental health has always been an issue, for a long time pushed under Ireland’s collective emotional carpet, but again it feels amplified. With apologies to all who are in pain to any degree, I currently feel raw in the spotlight on mental health, as if they are aimed directly at me. Each year, Walsh also creates a room in Galway. This year will see room # 8. As with its predecessors, you step into a space, aware of being part of a very small group, and listen to a prerecorded dramatic monologue, telling uncomfortable stories of other unknowable and unfathomable lives. Covid containment a lot? Very.
This may be the problem with very good art. It is timeless, and yet still somehow urgent. The GIAF 2021 program is skillfully constructed. There are events and shows that can take place no matter what, and some, like the druid’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull by Thomas Kilroy, that will air on demand. “You have to be thorough and careful,” says Fahy. You also need to re-cut your fabric. Despite the significant increase in support for the Arts Council, GIAF CEO John Crumlish notes that more than fifty percent of GIAF’s revenue previously came from the box office.
This may be a significant increase, but Fahy is keen to point out that it also underscored how low funding for the Irish arts has been compared to other European states. “And have we, as a nation, ever relied as much on our culture to carry us through as we have in the past fifteen months? He asks, talking about engaging with podcasts, with online theater, reading books. “For mental health reasons…” he said. “I hope people are now realizing what the arts and arts workers are helping to make us such a great nation. Hopefully the Arts Council will continue to stay at its new level. The result was fantastic value for money.
“Online culture has had a big impact,” says Crumlish. “In my case, I listened to a lot of music. But Covid has opened up the possibility of spreading the culture, and this genius is not going back in the bottle. “
“We don’t envision large productions without live-streaming elements in the future,” says Fahy, agreeing that while this has the potential to reach large audiences, it’s also a whole different way of thinking when it is about staging a play. . The First Thought lecture series is now also a podcast series, which began in July 2020, he adds. Galway’s Big Top concerts are off the agenda again, and major international companies will not be visiting, although the Festival’s own global connections and partnerships mean that work done in Galway will be on tour. Medicine will initially travel to the Edinburgh International Festival in August.
But how do you balance the needs of the best artists and artists, who thrive by pushing boundaries, in these days when our lives are currently secured by boundaries? Artists used to exercise their ingenuity by circumventing restrictions, now they have to work within them, while innovating. In this vein, Ar Ais Arís from the Brú Theater seems interesting. This is a virtual reality experience in person, on the Salthill promenade. Put on your helmet and be careful not to trip over, while being immersed in the texts of Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Pádraic Ó Conaire and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill.
Or head to the Lough Inagh Valley Hatchery, where Broken Vessels is a pilot for what the Interface arts group hopes to become a biennial event. Irish artists Louise Manifold, Anne Marie Deacy, Noelle Gallagher are joined by South African artists Christine Dixie, Lesego Rampolokeng and Monique Pelser, in a setting that Fahy describes as something out of the opening of a James film. Jump.
Fahy and Crumlish know all about exploring Galway in search of new places for their visual arts exhibits. From shopping malls to fish sheds, the team worked around Galway’s major exhibition space shortage by turning unused venues into world-class venues. Crumlish describes when, every time, the guys in costume appeared, and he would know that the days of that particular place were numbered. But now there has been a commitment to keep at least part of the An Post site at Eglinton Street / William Street, first converted by GIAF in 2019, as a civic art space. Fahy describes being “giddy with excitement” when he first saw it, hardly imagining that An Post would come to stipulate that part of it would remain dedicated to the arts.
Fahy and Crumlish are coy about who might manage the space in the future – development on the project is under tender at the moment, but as Crumlish says he plans his days of flushing out the abandoned sheds and warehouses “will be confined to the annals of Galway folklore.” I begin to wonder if he could regret those times when they are gone. Another Gerrard – John’s sister, Joy, will be on display at the William Gallery Street, with a major installation from his Precarious Freedom project, currently at Drogheda’s High Lanes, followed by the exhibition at the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny in 2022, with new work being done for each location.
Inspired by Brexit, Black Lives Matter and the Marches for Women’s Equality, Joy Gerrard’s work has always been powerful, but Covid amplified my sense of anxiety about seeing crowds congregating, in this case pictured in the ‘black ink. Viewing the artwork now communicates a sense of the latent power of people, the unpredictability of circumstances, the threat we all live under, but also the strength of the collective good when we think about something, together. It’s time to go to Galway.
Galway International Arts Festival, August 28 – September 18, giaf.ie
[CROSSHEAD]Highlights of this year’s festival[/CROSSHEAD]
Enda Walsh’s Medicine live shows are sold out, but you can still plan to air them, and there is a lot more to choose from.
One of the first stage productions when cinemas reopen in the UK, you listen to Donmar Warehouse’s adaptation of José Saramago’s dystopian novel with headphones seated in a specially designed setting. Voiced by Juliet Stevenson, this is a pandemic. Hmm.
Dance, music and words come together as Stephanie Dufresne’s latest project premieres at the Bank of Ireland Theater at NUI Galway, a live show to be confirmed until we find out how music is part of the performance is within the guidelines.
Leathanta Sona [Happy Days]
The SJ Company as a gaeilge production of Beckett’s play sees the action unfold on the extraordinary stone-paved plains of Inis Óirr. Is being buried to the waist a metaphor for confinement? Take a sheet of Winne and Willie played by Bríd Ní Neachtain and Raymond Keane and you could win.
These are small kingdoms
In 2019, director Ian FitzGibbon attempted to show off Kevin Barry’s lyrics with his film Dark Lies the Island. Now it’s the turn of the Decadent Theater, directed by Andrew Flynn at the Town Hall Theater.
Luke Murphy’s performance is a series of experimental dance performances based on life in a small space… Sound familiar? Add elements of online broadcasting and the promise that you can personalize an individual experience at Nun’s Island Theater.
A new section of GIAF scholarship orders starts with Joselle Ntumna and Beulah Ezeugo, for Éireann et moi, a digital archive of the experiences of black migrants in Ireland; Kirstin Fontanella with a new solo dance based on Irish dance; director Andrew Flynn and screenwriter Donal Ryan are preparing a new play adapted from Ryan’s From a Low and Quiet Sea; Cuimhne Uisce by Michael Chang, live performance of Chang’s compositions, with video; and new music from singer / songwriter Niamh Regan In The Meantime. These projects will appear this year and next year.