Autumn in Ireland. The Burren is under a blushed mantle. The trees are shedding their leaves, in the prevalent wind, but the scrub, fern and grasses are flaming in russet, saffron, and copper. As each day inhales towards the winter solstice the weather seems to tire of itself, to send variations. It’s rococo, and virulent in form and feeling. There’s some protection here in the valley from gales; however for me a ‘soft day’ will now be synonymous with iron-grey skies and misty rain and a quieting within.
Before I left the Burren I took a cruise along the base of the Cliffs of Moher, Aillte an Mhothair, joining a group of Clare artists gathering work for an exhibition. Our launch pushed through swell in driving rain and wind to then idle broadside to the cliffs, close to Branaunmore stack. This year-long project - The Dark Edge of Europe - is the artists’ response to deaths at the cliffs, by suicide and by accidental falling. I’ve been invited to join, as a composer.
The cliffs are nesting walls for breeding birds in spring: kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, and puffins. But in late October there are no birds on the stack; it’s a remnant in isolation, jagged and thrashed at its base by enormous waves. Squatting above, at the cliff edge, is Cornelius O’Brien’s round-stone tower, signifying surveillance and control. From the boat we spy walkers along the cliffs, miniature figurines, like match-sticks. There are no guard rails past the information centre, just a path creeping along the brink. Many walkers stray from the track; inevitably there are slips, trips and jumps to sure-death on the rocks two hundred metres below. Boats patrol the cusp of rock and sea, searching for bodies, crews compelled to a task that has all the hallmarks of gothic, macabre and, of course, trauma. On this grey, dim day the cliffs are a trope for despair but also point to hope, for some clearing, joy and imagination in those of us keen to promote awareness of life worth living. Artists take photographs of the stack in the swell, the sloping grassed edge and the cliffs’ curvature, a spine sloping south, away, out of view. I record the boat’s engine but the wind in the microphone is so strong the throb sounds more like a weep.
The tumult of the sea eases as we return to the harbour at Doolin, the town renown for Irish music, boating and changeable weather. There are many signs erected promoting the Samaritans, in case anyone considering suicide might call them in their moment of choice. Choosing to die off these cliffs has spread like a rash, as if the fable of living trumpets a call to dying in flight, one that ends where all life began, in the sea.
We leave Doolin, drive up over the Burren plateau all greyed in outcrops and walls, past Lisdoonvarna - the matchmaking festival town - down Corkscrew Hill, back to Ballyvaughan. I’m preoccupied with thoughts of staying alive and of how anyone considering, and completing, a cliff-jump demise would be bound to a prelude of unimaginable suffering and loneliness.
I finish my residency with two performances and an open studio, for students and staff, to bear witness to two months of process, reflection and art-making. I attempt to write an artist’s statement and come to understand that everything here has been about relationship: to myself, to the studio, to new friendships, to this extraordinary eclectic art college, to the place of the Burren, to art as a practice in daily living. And so I write a poetic thing that in itself is not quite formed, that’s obscure but also simple, like the act of recognizing that art comes from within and gives to others. This understanding, and the performances, have acted as précis to an unknowing that’s been almost impossible to quantify in my eight weeks here. Moments of doubt and self-criticism, tiredness, displacement, anxiety and a slippery hold on imagination have frequently dashed ice water on my art-making. As on so many other slippery slopes, improvisation has revived me, called me into the present moment and allowed the forming of sounds, words and gestures to be catalysts for peace, creativity and change. If ever there’s a church, it’s within the veil of improvisation.
Artist’s Statement, Open Studio BCA, November 7, 2018
Here i am, melting eight/8 weeks into a few skewed/skewered words for
You the observer/listener/visitor (…is this the haze of the gaze?)
You may also think/feel/wonder if You are the/an audience (as might i)
i’m performing/expressing fragments of knowing
from being at/in/with the Burren College of Art
(has been and will be)
microbes of (…) &
Anything i write here will become new
in 4 seconds (if we believe Daniel Stern of The Present Moment, 2010)
What have i been doing for 8 weeks in this studio/atelier?
gleaning…seems/seams gleams reams memes means
…dreams of words flowing… after i walked a bridge over an above-ground stream rushing through Rathborney valley (dis/close to here)…
an exception: rivers in the Burren are mostly underground…
i’m like a caverned water-course: images, sounds & gestures be/coming surfaces only to return to a hidden (riven) rivulet of pre-consciousness, unknowing…
(how does an ellipsis sing itself into oblivion?)
What you see & hear here is what you get…
fractures of fragility
fragments of failure?…returning to/for possibility & responsibility…
…beyond the washup of plastic amidst the demise of species under the weight of despair for a planet in contagion & Humanity swimming below a surface of Slime…
yearning being stilling knowing learning weaving playing walking reading listening drawing sleeping weeping seeing laughing hearing making sitting sounding writing speaking longing remembering imagining feeling wondering disclosing harbouring forgetting leaving arriving losing finding colouring opening scoring gathering erasing creating loving recreating ellipting
hope resides in imagination
where wandering is
abundant surfaces from