Featured Artists: Eimear Kavanagh & Eilis Ní Fhaoláin

Road Studios

Featured Artists: Eimear Kavanagh & Eilis Ní Fhaoláin
Interview ahead of Sojourn(al) Exhibition at Road Studios

Interview with Patrick Kirk-Smith

Eimear Kavanagh & Eilis Ní Fhaoláin will be exhibiting at Road Studios in less than a week. The exhibition is the result of a residency exchange between their studios in Liverpool and Backwater Artists Group in Cork City, Ireland.

The exhibition will be launching as part of Road Studios’ ongoing Biennial Fringe series, Episodes, and is probably the most intimate exhibition of the series.

You find out so much about where people are when you can watch them finding it out for themselves. That’s what a residency is, it’s a chance to pit your personal focus, and your ideas of yourself as an artist, against new spaces and new ideas. A residency exchange is a voyeur’s dream come true; two artists, questioning themselves constantly, squeezing into new narratives, new spaces, new themes. There’s just so much to observe.

That’s partly why they work so well, and why they’re so appealing to artists, any residency is a chance to take a step back and observe themselves too. Eimear and Eilis have been doing just that, with a joint blog to keep us updated on their progress (have a read here).

In the spirit of their online communication (and to avoid the barrier of one artist being on the other side of a large body of water) I got in touch with the artists by email and found out how they were feeling about their residencies with just over a week to go:

So what’s the purpose of Sojourn(al)?

Eilis: Sojourn(al) is the culmination of an (almost) one month exchange between myself and  Eimear Kavanagh. As a project, and exhibition, it is basically the sum of the title we created.

A brief stay away from ones regular environment and a record of that. I like the way the word also suggests the journeys we have made in all senses of that word.

Eimear: An impermanent stay reached by journey? A visual document and a personal written record of experiences and reflections?

Even just a quick scan through the project’s blog on Road Studios’ website is showing a massive shift in your attitudes towards the project over the last week alone. How would you best describe your practices this week compared to last week? Has there been any change, or a chance to reflect yet?

Eimear: Yes! Working in this way has been very challenging and brought so many highs and lows in the short space of time. It has felt almost impossible at times and yet exhilarating too. The experience of all this is far more intense than plodding along at home.

It’s as if I have mentally gone through the motions of 6 months’ work in just a few weeks. Add to this, the magic of new discoveries everyday outside of the studio, because of being in a not so familiar city. So the shifts and changes and moods come every half hour!!

When your mind is playing with a mountain of ideas it feels almost as debilitating as having none. It takes time to settle into a new space. This last week, I feel like I’m finally getting into the flow, and now I don’t want to leave. Suddenly I feel like doing the complete opposite of what’s the norm for me, I want to explore making bigger abstract works since I have been so smitten by the moody skies, I feel like I’m starting to tap into something new in my work, which could be the direct experience of being here in Ireland. To stop this now a pity. I wonder if I will lose momentum when I am back working in a studio warehouse in Garston.

Eilis: I am not sure what you mean by a massive shift….my main interest in the project was always the exchange element. I relished the idea of being somewhere else, and waiting to see how I would respond. So much so that I tried to make space to manuoever when writing any responses or descriptions as to ‘what I might do’ on the exchange or what the project may be.

The suggestion to have an Exhibition at the end of the three and a half week (for me) residency came late in the planning. It was then that we had to start naming the show, and ultimately, the project. With that came requests for all the necessary blurb which PR needs.

So…my attitude remains as …I am developing work, connected with my interests in my practice normally, within the situation of Road, and then the context of Liverpool and then the wider context again of simply being elsewhere. How ideas emerge. Making sense of them. Rejecting some. Pushing others.

With that, comes the issues which we outlined in our PR material. Those of the constraints of travel. What to take. What to make. What to return with.

I have avoided the pressure to work simply to produce work for a show. I felt it would be too forced and not what I want from the experience.

This week, just before the start of my last week, I feel focused. Ideas have dropped into place.

How has Road differed from Backwater Artists Group (and vice versa)? And equally, are there any obvious ties between Liverpool and Cork?

Eilis: The groups are at different stages of development. Road is very like BAG was over 25 years ago. It has a vitality which it needs now in order to push on to become more secure. There are similarities too in the mix of emerging and more established artists, though in our early days, we were all young and emerging. (The group was founded by recent graduates of the Crawford College if Art and Design in 1990)

Eimear: There are many things to compare between both studios, but not in a way that I am in another country and things are done differently here.  Every studio is different wherever you go. It’s just a different bunch of people. When you talk to the people it’s the same; were all artists trying to scrape a living off of doing what we feel passionate about. Familiar surroundings.

You’re bringing everything back in a suitcase, Eimar, and you’ve got the luxury of having the gallery next door, Éilis. How big a part have restrictions played?

Eilis: I may have the gallery next to me, but remember, I have to pack my work hastily on the last night of the show, to leave first thing the following morning! That means getting the weight right too…and sizes of my pieces. I also, like Eimear, had to pack materials carefully when travelling here….alongside my clothes etc.

Having the space next to me has not been a factor of influence…I will interact with that space when Eimear arrives on Thursday. The work I have made is not site specific to it.

The central work I have made for the exhibition does refer to the ‘theme’ that emerged as the project developed. Just that of baggage restrictions imposed on me/us. I took a playful approach to it.

Wait and see.

Eimear: Massively!! I arrived with a load of pre-prepared tiny canvas things made with corrugated card (forward thinking for exhibition presentation) and actually, I don’t want to use them since they’re not really ideal for the way my work is now developing. That’s like an artist going into a framers and buying 20 frames, without knowing what work they would be producing then going back to studio and working out what they can make to fit within them, you just wouldn’t do that!

What a muppet.

In other ways though, I have enjoyed the challenge in the making. The Ryan-Air hand luggage thing came about months ago. Eilis and I were firing emails back and forth which were just about the logistics really of how we can make a sort of travelling show. And then we began to play on the idea of doing it this way. People have been quite entertained by this when they’ve seen my work here and I’ve demonstrated how it all folds up into a small bag.

It’s quite empowering to discover that you can do all of this overseas-living-working-exhibiting thing without expense, and if you really want to do something it pushes you to think creatively about how you can make it happen.

The name suggests a journaling of work (or experiences, or something at least) and, as I understand it, you went in without a plan – has one developed in the last couple of weeks now you’re nearing the end? Or is the end result going to be just as much a surprise for you as it is for us?

Eilis: I suppose my plan was to be flexible.  Not to ‘not have a plan’ really!

Yes, some pleasantly surprising ‘clicks’ of things falling into place has happened. So like I said. “Wait and see”.

Eimear: Yeah I guess it develops over the weeks but no I still don’t have a plan and yes every day is still a surprise. In the first week I was freaking out so much about revealing this kind of work – which is unfinished, under-develop, etc. I’ve never felt comfortable with people looking through my sketch books or reading my blog and this is like a big public display of stuff that goes on in my head!

I was thinking oh it just looks like a mishmash of stuff that won’t make sense to anyone viewing it but I’ve totally let go of that now. I’ve had to battle with my perfectionist ways and that was the hardest part but the part in which I have been best able to grow.

No chance of perfecting anything here, it is what it is.