The Visual Artists’ News Sheet have generously published the following article which I wrote in response to COVID -19, about my lockdown, entitled Eggshells, Pandemics and Artists’ Incomes. Published in Issue 5: September – October 2020, see full publication at Visual Artist Ireland.
I am a visual artist living and working in County Kildare. My practice incorporates both collaborative and participatory projects and I also work as a solo artist. I studied printmaking in NCAD and I now work in glass, textiles, paint, video and printmaking.
As I write, approximately 2,500 washed and dried whole and halved eggshells are sitting in my studio. They are destined for my artist-in-residence project with St Kilian’s NS, Cavan, which came to an abrupt halt on 12 March. Another 2,500 or so eggshells are hopefully still safe and sound in the school, waiting for the children to mosaic large papier-mâché shapes for an exhibition, if and when the project resumes. My other artist-in-residency role with Our Lady’s Hospital School, Crumlin, suffered the same fate.
2020 had started off with a very busy schedule. In the early months of the year I was completing a public engagement programme called ‘Making Marks with Markievicz’, funded by Kildare County Council as part of the Creative Ireland Programme. This project gathered together 13 women via an open call, whom I met with weekly. We viewed and discussed works by female artists in the Kildare Municipal Art Collection, engaged in a wide variety of relevant art processes and visited galleries and local private artist studios. This project culminated in a beautiful exhibition of works by female artists from the collection in Áras Chill Dara, Naas.
A really exciting element of the project, not part of the original plan, was that the group was invited by Kildare Arts Service to select a new artwork for the collection, “if we were interested”. You can imagine our response – “try holding us back!” We selected two oil paintings by Irish artist, Emma Stroude, titled The Red Flag (2019) and So Settles the Night (2018). The Red Flag was included in the exhibition in Naas, curated by myself in collaboration with the group. Exhibiting outside of the normal gallery space was exciting, challenging and a very rewarding experience. Some of the group had not attended an art exhibition opening before, which generated very interesting planning discussions. The group hosted a public talk for Women’s International Day 2020 on 5 March, with guest speaker writer Sue Rainsford. This, as it turned out, was to be my last public event, pre-COVID-19.
Another of my projects, working with residents in a Direct Provision Centre, continued for a while during lockdown, via Zoom. However, for a number of reasons – including broadband availability in participant rooms (due to isolation) and language barriers (which are much easier to overcome in person) – it didn’t quite work. This project is now on hold until autumn.
I also work two days per week in a non-art administrative role, which continued throughout lockdown, bringing in some income, but disqualified me from the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. I also sold some glass and print artworks from my website. Many people were focused on supporting artists in whatever way they could, understanding the struggles of people working in the arts at this time. Thankfully, my private glass fusing classes will resume this autumn, albeit with reduced participant numbers for safety purposes.
One unforeseen positive outcome of the lockdown has been the opportunity to step off the roller coaster for a while and take a deep breath. In the initial stages of the lockdown, I didn’t seem able to creatively produce. I think I had a deep underlying sense of anxiety, despite feeling quite at peace. I understand that may sound contradictory, but as I settled into lockdown, I started experimenting with kiln-formed glass pieces, something I had wanted to do for the last few years, and I am delighted with the results.
As a large amount of my work is project based, I seem to be always busy with the admin and documentation of projects and applying for funding. The lockdown ‘pause’ gave me a great sense of stillness in my practice; I didn’t open my computer for days on end. It was nice to live life at a very different pace and I have returned to my practice in a more focused and strategic way. I’ve reviewed my income streams and am concentrating on the areas that nurture me and my practice, both creatively and financially. Some areas I am expanding and others I am happy to let go of.