On the Line

From October 2012 to February 2013, I walked the dismantled Sligo, Leitrim & Northern Counties Railway from Enniskillen to Ballysadare, covering the 50 odd miles (80 km) in 13 stages. The project reflects my interest in the phenomenology of creating and experiencing artworks, and in walking practice as a primary tool in research and art making.

The railway line offers a predetermined route through a rural landscape. As a 19th century venture capitalist enterprise, it raises questions that trouble contemporary anthropology, issues of how we exist in relation to landscape, whether as colonial ‘occupiers’ or indigenous ‘inhabitants’. Now effectively a ruin, it juxtaposes wildness with cultivation and management. Not least it represents a personal journey through a landscape topographic and cultural, which has shaped me for almost two decades and on which I in turn have left some traces of my activities. Shadowing the physical journey is a socio-cultural one, that cuts an exploratory trench through layers of history, from the contemporary threat of hydraulic fracturing, through Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, the partition of the country, the railway era itself, back through the history of colonisation to the early Christian era, and deeper still into the iron, bronze and stone ages.

As a strategy for walking, I developed the persona of the ‘milesman’ – employees of the Railway Company whose job it was to inspect and repair designated sections of the railway. I did not want to appear as some sort of pilgrim, back-packer or long distance traveller. Consequently I completed my journey as a series of one-day walks, in wellingtons, sports jacket and flat cap, equipped with a walking stick and carrying only the essentials for the day’s walk. The overgrown nature of much of the terrain often meant that literally every step was a conscious and deliberate action as I negotiated some natural or manmade obstacle. Travel is often now regarded as dead time/space; here every step was both an arrival and a departure. Perhaps this awareness of the present is partly what it means to walk as an artist.

The experience is only half the task, and walking was interspersed with time spent in the studio experimenting with various techniques of communicating my experience through artistic media. Realising the unique and irrecoverable nature of the original experience, my aim is not to present my journey but to create an opportunity for viewers to undertake their own journey, however constrained, with its attendant experiences of action, discovery and reflection. Operating the ‘Isolarion’ devices makes map reading a spatio-temporal experience, while the Lost and Found office introduces the personal encounter and individualises the engagement with the material of the exhibition.

My art practice spans a wide range of activities from skilfully crafted stonework to art as research. For me the common link is that Art is activity, a way of making, doing and being. It is a tool for exploring and understanding the world. I believe the artist has an important role in society, to see things differently, to follow the road less travelled, and to hold out the possibility of a different way of being.

 

Art Research

During my MFA art in public studies at the University of Ulster, I became interested in walking as a form of research and art practice.  In this discipline I travel with an artist’s awareness, while documentation and reflection later form more tangible artworks.

Lettercutting

As a stone carver, I have developed a specialisation in cutting inscriptions by hand, using hammer and chisel in this time honoured craft, which marries the design sense of the typographer with the skill of the sculptor to produce beautiful inscriptions in stone, each one a unique and original artwork.

Commissions

A main plank of my activity has been the creation of publicly sited artworks. Commissioned by numerous public and private organisations, my approach is to be sensitive to the historical, social and topographical aspects of each location.  I oversee every aspect of the work from design to installation.

Performance & Bodywork

Before the chisel or paintbrush, camera or keyboard, the body is the artist’s primary instrument.  Experiencing the world through the senses is how we begin to make meaning.  Being present is the first step in making an artwork; sometimes it is all that’s needed.

Professional Profile

I am an artist based in Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, in the North West of Ireland since 1995, where I co-founded the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. With a background in sculpture, I have worked in a range of media including stone, wood and bronze, creating a number of publicly commissioned artworks. I have also created numerous smaller works for exhibitions and private commissions, and have participated in sculpture symposia in Ireland and internationally. I have been an instructor in sculpture at the Fire Station Artists’ Studios, Dublin (1993-95) and Leitrim Sculpture Centre (1995-03).

I have been an active contributor to the development of the arts infrastructure in Ireland since my undergraduate days when I became a director on the board of Wexford Arts Centre. I went on to co-found Wexford Sculpture workshops in 1987, and during this period I was also a director of the Sculptor’s Society of Ireland. I was the Chairperson of the Lough MacNean Sculpture Trail from 1997 to 2000, and Chairperson of the Leitrim Sculpture Centre from 2004 t0 2009.

In tandem with my career as a visual artist, I have pursued my interest in movement and performance since the early 1980s, working in collaboration with dance companies, notably Fluxusdance in 2007-2008.  In 2006 I became interested in the “Body Weather” system with Frank van de Ven, and have co-ordinated 4 workshops in Ireland, including Rathlin Island in 2012. I have been the recipient of a number of awards and bursaries from the Arts Council of Ireland (’92, ’08), the Artists’ Association of Ireland (’96), Wexford Co. Council (’06), and Leitrim Co. Council (’01, ’08), including a place on the Trade residency programme in 2009.

My recent investigations have lead to an interest in the wider possibilities for art practice in contemporary society, and in order to develop this, I undertook a two-year Masters Degree at the University of Ulster in Belfast, integrating my studies with my on-going career as an artist. I graduated in June of 2013 with an MFA Art in Public (distinction).

Current projects include the “Ag Cruinniú” programme at the North West Hospice in Sligo, and “Harnessing Creativity” for which I am researching a creative approach to promoting awareness of sustainable energy practices in the Leitrim/Fermanagh area, under the title “Local-E”.

Harnessing Creativity

It’s been a busy week, with last Friday seeing the conclusion, for the present, of the Harnessing Creativity exhibition “Expanded Territories” at the Dock in Carrick on Shannon. This was the culmination of a series of “Creative Labs” which began last May with the aim of assisting thirty creative practitioners in Leitrim/Fermanagh/Tyrone to develop new […]

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