Culture File – Community Arts in Dublin

Exhibition party for Franck Omer, a French artist I invited to show at Exchange Dublin in 2012.

Exhibition party for Franck Omer, a French artist I invited to show at Exchange Dublin in 2012.

Perhaps the most famous line in Portrait of the Artist goes like this: ‘Ireland is the old sow that eats her own farrow’. Some things never change. The ‘peace dividend’ of Brian Lenihan’s attack on the Irish economy, was a fall in rents. Dublin got something it had never had before, cheap unused buildings. This meant that artists, historically an embarrassment in the way of progress (see The City Arts Centre, the Temple Bar redevelopment, etc, ad nauseam), took an active unmediated part in the life of the city. Visitors to this years ‘Culture Night’ attractions, will have discovered that all that is done for. We have lost so much, so quickly. So much hope that the city could be a place for people, not merely a venue for business. A creative community, not just a pop-up cash register for green dollars. So many of my generation, and the cohort after me, have left. There was no room for us. This city killed the spaces we created, one after another.

Volunteering in Exchange Dublin, circa 2011

Volunteering in Exchange Dublin, circa 2011

Exchange Dublin, Mabos, Subground 43, Space 54, Dublin City TV, Supafast, Bluebottle Collective, the Factory, Moxie Studios, the Joinery. All going, going, gone. These were spaces where anyone could take part in making things. Art as expression and community, not just commodity. Each was systematically defunded, ejected, and shuttered. There are still arts spaces in Dublin, of course. Commercial galleries, artists studios, and the kind of businesses that don’t promise or threaten social change. I wanted to know why. Why have so many spaces that offered hope, connection, ingenuity and freedom gone? Is it a combination of rising rents, and unsustainable commercial rates? Or is this city and those who govern it, actively hostile to anything that doesn’t draw a buck.

The audience at one of the early Milk & Cookies events in Exchange Dublin.

The audience at one of the early Milk & Cookies events in Exchange Dublin.

I spoke with all the volunteers and founders I could find. Some of those interviews are compiled in the piece above for Culture File. Some I’m sitting on, waiting for the right outlet to tell this story. Because it’s my story too.

After I finished college in 2008, I found myself footloose and penniless. Ireland didn’t seem to offer anything in the way of meaningful, ethical work, and I couldn’t afford to emigrate. I discovered a place called Seomra Spraoi. A collectively organised space, for communities united by a rejection of capitalist realism: The dismal view that this is as good as it gets, and if you want more you’d better clamber over the guy in front. A few months later, I visited a new space, a friend from college was helping to create, Exchange Dublin. Volunteering at Exchange was to occupy three of the most creative, rewarding years of my life. Exchange was a collaborative community, like Seomra Spraoi run through consensus meetings anyone could join. It offered space, most often for free, to literally hundreds of groups, for exhibitions, meetings, performances and artistic expression of all sorts. But this space was in the heart of the city, with glass walls that invited visitors in. And in they poured, from all over the world, visitors of every age and ethnicity. They’d arrive, on a Saturday afternoon, stepping in for a tea, or to escape the rain, or to take part in a dance class they’d glimpsed through the window. Often they’d be back, volunteering the next day, and the day after. The openness of the space, it’s lack of walls, whether of glass, class, education, or appearance, made it utterly unique.

No Signal, experimental audiovisual collective. Exchange Dublin.

No Signal, experimental audiovisual collective. Exchange Dublin, 2009.

It was meeting so many marvellous strangers and artists, entering a world I’d never had access to, that gave me the courage to pursue comedy, performances, radio, theatre, video and performance art. Exchange Dublin gave birth to the education collective I co-founded, Open Learning Ireland.
All the marvellous adventures I’d admired, but never imagined myself doing. All of the things that make life more than series of days occupied by work and distraction. Exchange kickstarted the careers of dozens of comedians, visual artists, dancers, and activists. This January, the space was forced to close, accused by DCC of nebulous ‘anti-social behaviour’. Seomra still ticks on, just about covering it’s rent and rates from month to month. Day by day, week by week, more and more of my friends leave. Not because we loathe Ireland, or lack the courage to stay through a recession. But because every flower we plant is plucked out, and the soil that’s left behind is salted barren.

Reading Plays – Episode 4 – Death of a Salesman

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Reading Plays - Episode 3 - Death of a Salesman by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Reading Plays – Episode 4 – Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman is perhaps Arthur Millers best known play. A seminal work of twentieth century American theatre, it touches on themes as diverse as the death of masculinity, family dysfunction, the role of women, and the changing nature of work in a rapidly advancing, materialist society.

The play was written shortly after the Second World War, in a time of triumphalism and economic assent in the United States. Yet it is a tragedy, that concerns the impossibility of intergenerational communication, of escape from a life of failure and of the American dream itself.

Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.

Next weeks play – The Misanthrope by Moliere. We’re actively soliciting suggestions for what plays to read in the coming weeks and months. If there’s a play you’d like us to discuss – especially if it’s less well known, or if there’s a production of it coming to Dublin soon, let us know in the comments below.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.

Reading Plays – Episode 3 – The Baltimore Waltz

baltimore waltz

Reading Plays - Episode 3 - Baltimore Waltz by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Reading Plays – Episode 3 – Baltimore Waltz

Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.

This weeks play – The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel. The play was recently produced by Acting Out at the Harbour Playhouse in Dublin, and we’re joined by the cast Michael J. Kunze, Niamh Denyer and Brian Graham Higgins.

The Baltimore Waltz was first produced off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory Company in 1992, and first published by dramatists play service that same year. It was awarded Obie awards for Best New American play, Best Performance, and Best Direction.

The play is an allegory about the aids crisis, and the death of the playwright’s brother. Despite the heavyweight subject matter Baltimore Waltz is a highly stylised, cinematically referential comedy with an unconventional structure. Three actors, Anna, her Brother Carl and a chorus ‘The Third’ (playing a variety of roles), travel across an imaginary Europe, tracing the trip the playwright regretted never taking herself. The play tackles the tragedy and impossible uncertainties of the very early days of the aids crisis with a lightness of touch, and a playful approach to symbolism that creates a space for poignancy to naturally emerge.

Anna is ill with Acquired Toilet Disease, a sly wink to Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID), the original diagnosis for HIV / AIDS. She leaves her job as a grade school teacher, as does her brother, fired from his position as ‘the head librarian of literature and languages at the San Francisco Public’. Together they cross Europe, in search of a cure, pursued by a mysterious ‘Third Man’ trafficking something in stuffed rabbits, and finally meeting ‘the doctor’, an eighty year old urologist Strangelove type figure, who ‘uriposia’ therapy is based around the enthusiastic collection and imbibing of urine .

Next weeks play – Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.

Mad Scientists of Music Live – Playlist

The event is called ‘Mad Scientists of Music’, and it’s on Tuesday
16th September in Twisted Pepper. We’ll have chiptune, circuitbending
and experimental electro-acoustic noise stuff, from a variety of crazy
Irish experimental artists.

Acts featured on the night include Deathness Injection, KaraKara,
Luxury Mollusc, Siam Collective, MarQu Vr & The Trumpets of Time &
Glotchbot. We’ve cooked up a wee playlist to give you a taster!

And here’s a wee interview about the gig, from Near FM’s Art’s Show last week (interview starts 6 minutes in).

The Arts Show Sept 9th 2014 by The Arts Show On Near Fm on Mixcloud

Reading Plays – Episode 2 – The Lonesome West

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Reading Plays - Episode 2 - The Lonesome West by Radiomade on Mixcloud

Download: Reading Plays – Episode 2 – The Lonesome West

Reading Plays‘ is a discussion show, featuring Gareth Stack and James Van De Waal. Each week we do a close reading of a modern play, discussing it’s merits, themes, issues raised, and so on. You can play along by reading or watching a production of the play before you listen to the show.

This weeks play – Lonesome West by Martin McDonagh.

Lonesome West is part of Connemara triology, along with Beauty Queen of Leenane and A Skull in Connemara. Published 1997, Methuen Drama. First performed Jun 11th, 1997 at Druid Theatre in Galway, in a coproduction with London’s Royal Court Theatre. Went on to Broadway in 1999, where it was nominated for Tonys for Best Play, and Best Actor.

Set in the post-apocalyptic town of Leenane, with the apocalypse in question being the destruction of the mythological Irish West, and its explication on stage in particular.

McDonagh’s play captures something of the grim reality of the gravity hole of Ireland. This is a desecrated space, a world in which the rare old characters of post colonial Ireland, collide with a Tarantinoesque modernity drenched in stylised violence, substance abuse, and sexual possibilities both intriguing and forever denied to it’s protagonists.

Next weeks play – Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel.

Music – Amor & Psyche – by Bitwise Operator.