ALBERTO FLORES DISCUSSES THE CURATORIAL RESIDENCY HE UNDERTOOK AT FIRE STATION ARTISTS’ STUDIOS, DUBLIN, IN JULY 2015.
“Why Ireland?” was the recurring question I heard from almost every artist I met last July. I was selected for the Fire Station Artists’ Studios International Curator Residency Award and I researched Irish sound art and experimental music for two weeks, interviewing and conducting studio visits with sound artists based in Cork, Limerick, Kells and Dublin. (1) The outcome of this residency will be a sort of presentation of Irish exploratory music (which will definitely manifest as a publication and hopefully some live acts as well) at the sound art event I have been co-curating since 2007 at Museo Vostell Malpartida, a museum founded in 1976 by German Fluxus artist and video-art pioneer Wolf Vostell, located at Los Barruecos natural monument in Malpartida de Cáceres (Extremadura, western Spain).
My curatorial experience has been largely related to Fluxus and sound art, so I was interested in undertaking a research project on field recordings, electroacoustic compositions, free improvised music, noise music, etc., produced in the Republic of Ireland. Liz Burns (Arts Programme Manager at the Fire Station Artists’ Studios) provided information by email at a very early stage, which allowed me to conduct preliminary research. I also received very enthusiastic responses from all of the artists I approached, and they in turn suggested new names. This allowed me to get a broad picture of the most important artists working in sound in Ireland weeks before the residency itself began.
The event we run in Spain started in 1999, and although it was seen at that point in time as a groundbreaking and innovative project, it has, over the years, been populating the previously unpopulated landscape of experimental music and sonic arts within a region that had been historically unenthusiastic to the cutting edge. After more than 15 editions, we have already presented work by the key Spanish names (Francisco López, Macromassa, Eduardo Polonio, Fátima Miranda) as well as some international artists with legendary status (Tom Johnson, Jaap Blonk, Joëlle Léandre, David Moss, Ghédalia Tazartès) and hosted the Spanish debuts of artists like Koichi Makigami, David Fenech and Sei Miguel.
The other common response I received from most of the artists and musicians I met in Ireland was surprise when they heard that an event like this – located in rural Spain, in a place where the nearest international airport is more than 300km away – has been running for so long and attracts a very mixed audience that is still growing. Though we sometimes get more than 200 attendees, perhaps what we are lacking so far are the conditions through which a more committed audience could be developed. We haven’t built a scene, and with this in mind I felt quite envious on my first visit to Cork: I was meeting a wide range of people (from noise artist Paul Hegarty to Danny McCarthy himself) at The Guesthouse, an exemplary visual artist-led initiative that needs no introduction.
What followed next were 17 face-to-face interviews and the feeling of being exposed to a very connected natural thing – a big crossover. I expected artists like the aforementioned Paul Hegarty (whom I could identify only as the author of the book Noise/Music: A History) to have a very strong background on noise music, but I didn’t anticipate, for instance, that in Ireland the noise scene seems to be halfway between sound art and metal. I was pleased to hear that Paul has collaborated with Irish artists as diverse as Brian O’Shaughnessy, Fergus Kelly, Mick O’Shea and Vicky Langan, whose physical actions and films are located somewhere between sound art and performance art. Durational live performances like Sonic Vigil or Strange Attractor should also be celebrated as innovative explorations, while events like i-and-e in Dublin and Soundings in Limerick have left a lasting legacy. (2) The latter was created by Jürgen Simpson from the University of Limerick, Robin Parmar and the Daghdha Dance Company, and is another good example of different people coming from various backgrounds and aiming to go in different directions.
I was absolutely delighted to find some Fluxus connections, although ironically the most obvious one doesn’t operate within the limits of sound but rather in the realms of artists’ books, assembling boxes or mail art. (3) It appeared from an unexpected location: Achill Island, where Francis Van Maele and Antic Ham are running the Redfox Press publishing company. (4) I already knew that Fluxus-related practices emerged in the Triskel Arts Centre back in the early 1980s, but a more contemporary example would be Limerick duo Soft Day. Visual artist Sean Taylor and computer scientist Mikael Fernström take advantage of some of the early Fluxus methodologies and explore the cracks between different genres, looking for something unique that incorporates concerns about environmental or domestic issues. While their sound walks and maps are like modern versions of Fluxus scores, their current collaboration with beekeepers is more a socially engaged art project. And above all, there is the feeling that serious subject matters are presented in a humorous (this is very Irish, I have been told) and simple way. Just as in Fluxus, there is a large amount of play and all sort of mediums are employed. There is also the attitude.
Live presentations of their bigger projects (in collaboration with orchestras, monks or soldiers) can be understood as the opposite side of the DIY ethic of Fluxus minimal events, which valued simplicity over complexity; however, Soft Day are also good at brief performances or small things. For example, the duo celebrated the centenary of John Cage by performing his well-known composition for silence on traditional Irish bodhrans. Such a simple action deals with the ideas of remembrance, chance or the integration of the noises of consumerism (it was performed at the crossing between two pedestrian streets in Limerick), and apparently it annoyed both the classical and traditional music worlds equally. Less is more.
My understanding of sound art in Ireland was still very limited when I decided to apply for the residency at Fire Station. I was only familiar with names that are well known abroad – Danny McCarthy, Mick O’Shea, Dennis McNulty, David Lacey and Fergus Kelly – and I knew the work of record labels like Farpoint Recordings. I was also aware of the fact that legendary Czech sound artist Slavek Kwi is now based in Ireland. He was a key figure in the tape-trading scene of the 1980s and 1990s, so I really enjoyed going to the post office with him to send some CDs to Russia. Three weeks later, I got a parcel with some Artificial Memory Trace CDs. Slavek intentionally re-used an envelope from a previous delivery from Spanish avant-garde experimental musician Francisco López, who has already performed at Museo Vostell Malpartida and had worked closely with Slavek in the celebrated and sadly gone Mamori workshops in the Amazonian forest. (5) This poetic attention to detail is almost a mail artwork. I felt that he was joining the dots, connecting ideas and people, and I am glad that this spirit has spread throughout Ireland since his arrival in 2000.
But coming back to my residency, on Saturday 25 July I attended a live durational concert by Strange Attractor at the Skibbereen Arts Festival. It presented the core group of musicians/artists: Anthony Kelly, Danny McCarthy, Irene Murphy, Mick O’Shea and David Stalling, with Katie O’Looney as a special guest. I had the opportunity of becoming familiar with the live side of Irish sound art, and with a groundbreaking concept. (6) They played in the Abbeystrewry church for three consecutive hours, and when the concert came to an end I felt that it had lasted less than an hour. The time I spent meeting artists and exploring Irish sonic arts went equally fast – a sign that I enjoyed myself during the residency. Now I only hope to hear the same question – “Why Ireland?” – again at the press conference for our event next year.
Alberto Flores, Assistant Curator of Visual Arts
Museo Vostell Malpartida, Spain
1. The artists were Danny McCarthy, Mick O´Shea, Paul Hegarty, Harry Moore, Katie O´Looney, Sean Taylor and Mikael Fernström (Soft Day), Ed Devane, Robin Parmer, Anthony Kelly, David Stalling, Slavek Kwi, Sven Anderson, Karl Burke, Fergus Kelly, Peter Maybury, David Donohoe, David Lacey, Suzanne Walsh, Dennis McNulty and Irene Murphy.
2. i-and-e was formed in 2003 by David Lacey and Dennis McNulty. In 2004 they were joined by Paul Vogel. Later on, i-and-e was run by David Lacey and Paul Vogel (i-and-e.org)
3. Although Fluxus is mainly a ‘state of mind’ (not an art movement) it is generally accepted that this word (meaning ‘to flow’ in Latin) refers to an international network of inter-media artists and musicians whose origin could be traced back to the Fluxfest held at Wiesbaden (Germany) in 1962. Some notable Fluxus artists are Ben Vautier, Robert Filliou, Wolf Vostell, Nam June Paik, Allan Kaprow, Philip Corner, Joseph Beuys, George Maciunas, Ben Patterson, Yoko Ono, Emmett Williams, Daniel Spoerri, Ay-O, Henry Flynt, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Shigeko Kubota, Charlotte Moorman, Takako Saito, Carolee Schneemann, Mieko Shiomi and Yasunao Tone.
4. Franticham’s Assembling Boxes (30 issues since 2010) include visual poetry, collages, prints, multiples and objects inspired by Fluxus. Franticham’s Assembling Box # 30 (August 2015) includes contributions from, among many others, Hartmut Andryczuk (Germany), Vittore Baroni (Italy), John M. Bennett (USA), David Dellafiora (Australia), Antonio Gómez (Spain) and Hugo Pontes (Brazil).
5. Mamori Sound Project (2005 – 2011) was an annual artist’s residency and workshop conceived and directed by Francisco López in the Amazon rainforest. From 2007, Slavek Kwi assisted Francisco López in his workshops in the Brazilian Amazon.
6. I missed a concert by Rainfear (David Lacey and David Donohoe) two days earlier at the Barricade Inn, Dublin, and I am still regretting it.