Making It: Lily Cahill


My name is Lily Cahill. I am a visual artist. I also work in a Dublin gallery on a JobBridge internship, co-direct / manage Flatpack Gallery & Studios in Smithfield and have a weekend job selling clothes. I also completed the MA Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD in 2012.

While I was at work (in my JobBridge art-job in the gallery, as opposed to my studio practice or my job-job in the ‘real’ world in the clothes shop) I got a phone call from NCAD. The college can’t give out the contact information of former students and someone was looking for me. I was given the name and number of a woman from a television production company.

I waited a while before calling, feeling a general sense of unease.

It crossed my mind that the call might have been the concerted effort of a group of tom-fooling frenemies. But then I got starry-eyed by the prospect that someone had seen something I had made that would be adequate to backdrop a specific episode of an Irish soap opera, where one of the characters fall in love with the village artist / reprobate during a fortuitous meeting on the turret stairs to his studio apartment. Then I thought, maybe someone is trying to sell something, and wants to use something I’ve made to sell it – which might provide me with money.

So I called.

I got through to a receptionist, who didn’t know who I was or why I was calling (which I was little help with); didn’t know what NCAD was; and didn’t know who I was trying to talk to. My phone rang again later. It was the TV woman herself. There went all my dreams.

Here is how I relayed the episode to a friend:

From: lilycahill
4:17 PM
To:unnamedfriend
… So a television production company contacted me earlier. They’re making a ‘new format’ television programme and want me to be one of five women who film their own lives for six months. I said no. Do you think that was the right decision?

From: unnamedfriend
4:19 PM
To: lilycahill
That was absolutely the right decision. I can’t imagine anything worse! Why’d they pick you?

From: lilycahill
4:22 PM
To: unnamedfriend
Some researchers in Turkey found my art blog and thought I’d be ‘interesting’. I imagine the programme would also feature ‘a DJ’ and ‘a fashion blogger’and any other illustrious modern careers they can think of.

So I said no.

Of course, the idea of being on national television is horrific. Being an artist on television even more so. My Unnamed Friend and my Mother thought I absolutely did the right thing. The TV woman, understandably, lost instant interest in me as soon as I said no. She probably didn’t like my tone anyway: “What exactly do you mean by ‘new format’?” – an MA in ‘the contemporary’ prompts such irksome queries.

But after I hung up I was dour for the rest of the day. They just wanted someone to be ‘an artist’, not to present my work, but to play that role in their documentary thing. This made me feel depressed. At the same time I worried that I had potentially missed my lift to the top and was now stranded in the Sugar Loaf car park. Ridiculous, but I was briefly blinded by the speculative starriness of it all.

It had become surreally apparent that it is easier to be cast in a nationally broadcast television programme that I didn’t audition for, than to have a sustainable career as an art practitioner. By ‘sustainable’ and ‘career’ I mean: make money from the things I make and be able to live off that money and not solely rely on bumps from Dublin City Council (who are great, I have them to thank for my MA), or the social welfare (who are also great, many thanks to them for my current JobBridge employment title), or ever increasing hours in something unrelated to my art work if I want to live in an ant-free house or own a projector.

Within 24 hours, however, I had regained my small portion of sense. It was absolutely the right decision to continue engaging with the various opportunities presented to me through government bodies and arts organisations than choose to mortify myself, weekly, nationally. ‘Making it’ as an artist, versus temporarily achieving nausea-inducing notoriety by portraying one, cannot be achieved through the assistance of a television production company.