Breaking Cover Performance. IMMA, 4th of September 2021
I first began writing a proposal to run a set of art and ecology encounters at IMMA in March 2020, during the first C19 lockdown. Caroline Orr, then education curator at IMMA, was supportive and encouraging. I settled on the title Breaking Cover (Art and Ecology Encounters).Images of wild animals coming out of hiding and roaming around urban environments while human presence receded were circulating on the internet. The initial subtitle to Breaking Cover was:"Cows on the beach, coyotes in the car park" directly referring to photos doing the rounds online at the time. The sense of a possible window of opportunity, a gap or pause, a Bardo, in the Buddhist sense, which could offer a chance of ecological recovery, was entering my mind and the minds of others around me.
IMMA was supportive and I ran two workshops in the outdoors pavilion, using movement, Theatre of the Oppressed processes, dance, music, (Thanks to DJ Nigel Wood!) Gestalt, and discussion. Relevant reading material (On art/ecology/activism) was distributed in advance of each session.
This Spring, IMMA generously offered me the funding and the opportunity to run a six month Breaking Cover programme. I set to work and we started running online workshops with a number of guest speakers: I invited Cathy Fitzgerald (HollYwood Forest/Haumea), Lisa Fingleton (Kerry Co Council first artist in residence/The Barna Way), Mary Reynolds (We Are The Ark), Oana Sanziana (Active Hope Ireland) and v'cenza Cirefice (Dublin Eco Femminists). Workshops were deeply inspiring, informative and motivating. I facilitated a number of online and in person workshops too, focussing on Art and Ecology and on Performance Art in particular. Ideas were explored, and the work of eco philosophers and artists such as Gregory Bateson, Joanna Macey, Glenn Albretch, Donna Haraway and others were explored. A varied set of reading and viewing material, thematically selected to supported each speakers session was sent out every two weeks. Researching for this was such great learning! Gratitude to my daughter, Francesca Loughran, who is an environmental scientist/activist and who helped both with some of the course content and with promoting the programme.
The role of the arts, and in particular of Performance Art, to speak to emotion and imagination and to reach audiences in a way that the media and even science haven't achieved was a central value. The ethos of the programme was relational and dialogical, and attendees, a group of around fifty people, were skilled professionals, artists, activists, students and academics, each with so much to bring to the table! This was and is an inter-generatioal group,an aspect of the group that was enriching for all. I invited participants to showcase their work during sessions, and their material was powerful. A sense of ownership of the programme evolved through this participatory approach.
The last ten weeks of the programme took place in person, in the IMMA pavilion, with a smaller group of fifteen people, who had at this stage committed to crafting the performance. I facilitated most in person workshops and participants work was again showcased. Artist Celina Muldoon visited three times and supported both the process and individual artists, her input was grounding and gave us great confidence in the process.
Coordinating, editing and directing the many performance ideas in the group required flexibility, listening skills and decision making ability. Selecting ideas from the group while maintaining the performances cohesion, both visually and conceptually was an intense task. We performed to an audience of 100 people who followed us through the trajectory and the four stages of the event: Individual pieces, procession, banquet and 'die in'.
The Breaking Cover performance at IMMA had a duration of two hours and it was comprised of four parts:
These were born from the tension in the group between individualism and collective awareness or inter-connectedness. These were values relevant to our studied/discussed material and to our experience as a group, so they found their way into the performance. It would take pages to describe each individual piece so I will let the photos speak instead.
The heart of the performance was not visible, one could say that it was esoteric: Musician and sculptor Tom Duffy made and assembled a drum in the IMMA courtyard as part of his solo piece. Within the drum each performer had previously written their intentions; the spiritual drive behind the making of this work. Tom's drum called us to the IMMA courtyard at the end of the individual pieces. From there, we walked in a slow procession to the formal gardens, and viewers followed. We held our intention in mind through the procession. A woman told us later that it came naturally to her to walk slowly along, to the pace of the drum.
In the formal gardens, myself and Carmel Ennis (Garden Artist) had set up a large banquet table. We decorated it with herbs, plant die, animal skulls. After a spoken word piece by Deirdre Lane, focussing on the bogland (Mind me, don't mine me!), the formal looking event degenerated into chaos; we toasted and then poured the multicoloured drinks onto the table and then gradually served the meal by emptying three wheelbarrows of earth, kindly supplied by IMMA gardener Mary Condron, onto plates, which were soon overfilled and spilled onto the table, to the sound of "More!". The table was becoming a mound...We added electrical and plastic waste and this became layered with more earth, which now resembled a landfill, a tomb..Excessive consumption was the theme of the banquet, and viewers later told us that feelings of grief and shame had overwhelmed them while watching.
The Die In:
As the once pretty banquet table degenerated to a monument to human excess,
a keening sound prompted the groups' migration towards the meadow. There, XR activist and artist Thomas Morelly armed with his megaphone (Courtesy of XR Dublin) called out the names of extinct species, we fell and rose, dying over and over again, until the last creature, the dodo, was called. The last gesture of the event was for hope: I lit a small candle in a lantern and we then walked back to IMMA's Studio 10, with viewers following. A spontaneous Q&A session took place there.
Post Programme and performance, the performing group are still meeting and plotting away. The Breaking Cover Collective, working on Performance Art focussing on the current climate/ecological emergency, is forming. What next? Some of us hope to perform at the COP 26 protest in Dublin. We see ourselves as a hybrid between art and activism, artivists in fact. Our group identity is in flux and is in process of re-forming outside of the structure provided by IMMA and by my guidance as a programmer. Watch this space for our next intervention!
The Breaking Cover Collective is:
Photography: Molly Keane. Images courtesy of IMMA