By Ciaran Tierney
Can you think of a better place than Inis Oirr to take time out and find inspiration?
As restrictions eased last year, we opened up and expanded our artists in residence programme to bring a wider variety of artists to the island.
For 22 years now, artists have been coming to Áras Éanna to enjoy the atmosphere, scenery, language and culture, and the friendliness of the people on the island.
In 2021, we were delighted to welcome some amazing theatre companies, visual artists, writers, and musicians, and even acrobats, who worked on some fantastic projects during their time on the island.
“There is something very special about Aras Eanna, there is no other arts centre like it in Ireland,” says Dara McGee, Artistic Director of Áras Éanna.
“It being an island arts centre, having the fantastic support of the community, being involved with the schools on the island, bringing artists to the island, where they can experience the people and the place, the location, the isolation, and the freedom of being on an island.”
At times, even with social distancing and restrictions in place, all four studios at the arts centre were in use. After being so quiet in the first few months of 2021, the place was buzzing.
“The priority was to include artists, to have them working in Aras Eanna, and how we could develop and showcase those artists, with the restrictions we had in place. I think we were very, very successful and I am very pleased with the year we had,” adds McGee.
Our first artist in residence after restrictions eased, Sarah Jane Scaife, used a one month residency at Áras Éanna to work on an Irish language version of ‘Happy Days’ by Samuel Beckett.
Her vision was realised when Company SJ and the Abbey Theatre staged a sensational show at a mound at the back of the island in September.
“Sarah Jane Scaife has been coming to Inis Oirr for decades and she is a renowned Beckett scholar. She always had the thought of bringing Beckett to Inis Oirr. She realised her dream this year, with the help of Aras Eanna,” says Dara.
“We provided her with an artist’s residency, to help her plan and work on the project, to provide the rehearsal space for the production, and then we had the Abbey Theatre involved. It was just amazing to have our national theatre performing Beckett at the back of the island, at Creig an Staic, with a beautiful set built by local stone masons from the island.”
Sarah Jane also curated a stunning exhibition, featuring local women who live on the island and photographs by Cormac Coyne, in our gallery.
Visual artist Daniel Coleman, based in Belfast, came to the island on a one month residency with the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He was taken aback by the atmosphere and was one of the featured artists in our acclaimed ‘Curacha’ exhibition in July.
Jane Hughes and Tapani Hyppia came all the way from Helsinki, Finland, to enjoy a month in our studio and also took inspiration from the island for separate visual arts projects.
In the autumn, we began a series of residencies in partnership with organisations such as the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle (ISACS) Network, the Irish Theatre Institute, Galway Cartoon Festival, and Galway Dance Project.
Acrobats Cikada Circus, who normally divide their time between Dublin and Belfast, treated revellers in Tigh Ned to a new acrobatic show they developed on Inis Oirr.
They were thrilled to spend a month on the island, after their residency was postponed twice due to the coronavirus restrictions in 2020.
Four theatre companies from three countries came to Inis Oirr in October and the result was a show called ‘Is Mise Antonin Artaud’, one of the highlights of the year on the island.
Among them were actors and facilitators from the Blue Teapot Theatre Company in Galway.
For Zone Poeme (France) a two week residency on the island provided a perfect opportunity to research and work on a play based on the visit of a famous French artist to the Aran Islands in 1937.
For Patrick O Laoighre, normally based in Co Mayo, a month on Inis Oirr was a great chance to reconnect with the beauty of the Irish language and to feel a closer connection to our ancestors.
“Inis Oirr has the ability to do that, to confirm to an artist who they are, doing what they do. I did an artist residency at Aras Eanna, long before I started working here. I would just go for a walk to the back of the island. Then I might start drawing. There was no pressure,” says Dara.
“There is a freedom of mind, which would be a good way of putting it, about being an artist on Inis Oirr and not having anything to worry about apart from being there.”
Thanks to fantastic partnerships with bodies such as ISACS, Galway Dance Project, Baboro, K-Cat, Ealaín na Gaeltachta, the Irish Theatre Institute, and the RHA for emerging artists, and applications from individual artists, we are looking forward to some amazing residencies in 2022.
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