Ceara Conway, Ballygar Pilot Project


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"This is a great opportunity to engage with and fully challenge ourselves culturally on issues relating to environment, migration, heritage, language, plus many more. Also, it’s an opportunity to broaden these discourses on a national, European and global level, so that we see our place within a bigger context."

My Work

I am an artist/singer originally from Connemara with a multidisciplinary practice that utilises visual arts, supported by methodologies from song, performance and traditional arts. I currently live in Limerick City as an artist in residence with Limerick Arts Office and Ormston House Gallery. I’ve lived and worked all over the world, but Galway holds a special place in my heart!

I create large-scale public projects and performances that draw on all of my skills, some of which include singing, sculpture and photography.

Currently, I create emotive artworks which revise and reinterpret familiar rituals, including the contemporary, religious, folk and traditional practices. Recent performances that I have produced include TimeUlster Museum, 2016, an audio sculptural work which explores the act of saying goodbye to someone you love forever and Dubh, Murder Machine, EVA International, 2016 a live performance which was about cultural colonialism and the loss of language.

Ballygar 2020 Pilot Projects

I was absolutely delighted to have been invited by Ballygar 2020/Artfarm to engage with the residents of Ballygar using the theme of Sugan-making as a starting point.

As an artist who works quite frequently with community groups and the public sector, I’ve come to realise that the quality and intention of the invitations one receives is vital to the process and outcome of a good project. Ballygar/Artfarm 2020 are a well-informed community group who have a great vision, integrity and intelligence regarding what community cultural development means for them. Sheila Flanagan and her colleagues are developing really amazing events in Ballygar.

My project took the form of an intense week-long performance engagement with the residents of Ballygar and the Ballygar choir. Taking the Aristotelian notion of what makes an ideal community, ‘conviviality, religiosity, intellectual growth, and politics’, I engaged with 12 residents who each represented a facet of Ballygar in an intimate dialogical performance. The engagement was explored both physically and vocally.

Myself and the residents explored through conversation how the themes of political and social philosophers Phillip Pettit, Rosseau and William James related to their lives. With each meeting, a Sugán rope was twisted and fed anew. Themes that I explored were related to ideas of freedom, deference and dominance in our homes, communities and societies. Themes related to how unlimited expectations could be impoverishing us in this age of ‘self realisation and success’.

During the week, I also engaged with the Ballygar choir to record a wonderful interpretation of the beautiful traditional song ‘Cas an tSugan’.

The conversations were recorded and a durational time-lapse video piece is in the process of being created by myself and Flying Knee Productions.

I’m currently in the process of seeing how all the material I have gathered will be composed. It might be one final piece or it could take the form of a series of small vignettes. Were aiming to have it done in time for the Ballygar Carnival!

Artists and the Community

What I have witnessed with the Ballygar group is a great degree of authority and ownership regarding the engagement and invitation between myself/the artist and the group who invited me to work with them.

Quite often, when an artist is invited to work with a community, it’s via the introduction and leadership of a curator or an arts officer. It was interesting to be invited by a well-informed, enthused group who were representing themselves, who had an idea of what they wanted and who were also really informed as to the artistic process. It was quite exciting actually.

There has been something really energising about the multiple discussions and projects that have been held with and between communities, artists and community leaders on our culture, the environment and social concerns. I’ve really enjoyed seeing what can be done in the context of a short project and also looking at how larger visions can be developed within the context of a three to four-year plan. If anything, the 2020 process has made people think; it’s certainly make me think about what culture is and to question what it means to develop and engage a place or people culturally, or for that matter, to question who has cultural agency in our society.


Visions for 2020

This is a great opportunity to engage with and fully challenge ourselves culturally on issues relating to environment, migration, heritage, language, plus many more. Also, it’s an opportunity to broaden these discourses on a national, European and global level, so that we see our place within a bigger context.

It would be amazing to envision that by 2020, people will have had time to partake, explore and implement ideas that have been properly financed and that have had time to grow and develop. One very compelling aspect of the bid is the potential to explore a project and develop it over several years. Quite frequently, arts practitioners and cultural workers are at the mercy of funding awards that can only fund a project for a short duration, say, for six months. Many a great idea has been lost and underdeveloped because of this.

As part of Galway 2020, I would love to see a program of contemporary public art works take place in Connemara. I think there is so much potential for this.

I would also like to envision that post 2020, we will be more informed, have created new partnerships and new initiatives and that people from all sectors of the community will have been engaged and involved. It’s important that the process is open, transparent and essentially culturally democratic.


My Artistic Impact

All arts practitioners, myself included, wonder what, if any, impact we have on our surroundings or on the people who see and attend our works. It’s a difficult question to answer. One person with vision, resources, supports and funding can do very exciting impactful things on a large scale.

If I have the opportunity to develop a new project, I would like to produce a project on the issue of migration and our current migration crisis.

Both myself and director, John Scott of Irish Modern Dance Theatre, have submitted a proposal to create work engaging this theme. This is an issue that is not going away for a long time and after the media get tired reporting on it, it’s important that it continues to be discussed and mediated to the public so that it doesn’t become a ‘far away’ issue. It has everything to do with us and I feel it’s by grace alone we are not the ones fleeing our homes and our families in order to seek a better life. If I had the opportunity to work on such a project, I would feel somewhat that I may have a tiny impact on a crucial cultural issue, one that is very relevant to us and for our European neighbours.

I’m also interested in highlighting the issue of sex trafficking in this country and in Galway in particular. It’s an issue that we all seem to think is happening anywhere but here.

In the coming years, I envision myself continuing my practice and research, engaging with the public, creating performances and projects on issues that I find important  – all with the intention to move people emotionally and intellectually. Whether the work is on a small or large scale, the intention will remain the same; I hope to continue creating works and performances that are emotive, memorable, innovative and thought-provoking.