An arts-participation and wellbeing project led by artist Maria Coleman in association with First Fortnight (Ireland's Mental Health Arts & Culture Festival) and Connecting for Life Donegal.
The world is experiencing an extraordinary lockdown in 2020/'21, and the unanticipated challenges have provided an opportunity to recalibrate internal compasses. In this 'new reality' it's fair to say that we are learning a fresh appreciation for home-grown creativity. In the time previously absorbed by the work commute, bread is getting baked, vegetables planted, rooms redecorated, and guitars and easels are getting a long-overdue dust off. Home-grown creativity is bubbling up spontaneously and we are discovering from social media feeds that people we know professionally are also proficient clarinet players or singers and that the local café owner is also a landscape painter in her spare time.
Interestingly, with arts infrastructure closed, the arts playing-field is being unexpectedly levelled as professional artists are also taking to the same social media platforms using similar (smart-phone) production values. In these unprecedented times, it can be argued that arts production and participation are becoming more democratised and people are remembering anew that the arts are not just for consumption or the exclusive domain of the exceptional few who tread the often precarious path of being a professional artist.
During these lockdowns, arts involvement has shone through as a powerful form of self- expression and as a necessary catalyst that allows us to connect, to socialise, and to dream a brighter present and possible future together. With 'Filleadh Cholmcille', it is hoped that a unique project will take shape, that not only reawakens the self-development and healing possibilities of the art-making process, but also bridges the chasm between professional and amateur art making. It aims to put arts participation centre stage as a means to improve mental health outcomes, and also build understanding.
'Filleadh Cholmcille' represents an opportunity to remember the essential and fundamental nature of our innate creative powers and the need to return from exile the potent self-care tool that is arts participation. Working with the theme of Colmcille, the famously exiled saint who himself was an artist and champion of the arts, 'Filleadh' will provide groups or individuals with instructional art resources to help them produce a home-grown, collaborative artwork. The instructional material will be devised and compiled by the lead artist, with other artists also invited to collaborate, and contribute guidance materials. The project will culminate in an artwork realised and co-created by 'participating' artists and 'professional' artist/s, that will be showcased as part of the First Fortnight arts festival in 2022. June 9th will premiere early outcomes.
The project will be led by Donegal-based artist Maria Coleman, whose interests primarily lie in collaborative, co-creation. In a chapter published about her work in the book 'The Performing Subject in the Space of Technology' (2015),** she contextualised her approach by referring to ideas developed in 'Poetics of the Open Work' by Umberto Eco. The essay predicts much of creative openness evident in the relational and participative art of the following decades, but history leaves us much fewer example of the most radically collaborative idea outlined in the essay, namely 'Works-in-Movement'.*** Coleman embraces this idea, since such art works are left open enough to not only be interacted with, but actually be creatively completed by their audiences. She sees such creative input as a necessary evolution from the conventional formula, which see finished works presented fully formed, while audiences consume them on an intellectual or emotional level. This evolution leaves space for the artwork not only to cause the catharsis that may come from resonating with the art work's beauty or meaning, but more crucially, sparks the wellbeing enhancing properties that accompany the creative act. (More on Works in Movement .)
The project's theme of Colmcille is timely since the Donegal saint celebrates the 1500th anniversary of his birth in 2021. Although a frequently overlooked aspect of his story, he was actually an artist himself, being a renowned and prolific calligrapher, as well as a poet and singer. He is the Patron Saint of Poets and his feast day, the 9th of June, has recently been designated as the International Celtic Art Day. In the context of open art works, it is particularly interesting that he is believed to have precipitated the world's first copyright case, when he copied a book without its owner's permission. The ensuing tribal battle of Cúl Dréimne is understood to have ultimately caused his exile to Iona. The island however became an artistic sanctuary and his ideals of creative openness resulted not only in an impressive raft of artistic innovations but also in an era of creative and intellectual flourishing that has been read in some quarters as having actually saved civilisation during Europe's Dark Ages. Coleman believes there are rich pickings in the Columban story to investigate ideas of open creative participation and a necessary Return ('Filleadh' in Irish) to the wellbeing that flows from exercising the innate creative urge. (More on Colmcille)
*Artists will need to release necessary creative licenses. (The Creative Commons licensing structure will be clearly outlined in the Artwork Manifesto).
**Coleman, Maria, 'Relational Works in Movement using The Body Response System,' in The Performing Subject in the Space of Technology , Causey, M., Meehan, E., O'Dwyer, Néill, (eds., Palgrave Macmillan, London 2015
*** See the draft 'Works-in-Movement' essay on this site. It covers much of what is in the chapter published in the book 'The Performing Subject in the Space of Technology', Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.