The Doubting Artist, Farah Maria Rahman

“You’ve tried this before – traveling the world to experience and create, without necessarily having much success.” Nina Strand, Residency.

What is going on here, exactly? Whatever it is, Cork City Council appears to be funding it.

I came expecting to bring myself in an orb of my own consciousness as an artist, complete with poems on certain themes, or at least drafts, to which I would record accompanying sounds. Instead, from the moment of my arrival I’ve been opening up constantly and incrementally. Listening, receiving the sounds, and the sounds change me… they ricochet off the fences and the fences give way. It is the sounds that are complete, not me.

I find a humming light on the hallway of the third floor and a folded poster in the bathroom that reads “I wonder if you imagine something, does it begin to exist?” I have to walk down four flights of stairs to the kitchen that has a toaster and for some reason I do not move the toaster to the floor I’m on, even though no one is using it. Instead, I enjoy the ritual, the slap and swagger of loose cloth slippers against vinyl. (Perhaps I should record this sound for the final performance? I do not do this.)

I like the echoes when I sing made-up songs up and down, down and up the stairs. The acoustics are so fantastic that my voice even sounds pleasant to me. 

I feel like a child playing house, sometimes. No one watching, just me and dolls. Sometimes, when I am at my desk writing and playing the sounds I have recorded, I forget to feed myself.

I feel I should say something about the Shandon bells… St Anne’s is at the end of the road, but everyone else has an opinion on this or has had one, and I want to hang back and let them speak instead. I wonder if I should go to local pubs and record views,  memories and conversations about them on my phone…

I do not do this… 

But I should definitely say something. The bells are so LOUD, they punctuate my days here, and I’m supposed to be responding to local sounds, after all, as part of this residency.

I’ve noticed that the experience of listening to them is very different each time, even when it’s the same tune being rendered. The cognitive pauses fall in unique places for each person… you can hear the brain tick, the arm weaken. There are accidental notes after which there is always a hesitation, vague panic at the public-ness of the error. And everyone flails when it comes to the timing of notes in Amazing Grace. I probably would, too.  (Not so graceful, but at least we climb all those stairs to try. To fail in public.)

One person with very strong arms (probably a man) bashes out Beethoven’s 9th with all the right notes and tempo, which is actually very dull to listen to. I’d like to shout out of the window ‘Boooo!’, but it would be wrong to heckle tourists. If it were something that spread,  it wouldn’t be very friendly or good for the local economy. I think of all those visitors paying at a reception desk to bang out wonky versions of ‘Hey Jude’. I think I might include something about this in my performance… “Hey Jude… Let’s take an okay song and make it really awkward.” Something along those lines.

I’m a writer, by the way, but this is all I have to say on the subject of the bells and this residency. 

Perhaps I am a fraud.

A recording of bells, which I titled ‘Tenuous Venture’, accompanies the short essay ‘The Doubting Artist’. Both were a response to the first week of my artist’s residency at the Guesthouse Project in the Shandon neighbourhood of Cork City. To say that I was grappling, in the background, with a sense of Imposter Syndrome, would be something of an understatement. Faced with the space that I suddenly occupied alone, summoning ideas and working them out, I wondered what an artist is… if I am one, if anyone is one, and if I would be thinking this way if I were a man and famous and rich and white and/or dead. A feminist poster I found in the lavatory jumped out at me, and echoed some of my sentiments. It was a source of great delight, and I included some of the words in ‘Doubting Artist’.

I spent five days collecting sounds at the Dzogchen Beara Buddhist meditation centre, located near Allihies on the Beara Peninsula. The culmination of that experience distilled itself in a poem, completed very recently, and a musical soundscape composed by my friend Dave Smith. Dave is a DJ and producer based in Canterbury, and he worked with the sounds of Tibetan horns, gongs and chants to layer these around my reading of ‘The Fully Enlightened Buddha’, a short text in a series displayed on the walls of the shrine room in Dzogchen Beara.     

The poem manifested as a haiku, and the title relates to a form of meditation.


The bowl’s song fades out,

and I am here counting the

rosary of breath.

Farah Maria Rahman (previously Farah Reza) lives in County Cork, Ireland. Her work has been published in Brittle Star magazine, New Humanist, Huffington Post, Socialist Review, Litro, Tales of the deCongested Vol 1 (Apis Press) and Daily Science Fiction. She was the artist in residence at The Guesthouse Project in Cork for the month of February 2018, where she worked on sound recordings and poetry.