ISSUE ONE – An Introduction: On Process & Place

The quest for space to think, time to focus on creative work, and a change of scenery are what draw artists to a residency programme. Undoubtedly, this environmental shift influences the work produced. The effect emerges differently for each person, but the instances where this connection becomes specific interest me. When the artist and space work in tandem a dialogue emerges: how do the surroundings spark an idea that could not have come from anywhere else? Or how does place become the subject, or get transposed or transformed into a work? I would like to take a deeper look at its influence on form, texture, image, story, sound.

That this interchange happens does not surprise me. Keen observation, deep listening, and responsiveness are nearly prerequisites for becoming an artist. And curiosity is so often (dare I say always?) the foundation of creativity. It is the how it happens that intrigues me. For the inaugural issue of Crossing the Dissour, I have used the relationship between place and creativity as a container. You will find the end product positioned alongside a chronicle of how it came to be.

Greywood Arts has welcomed visual, performing, and literary artists-in-residence since July 2017. We are in a Georgian house, built in 1767, situated in the centre of a rural Irish village, alongside the Dissour River. We are at the foot of Glenbower Wood, a beautiful ancient woodland. This description can sound quite romantic, and truly it is, but like many Irish villages that have yet to be bypassed, our Main Street is busy with heavy traffic shuttling between Waterford and Cork, and the new streetlights are dazzlingly bright. You can hear children from the primary school play outside on their break, and sometimes even voices from training on the GAA pitch drift over the yard. There is a tension between old and new – and while it is not particular to Killeagh village or Greywood, its strength here has been acknowledged and embraced by us in refurbishing the house and defining our values. Respecting what came before, listening to the old stories, and what is said between the lines, has shaped our space and our ethos. We have brought change to this place, built a community, and with that unleashed a flood of positive energy. I am, of course, biased, but I think that makes Greywood and its surrounds an exceptional place to create. 

The artists invited to contribute to this first edition of Crossing the Dissour have all been residents at Greywood Arts. We have chosen to feature creators whose work interactswith the site in various ways.

Poet Gráinne Daly steps backwards into the history of Greywood House in her poem Greywood Alight. The tensions between divided factions echo in a more modern setting in her piece Faith/Football is a great way to unite/divide a city. In her poem Steady Hands, this years Winter Writing Residency poetry award recipient Emily S. Cooper writes about a villager she meets and the geographic speech patterns that connect them. This year’s prose recipient, Aisling Flynn, draws on the wildness of the wood in formulating her short story Wolf Belly.

In her essay on being a parent-artist, Orla McAlinden tells of sitting in the writer’s room, looking out over the river and the little iron gate that leads to it. The image recurs in The Voices in my Head, and has also surfaced in the two readings she has done at Greywood. The story it sparks for her is far afield from her usual fare.  

We also share with you an excerpt from SANS LISSACRUE, a one-off collaboration between French writer and visual artist pair Patrick Beurard-Valdoye and Isabelle Vorle. The river Dissour becomes direct inspiration for their book of poems and drawings, as do the offcuts of headstones in the stonecutter’s yard. However, it is not a report on what they have observed. Patrick and Isabelle probe the aural and tactile essence of the site, and play with the English, French and Irish languages in the invention of new words for naming places (toponyms).

Dutch painter Laura Scheringa works with maps in a very detailed way as she creates landscapes as viewed from space. With modern access to information and the technology of Google Maps, travel could be irrelevant. Yet, why was it essential for her to visit this place as she painted Remote Sensing East Cork?

The work of visual artist Carol Elkovich perhaps goes deepest in the specificity of investigation of site with her installations Accidental Irelandand Oceans Apart. Her experience of Ireland considers the juxtaposition of ancient and new, and her work utilises layering as a central concept. The initial paintings reflect colours and patterns of the landscape, and converse with the fissures and textures of the building’s crumbling stone walls. You will want to read her essay through to the end, where Carol invites you to continue the conversation around interpreting layers via her virtual project The Renegade Docent.

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My own background is in choreography, and I often work site responsively. I have made work for footpaths, shop fronts, a loading bay and even one performed in wellies inside a reflecting pool. Curiously, since taking on the project of nurturing this residency into being, I have made very little work of my own, especially inside its walls. In a large way, the house and the programming have become my creative work. And for the first time in the three and a half years I have lived here, I see beauty in that fact, rather than disappointment with myself for not taking advantage of the spaces I have at my fingertips. At its heart, my journey with Greywood shares the curiosity, research, immersion, experimentation and devotion of my previous artist practice. 

Creativity can feel like magic, and there is certainly something mystical and divine in the moments it touches us. But that spark is only part of the equation. There is the showing up, wide-eyed and open hearted, ready to receive. And the readiness to investigate, dig deep, do the work. Making the time, opening the space – meeting your ideas halfway. And each person does this differently, as is evidenced by the interviews in this issue. Often figuring out how to do the later part – ignoring self-doubt and our inner critic and giving ourselves permission to attempt creating something, can take time, trial and error. The straight path is rare, and the winding one can be lonely. It is my hope that Crossing the Dissour will be a platform for sharing the myriad approaches to creative process, for learning from each other, for deep reflection, and for encouragement to take that leap headlong into the creative unknown.

– Jessica Bonenfant
Artistic Director
Greywood Arts

Jessica Bonenfant is an American director and performance maker living in Ireland. She holds an MFA in choreography from the University of Michigan, and a BA in Dance from Marymount Manhattan College. She was the director of Brooklyn based Lola Lola Dance Theatre, and during her 10+ years in NYC she made interdisciplinary works for traditional and unconventional spaces. Jessica has received numerous residencies and grants in support of her creative endeavours. She also loves teaching improvisation and composition, which she has done at the Firkin Crane (Cork, IE), Grand Valley State University (MI, US), the American College Dance Festival, University of Toledo (OH, US), and University of Michigan.

In 2017, along with her husband Hughie Coogan, Jessica opened Greywood Arts, an artist residency and community creativity hub. Since moving to Ireland, she has joined the team at First Cut! Youth Film Festival and was on the committee of Midleton Arts Festival. In 2018, she revived Killeagh’s historic May Sunday Festival alongside many fantastic artists and community members. Greywood’s programming have received support from Cork County Council’s Arts Office and Municipal District Council, as well as from Creative Ireland.