masters by research

Space, Place and Obligation by ellie berry

botanic gardens.jpeg

Space

I’m standing at the spire, waiting for Walking in the Eire to finish her incredible 6 month trip walking the coastline of Ireland. It’s a part of Dublin I never visit - it’s reserved for tourists, no “Dubliner” would put themselves through this stressful street (not that I’m sure I can claim that title). Over to my left there’s a guy literally standing on his soap box, preaching to his un-co-operating congregation that Jesus Christ can forgive them, and they can find their immortal life. Even with his small speaker hanging from his elbow I don’t think many people can hear him. There are hundreds of buses, thousands of conversations, and one busker playing drums pretty well but also pretty loudly, and it echoes up and down this wide thoroughfare.

But it’s not as uncomfortable a place as I was expecting - since coming back to the city I’ve had the opposite experience of most outdoor people I know, and find the mass movement of strangers so energetic and energising. I’m still wrecked at the end of a day, it’s still over whelming, but I think the city gives me as much life as I find in the outdoors.

There’s no immediate sign of the inspiring walker I’m here to congratulate so I start jotting notes for a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for weeks. I know how loose time is when you spend all your days walking. I pick a pole wrapped in bamboo and lean against it. I watch old friends collide in screeching hugs, and first dates ask each other what food they like. There are just so many people. I look around me and wonder who is here for what.

There’s a lull in traffic, and my preacher friend across the road can be heard shouting for us all to trust in our Jewish saviour. Saviour seems to be his favourite word. Then the drummer strikes up a powerful tempo, and a swarm of teenage students pour across the road.

So far I can confirm that standing is harder than walking, but I’m enjoying getting the time to write. I’ve been meaning to write something for my own website since I got sick a month ago. When you’re sick and can’t do anything it’s easy to build to do lists of things that don’t involve going places, but still involve more mental energy than you actually possess. But I’m back on feet, so here we are. Time to do a big general update.

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Place

A quick summary of my life this year would be - I walked 1,446km this summer, and then took a short break which resulted in my immune system crashing. In my anti biotic stupor of the past month I; moved back to Dublin, attended a conference, built IKEA furniture, took part in a feminist internet workshop, got lost learning my new corner of the city, more artist takes, and finally, I was accepted to do a Research Masters in IADT Dun Laoghaire!

So lets start from the beginning of this month.

I moved back to Dublin after my immune system crashed and I had to go through a whole series of antibiotics. There are lots of strange things that happen to you when you drastically change life style and living places, so I think I might just say I’m still acclimatising and leave it at that.

The conference I attended has actually inspired the name/grouping of this post. The title of the event was Space, Place, Obligation (An interdisciplinary inquiry into creative practice in contemporary Ireland). Organised by Niamh Campbell in Maynooth university, it was an intense day of artists sharing their artistic practice in relation to the title topics, while also discussing themes of home and sense of belonging. It was still probably too early in my antibiotic days to be attending such a full on event - I hadn’t yet bought a bed so I was camping in my room. My printer stopped working when I tried to print the conference notes off, my shoes cut my heels to pieces running for the bus, and at the event my hands took every opportunity to spill coffee on my notes, shoes, clothes, and hands.
But it was a really great event - thank you to Moran for inviting me to attend it with her. Ideas I had while walking all bubbled up, demanding attention after the event.

People always say that living in a tent with someone must be the ultimate test for a relationship. I disagree - building IKEA furniture for 7hrs together will always be the real exam. We now have a bed on stilts.

I am starting a Masters by Research! It’s two years looking at walking, photography, and the cultural landscape of Ireland. Induction is in two weeks, and I am both incredibly excited, nervous and relieved to have been accepted. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not entirely sure how I’m going to afford the fees, so in the next few days I might have a print/book sale.

 

Obligation

It feels a little weird to admit this, but this seems like a good section of this post to write about it. For possibly the past 3 years I’ve kept myself purposefully ignorant of a photographers work. There wasn’t anything malicious in my avoidance, it was purely a naive selfish fear.

I started incorporating walking into my practice while on Erasmus in third year of college. Then during the summer I walked the camino. Arriving back in Dublin to finish my degree, I showed my friends what I’d been working on while I was away. And there was one thing everyone told me: while I was away a photographer had been in to talk about his new work on walking and photography. He’d also made work in Spain. So I looked him up, saw two of his images and immediately stopped. I thought that if I looked at his work before really looking at my own I wouldn’t be able to see mine without seeing his - and I was afraid that if I compared us, I would think his work was far better. Such a scared artist I was. And so I have avoided this other Irish photographer who also works with walking and the landscape for almost 3 years. Now, it’s not like I’d see his book in a shop and frantically jump behind the nearest postcard stand. But I never engaged with his work. Until this conference.

I was sitting on the floor, staring in frustrated disbelief at the pages my printer was spitting out at me. How can it print something without black ink? Why does it have to do this now?! It’s the night before a conference, and my whole body is still fighting me with flus and infections. I haven’t yet really read the conference pack, and because staring at a screen had been hurting my eyes I thought that printing off the sheets would help me. But instead blank pages were being gently washed up against my sock. I sigh as I cancel the print project on my laptop. However, before the new command gets through to the tiny printer brain, the images at the end of the document are being painted onto my the cheap tesco paper, and they look so psychedelic without black ink that I don’t know what’s happening. I smile at the mess, and go to my inflatable bed, falling asleep reading the notes on my phone.

And so at the conference the next day I had the very surreal experience of listening to someone introduce and discuss their walking work that I had selfishly avoided. They went right from that first project 3 years ago, to now. It was a really amazing experience, and I’m glad it was such a surprise to me. I got to see all the similarities and differences in how, what and why we create. I think 3 years ago I would have seen the differences in our work as pit falls in mine, but seeing the development of their practice, and how things changed or didn’t change through each project reminded me how fluid and ever-changing everyones work is, and how impossible it would be for our work to be the same. The fact that I am genuinely excited and like my own work and creative process right now probably helps.


And so here we are.

Most of my writing this year has been for a personal journal or for the tough soles blog. It’s a little odd to remember what and how I usually write on my own site - going back and reading my old posts would be too easy. I’m hoping to use this space as a online visual research journal going forward.

In this post I’ve only talked about a handful of things I want to talk about, so just so future me doesn’t forget:

  • I went to the Sugar Club and heard artists talk about their practice/how they’ve come to be successful. The one that really stuck with me was by Craig Oldham. I think he managed to give a talk about himself and his practice without it just being a slideshow of his life. He was the most eloquent in sharing how and what he learnt from mistakes, and how different choices affected him.

  • The Feminist Internet and Mariam Kauser of Wrk Wrk Wrk collective hosted a workshop in Rua Red as part of the Glitch digital arts festival. I’d like to learn how to think of questions during an event as opposed to just absorbing and then processing at home. The workshop group itself was very small, and so lead to interesting discussions as opposed to working on the exact tasks, which I think I benefitted from more.

  • The Arts Management Ireland site is a wonderful resource and I wish I’d known about it sooner.

  • The botanic gardens are always a good place to go to.