Thursday 22 February 2018

Electric Picnic promises an explosion of arts and music

A feast for the senses awaits visitors to Laois and Tipperary events this autumn, writes Celine Naughton

Music Generation Laois Harp Ensemble led by Catriona McKay and Siobhan Buckley at the Music Generation Laois, New Works Series in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel. Picture: Alf Harvey/HRPhoto.ie
Music Generation Laois Harp Ensemble led by Catriona McKay and Siobhan Buckley at the Music Generation Laois, New Works Series in the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel. Picture: Alf Harvey/HRPhoto.ie

Celine Naughton

According to philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, what sets humans apart from other animals is our ability to imagine things collectively. Put thousands of monkeys in a field together and there would be pandemonium, he says. Put 55,000 people in a field in Stradbally, however, and you unLaois the collective imagination like never before.

As this year's Electric Picnic powers up for its annual explosion of arts and music next weekend (September 1 - 3), festival-goers are promised a feast for the senses. Along with a stellar line-up of musical greats, there's a host of creative attractions including artisan food stalls, the chilled-out Body and Soul zone and Electric Picnic's very own 'thinking space,' MindField.

In today's era of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, the automation of jobs and robotic exploration of distant planets, MindField this year reflects on what separates us from machines - creativity.

In the forum 'Illuminate,' some of Ireland's leading artists reveal their creative process and influences. Hosted by Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits, speakers include theatre maker Philly McMahon, designer Lorna Ross, artist Blaise Smith, designer Annie Atkins, actor Clare Dunne and chef Kevin Thornton, all of whom will address one of the big questions of our time: what does it mean to be creative in Ireland today?

According to Naoise Nunn, director of MindField, we are in a golden age of creativity, with a perfect alignment of fertile ideas borne out of recessionary times, and just enough financial support filtering through to realise those ideas.

"The shift in policy of Government and State in recognising artistic endeavour is really welcome," he says. "It sets us apart, at a time when we need to differentiate ourselves.

"We never usually notice these times until they're in the past. Cool Britannia, the Roaring Twenties, Swinging Sixties… These eras were largely viewed in hindsight. But we're in Creative Ireland right now and it's a very good place to be. Across the country, people are engaging with politics, art and culture in ways we've never seen before. Thanks to the personal vision of John Concannon and other people who came up with the Creative Ireland concept, I think we're at a pivotal point in our cultural evolution."

Also taking on the big question is Philly McMahon of ThisIsPopBaby, the company behind the hit cabaret 'Riot', winner of Best Production at last year's Dublin Fringe Festival.

"Being creative in Ireland today is both a constant challenge and hugely rewarding," he says. "I was 15 when I joined the Dublin Youth Theatre and it saved my life. Before then I'd never seen a play, but as soon as I was introduced to the world of theatre, I felt free. It was truly transformative.

"Now, 22 years later, I'm putting on shows that are received well at home and abroad. 'Riot', starring Panti Bliss, is going to New York in February. People who saw the show in Dublin said they came away feeling they could change the world. That's how art and culture can empower people in a very positive way."

Illuminate takes place on Saturday and Sunday next at the Leviathan stage.

Long after the Electric Picnickers have departed Laois, Stradbally Hall will feature in another local project called Townscape, in which artist Mary Burke and Dr Mary Corcoran of NUI Maynooth look at what it's like to live in 12 very different kinds of homes in the area, from the big house to a small council house and an eclectic mix in between. It's one of a number of projects supported by the local authority and Creative Ireland.

"We're also planning to appoint an artist to develop spoken word with young people," says Muireann Ní Chonaill, the county's Creative Ireland co-ordinator. "We want to light a spark in those who mightn't otherwise engage in poetry and writing."

Meanwhile, next-door neighbour Tipperary is launching a programme for even younger children, with a multi-sensory play for pre-schoolers devised by Nenagh Childcare.

"It's fantastic to see the arts being introduced at such a young age," says Róisín O'Grady, Tipperary Creative Ireland co-ordinator. "The focus is usually on primary and secondary school age, but the earlier you can imprint the power of creativity on young minds, the better."

She's also heartened to see the local landscape and natural heritage being used as a backdrop for a variety of creative projects.

"A great example was artist Lynn Kirkham's project Plant Life that was part of the Terryglass Arts Festival earlier this month," says Ms O'Grady. "Her stunning images were lit up at night throughout the village, creating a magical effect. A project called Apple Treasures by 2CanDo Arts brings in the county's cider connection in Clonmel, and the Message in Time exhibition at the County Museum is amazing."

A Message in Time is a fascinating history of communication, from old postcards, telegrams and letters to social media, digital animations and artworks, all telling stories of people, families and communities through the ages. It runs until next June and admission is free.

In Borrisokane, local actors are rehearsing 'The Fairytale of New York', a stage play based on the song by Shane McGowan whose family settled for years in Tipperary.

Among the Top Tipps for other cultural events in the Premier County are Cashel's annual Arts Festival (Sept 21-24) featuring a concert by Steve and Joe Wall at the Brú Ború Theatre, exhibitions by Thurles artist Marie O'Driscoll and local children in Cashel Library; a talk by travel journalist/storyteller Manchán Magan; film, theatre, workshops, poetry and family entertainment.

The National Famine Commemoration (Sept 30) combines a State ceremony with a local cultural programme to be held in the Famine Warhouse 1848, the OPW national heritage site in Ballingarry.

Later in the year there's the Dromineer Literary Festival (October 5-8); hands-on workshops in illustration and drawing followed by an exhibition at the South Tipperary Arts Centre as part of 'Inktober'; and a November screening in the Source Arts Centre in Thurles of a short film called 'The Irish Elk', about a joke that's told and retold until the meaning changes completely.

Irish Independent

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