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We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot

It has been challenging at times to capture Pilgrimage Project. In its essence Pilgrimage is a process based residency with no pre-determined output, however we do want to gather an imprint from the participants, a sense of their experience individually and collectively. So we asked the artists some questions…here are their responses…

  1. How would you describe Pilgrimage? 

Linda Buckley: A meeting of minds, an opportunity to reflect away from the distractions of urban life. Discovering points of contact, a common language that can span across multiple artistic disciplines.

Andri Snaer Magnason: It is a bit hard to describe the Pilgrimage. An artistic bootcamp? I spent some good time getting to know interesting people and absorbing very interesting places, going up a holy mountain, into an ancient grave, listening to amazing brand new music, having long talks on long walks, connecting to various interesting artists. Some kind of an interdisciplinary mutual masterclass….

Séan Mac Erlaine: Pilgrimage was a week spent in a rural location. The location and the surrounding hinterland was central to the activities which leant on the expertise of archaeologists, locals and specialists in ancient ritual, all relating to the immediate landscape we were in.

The group of artists assembled to spend this week together was, on one hand eclectic in terms of media and backgrounds, yet also extremely well picked in terms of similar interests and sharing an open approach to their work. This lead to an excellent group dynamic developing quickly over the week. This in turn allowed for much discussion, knowledge exchange and robust conversation, which, for me, was the most valuable element of an exceptional week.

Donal Dineen: I think it was primarily a meeting of minds but within a group that had a plan set out for it, so it was also an adventure in that respect. It was about exploration but en masse as opposed to individually which is what most of the participants would have been used to so it involved a suspension of normal practice or usual methods and a surrendering to the Pilgrimage. This worked for me in that it forced me to interact and consider things and places that I previously didn’t encounter.

Noeline Kavanagh: I would describe pilgrimage as a massive breath of fresh air. A gathering of artists with shared sensibilities around art, heart & landscape. A cacophony of ferral, real & surreal – a swound of energies buzzing, gliding, soaring, stomping, crashing, sliding, swooning, falling, and rising in a mytho poetic landscape that acted as a cradle to gently sway us all.

It was a gathering where people made friends, learnt new things, exchanged, observed and reflected with each other. Walking around sacred places and spaces in Sligo, amongst Queens & Kings, philosophers and poets and seers afforded time to reflect upon the impact of landscape on our lives as a nation, as an individual and as an artist. Art is bound to our soil and pilgrimage enabled time, space, reflection and learning- lost commodities in our lives today.

Valgeir Sigurðsson: A coming together of artists, thinkers and visionaries from Iceland, Ireland and Greece, to discuss and connect and open channels for possible collaboration and share ideas and opinions. That’s at least what I tried to get out of it for myself. I have found it a bit tricky to explain it to people who were not there. Maybe that is a part of The Big Plan, I don’t know.

Myles O’Reilly: The Pilgrimage was a meeting of several artists under one roof where each artist got to introduce themselves, introduce their works and experience the works of the other artists, with excursions during the day to locations in Sligo that magnified the links between us and our ancient shared cultural heritage. Having dropped out of secondary school, eventually finding and refining my practice on my own, in solo flight, it was difficult to share any of my thoughts with the other artists who could verbalize their art and inspiration with such ease, as my practice is mostly always to observe, stay quiet and hidden from my subject. In reaction to this I have learned that it is important to be able to communicate with others about my work, especially to others intrigued in my work or even inspired by my work. For the most part, through taking part in the Pilgrimage I have learned the value of being able to describe, define and share the intention of my practice for others.

Mikhail Karakis:  The experience was thoroughly stimulating on different levels. I had tremendous intellectual exchanges with people from different fields of knowledge, I discovered both new facts and encountered people whose way of thinking and approaching similar issues are very different. For me, the issue of a national identity, the notion of a post-nation state identity, as well as how these relate to language, to a shared language, and to geography were central to our quest during the week of pilgrimage.

Artistically I felt fulfilled. I was exposed to different practitioners’ works from the fields of visual art, music, film-making, and writing. It was a privilege to create the space (the playroom) and make the time and exchange work and ideas in progress of development. This is vital, especially as my career pressures increase with a particular (professional) demand on outcomes and finished work. Sharing our creative process and work in progress are vital.

I was particularly impressed by the Irish landscape and the film by Pat Collins which, beyond its exquisite cinematography and articulate narrative, put the entire residency into context.

2. Has Pilgrimage influenced your practice in any way

Linda Buckley: Yes, there was a sense of reconnecting with the landscape, its beauty and power – which had always been a significant aspect of my own inspiration and compositional practice but was reinvigorated on the Pilgrimage.

There was also a spark ignited – the wish to gain a deeper understanding of our origins, what makes us who we are today. I was also fascinated by the thread of Celtic mythology which ran through the project, rethinking my own interpretation of what this mythology means to me and how it impacts on my own work – the stories and imagery, sense of ritual, notions of superstition etc. I wish to further trace this lineage, delving more into stories from within my own family tree and rural background, local folklore.

A potential project discussed was the possibility of composing a song-cycle for the singer Iarla O’ Lionaird, based on Gaelic love poetry. This could potentially incorporate voice, string quartet and electronics.

Andri Snaer Magnason: I did write an article there for the World Today and I did find the ending to my new book by the grave of Yeats, (just to be very concrete) and it did bring my film to a film festival in Ireland.

In the other vague or real or unlinear ways of inspiration – time will tell, I got to know a few amazing artists that did rattle my brain and diverted thoughts into various directions. To sit in a megalithic grave is an experience I will never forget. I do understand Ireland better. I am not sure if I will ever find a more cool line for my grave than Yeats: Cast a cold eye, on Life, on Death. Horseman pass by.

Séan Mac Erlaine: I think the information is still unfolding and, as it has subsequently been a very busy time for me, I haven’t followed up on some of the thoughts and information. There are very real opportunities for collaborations with some of the participants and these will be followed up over the remainder of 2013.

Donal Dineen: I would say that it had a big impact in a couple of different ways. On a personal level I found the discovery of new places and information about new ideas exhilarating and the road map set out over the course of the week was a pretty relentless upward learning curve culminating in the Croagh Patrick climb which really capped what felt like a great voyage of discovery.

Secondly I personally gained a lot from the screening of the Pat Collins film and the subsequent discussion on the last night. For me I think the finale was irrefutable proof that the whole Pilgrimage trip had really gone somewhere. I felt transported into a new ideas sphere.

Noeline Kavanagh: Pilgrimage afforded me time away from my own practice , a luxury I never get that nourishes me physically, mentally and emotionally and at a deeper sub conscious level will be changing/ influencing my own working living practice as an artist.

It reawakened my inherent love of the mytho-poetic. It introduced me to great artists and great people. The talks, discussions and sharing of work provided a magical backdrop to the week. We were encouraged to taste each other delicacies and I drank it all in and felt like the cradle, a great and lovely swell and sway, being party to such magical work. In this way I then began think about collaborations, the art of new encounters. A thread from a tangled spool started to unravel- a social theatrical poem, a giant anatomical map of our mythopoetic country – drawing inspiration from the land and the stories bound to its soil the same way that stones and thistles are embedded and to meditate upon the saddened buried spirit of Ireland and rediscover her carried in the wind, on the waves, those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art.

So, then, what I speak of is the, duende which  is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. this is the buried spirit of our land- a word taken from Spanish folklore that can be translated into every dialect as it is a definition of spirit and energy and not a meaning in itself. You feel duende you cannot learn duende.

The  Spanish poet Lorca talks about how he heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

Valgeir Sigurðsson: It’s more indirect than direct so far, these connections usually need to brew for months and sometimes years before something solid will materialise. But opening new channels and hearing how other artists think, what they are working on and what interests them is always inspiring. I was meeting some of the people there for the first time but it felt like some were old friends already. I definitely think that many dots have been joined and seeds for some collaborations have already been sowed. I’m curious to see where that will lead in the future.

Myles O’Reilly: My interest in ancient music has exploded. The music deep within the ancient roots that tie us all together. Upon visiting the megalithic Cairns in Carrowkeel and hearing how those ancient Irish people lived, I became intrigued about their music and what it might have sounded like. As no written or oral music survives from these times we can never be sure what was played by the musicians or the circumstances in which some horn instruments that have been found were used. A little research however has indicated strong possibilities as to the reasons why ancient horns were designed and how they may have been played. I have established beyond doubt that these instruments were made as a result of a hitherto unrealized level of expertise and sophistication. It is remarkable that a bronze horn cast 3,000 years ago retains its integrity as a professional instrument and continues to function as a means to evoke the human emotions, which are the essence of the universal timeless language that is music. I have found some musicians who can play replicas of these ancient horns and I hope to start a documentary project with them.

3. What would you really like to see happen next? For you individually, for the group and for Pilgrimage Project itself?

 Linda Buckley: One element that I would welcome a further cultivation of is the discovery of even further connections (many of which are already evident) between Ireland and Iceland. From conversations with the Icelandic members of the residency many similarities emerged – particularly in relation to how music has developed in both countries. There are strong parallels: the arguable sense of a lack of strong classical music history spanning back through the centuries (of course there are exceptions to this).

Also apparent was the realisation that much of what I connect with in my own work is rooted in landscape, myth, legend – important in both Ireland and Iceland. I would like to further nourish these elements in my own musical life, and open up the potential for cross-disciplinary collaboration, inspiration and interaction, particularly from the visual arts.

Andri Snaer Magnason: I hope to stay connected to the artists I met and came to know. Hopefully collaborate in the future with some of them. For the group I am sure many will connect and it would be interesting to gather the group again at another, or the same place. For the Project itself it would be great to see it evolve further and learn from the experience.

Séan Mac Erlaine: I would love to be involved with what happens next, the curators have displayed a rare sensibility and organisational know-how which means that whoever works with them can consider themselves fortunate.

Many of the artists were quite keen to bring all this learning and conversation into the practical artistic realm – i.e. to develop work together. I would like to see the week form a solid basis for a practice-based exploration of these ideas we shared.

On a personal level, the week reinforced and broadened many of the themes I have explored in relation to music and landscape and I hope that it will further equip me to work in these areas into the future.

I think continuing the political thread of this project, choosing artists from the edges of Europe, is important for Pilgrimage Project. Many connections between how we view the world in terms of our national identities and following our respective economic collapses came up repeatedly during the week. These are nodes of important learning about who we are and how does the idea of nationhood shape us. Perhaps pursuing these more directly can point the project in an interesting and relevant direction and asking how we, as artists, respond to these questions.

Donal Dineen: On a personal level I would like to put the experience of being in such powerful places to some good use and I would definitely say that the memory of the likes of Carrowkeel and Knocknarea will stay with me for a long time and I would hope to revisit them again and again. Also, I think the Croagh Patrick trip had a big impact and I’m hoping to write an article incorporating my feelings about that journey specifically.

I think the Pilgrimage Project was an incredibly worthwhile and impeccably planned experiment. For this one, the open ended brief was the right one in order to gauge how it would proceed, but future Pilgrimages could look at maybe building in dedicated downtime for responding to the journey while it goes along and therefore building a narrative in real time. This would be tricky to organise but not beyond the bounds of possibility. Having people from so many disciplines was really good for me but perhaps narrowing the focus slightly could be more productive in other, practical ways.

Noeline Kavanagh: So in a lot of ways Pilgrimage reignited my duende. Reflecting in the company of Yeats and the ancient gods / rulers of the land was very important to me. Re engaging with each other would be good perhaps and drawing down where the points of context are for people in their artistic practice as a result of the residency, even if that were as simple as I got to relax, I know what suits me, I thought about this kind of sound when I walked in this place etc

The role of landscape, ancestries, island life, memory and identity- these would be some themes perhaps we could excavate singularly or on the collective- the potential around the axis of art, heart and landscape is epic- what sounds, what images, what words, what moving pictures, what music, what mediations and meditations would permeate the limestone, the granite , the bog, the lakes and the rivers and then … the sea?

Valgeir Sigurðsson: Perhaps a few workshops and masterclass-type events that would allow for direct and spontaneous creative interaction between participants. The Pilgrimage should be less of a “tourist and hiking” trip in my opinion, as this is something I feel people might choose to do anyway if they are so inclined. It’s great to work in trips and events that connect people, but it’s important to balance this well.

Myles O’Reilly: Now with introductions over I would like to see the artists doing what they do best, and create. I would like to see the thoughts stirring within the environment, the next moment we are all together, to become manifest as art through each artists practice. I feel it is the moment that counts, the intuitive sense for what is happening in a space and place. To capture and record those thoughts and senses through improvised contributions is important, to have each artist create for the present in collaborative or solo work inspired by the past and the Pilgrimage project itself.