The theme of the 2021 festival predates the pandemic, yet seems to be very pertinent in the present time.
It has its origins in a conversation with Marie McMahon, the curator of Tipperary Museum of Hidden History, as we spoke about how to address the more difficult end of the Decade of Centenaries with sensitivity. Their new exhibition on the War of Independence is now open and is a must-see event in Clonmel.
The theme is also chosen in response to the changing demographics in Clonmel, which has always been a town of blended cultures, partly due to its geographical position as a meeting point of trade routes, and partly due to its being a garrison town.
A discussion on Clonmel Corporation archives and the surnames contained within led to the addition of ‘What’s In A Name?’ The theme is an elastic one that has invited artists to explore not merely local and national identity, but also personal identity, gender identity and how a sense of self is relevant to both the artist and the audience.
Several of the original projects had to be put to one side. However, the theme runs through all the artforms and creates a link that provides a cohesion to the programme, once more shaken by the winds of change in terms of restrictions and constraints.
Musically, Eamon Sweeny has curated a ‘Rare Clonmel’ series, focusing on the music that has been heard during the town’s history. ‘The Butlers of Ormonde’ features baroque music by The Gregory Walkers with soprano Roisin O’Grady – the music that the Duke of Ormonde may have entertained James II with on his visit to Clonmel’s iconic Main Guard. ‘Musical Travellers’ reflects the 19th century visitors to the town, including the great pianist Franz Lizst performed here, as well as the guitar virtuoso Giulio Regondi.
‘Collins Hall’ is a theatrical music piece directed by Jack Reardon where saxophonist James O’Donovan has arranged iconic Mick Delahunty big band tunes for a jazz quintet. With actors Eanna Grogan and Meadhbh Maxwell, they recreate a night in the Collins Hall, Clonmel in 1958 where American Patrol is playing and love is in the air. Appropriately enough, it is supported by another Clonmel institution, the Credit Union.
LIT Digital Animation students have taken part in every Junction Festival since 2016, and this year, six teams have created short animated films on the Identity theme. From an alien’s visit to Earth to a young girl leaving her childhood home, the students have produced 6 short films that are well worth visiting South Tipperary Arts Centre in July to see.
A poetry and spoken word event curated by Eileen Acheson invites Clonmel’s writers and poets to reflect on the theme of Identity. With original music by Breege Phelan, ‘Identity: What’s In A Name?’ will feature a collection of new work performed by the writers for the occasion.
In February, Clonmel Junction Arts Festival in partnership with South Tipperary Arts Centre announced the Reflections open call opportunity in which artists were asked to respond to the statement; If the arts hold a mirror up to society, who are we in 2021?
Artist Sean Taylor invited the public of Clonmel to create a twelve-point Clonmel Community Manifesto inspired by the stories and events that have shaped the people of Clonmel during the Covid-19 pandemic. The most engaging proposals will be printed as a list on a mobile billboard and driven around Clonmel town during the Festival as a talking point for people.
Here Is Where I Am is a photographic installation by Claire Murphy from an ongoing body of work that started during the pandemic, which also coincided with the period after the birth of her son. She observes and documents the ordinary moments of her daily life, moments of contemplation, of inbetween-ness, all through the analogue medium of 35mm film. The photos taken at and around her family home, the home where the artist spent her childhood, exude a cinematic quality which conjures up unknowable narratives for us to ponder. The resulting images have a quiet stillness and are an intimate exploration of family and habitat.
Focusing on biodiversity in Clonmel, Rachel Rothwell will use clay, local soil and wildflower seeds to create seed-bomb ‘bricks’ that will be laid out as a pathway in Mick Delahunty Square marked with the names of its streets in Green Street. Visitors can break off a piece of this tactile 'green' sculpture to bring some of Clonmel home with them, or spread it elsewhere!
In outlining the project, Rachel said: "The very name of Clonmel ("Cluain Meala") hints at the richness of the land surrounding it, and as we search for more green in our urban spaces, this artwork allows the public to become active participants in the process."
Using the town of Clonmel as a gallery is also central to Lucy Phelan’s Conversations with The Tain. This large-scale installation of work comprised of over 50 individual elements is created by artist and printmaker Lucy Phelan, originally from Fethard. The installation is site specific and will be situated throughout the town.
From small work in shop windows to large prints that will arrest the attention on buildings, accompanied by a series of audio pieces, this major exhibition uses the town as its gallery as the artist explores the Táin Bó Cúailnge – that epic from early Irish literature known as the Irish Iliad - as a backdrop for the exploration of conflict and life existing between its cracks.
Clonmel, as an important administrative and industrial hub in the south-east, has a wealth of photographic images, dating back to the Victorian era, which are an invaluable addition to our understanding of social history. Past Times is a Creative Ireland project which places these photographs back on their original sites and will add a remembrance of times past to the daily walk.
Visual arts trails are accompanied by a series of audio trails to enliven the town centre during the festival. ‘Rock + Role’ is a series of 6 written reflections by writers Billy O’Riordan and John Fitzgerald on the walls of the town. From St Patrick’s Well to St Stephen’s graveyard, the pieces give you the history, both personal and public, of a range of walled sites. With both an online ‘in vitro’ version, where short films created by filmmaker Michael Hughes will be on the CJAF Digital part of the website, and an ‘in vivo’ version, where audiences can travel to the spot that the piece is based on, and listen to the audio installation, as they explore the identity of Clonmel.
Finally, returning to the Museum of Hidden History, Clonmel Junction Arts Festival collaborated with the museum on the Cabinets of Curiosity project. Working with a range of people, from Transition Years to octogenarians, the Cabinets are mini-museums that represent the creators’ sense of Clonmel through their collected artefacts. Dotted throughout the town, they resonate with the other expressions of identity, and through a mixture of amusing, engaging and moving stories to bring the town, and the festival, to life.
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