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Watch Now: Are We There Yet - Exhibition Curated By Poet Eithne Hand

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The exhibition "Are We There Yet" is now available to view online.

Poet and producer Eithne Hand has recently debuted her collaborative ‘Are We There Yet?’ project at Sligo City Hall.

An exhibition of artists’ responses to new N4 road featuring Eithne along with John Joe Kelly (music), Kari Cahill (visual art), Nigel Gallagher (photography and map making), and Anya Murray (audio essays on flora and fauna), the project has been a labour of love for the Hawk’s Well resident artist. Eamon O’Neill sat down with Eithne for a chat about the
road to ‘Are We There Yet?’, and how her Time at the Well residency has helped make it possible.

Give us a brief synopsis of ‘Are We There Yet?’

‘Are We There Yet?’ is a collaborative exhibition of work from different artists and mediums, all relating to the same thing which is the extension to the new N4 between Collooney and Castlebaldwin.

What inspired the project?

It doesn’t seem like a very artistic thing to do, to be reacting to a motorway, but it was an idea that just came to me. I live in Ballinafad, so the Castlebaldwin to Sligo section is somewhere I’m very familiar with. It was a very dangerous bit of road. It was quite a famous road, with the white crosses representing the thirty-one deaths, so obviously any new motorway was going to be an improvement. I like motorways, and I’m interested in the construction of them and the engineeringsec and the precision, and for some reason I just had this idea that also it might be an interesting thing to look at it from an artistic perspective.

So you decided to work on it as part of your Hawk’s Well residency?

I proposed it to the Hawk’s Well as part of their Time at the Well short residencies, and they went; “that sounds like an interesting collaboration”, so we just went from there. There were five of us, five different artists; I was working on the poetry because I just had a collection published with Salmon this year; we had a visual artist Kari Cahill; music from John Joe Kelly; audio essays from ecology broadcaster Anya Murray; and Nigel Gallagher created a new map, and he did all the graphics and the designs and took amazing photographs.

It’s an unusual marriage; poetry and motorways.

In a way, yeah, but when I started looking at it and thinking about it, I decided to write three pieces representing past, present and future. Rhythm is a huge deal in poetry, so rhythm and the motorways, and the bodhran playing in this; they were all working together and I was surprised at that.

The piece representing the past that I took was an old poem called ‘The Old Woman of the Road’ by Pádraic Colum, which was a kind of a party piece for a lot of people back in the day. It is a beautiful ode to home and an anthem for homelessness, but I rewrote that from the perspective of the old road, so it became ‘The Old Woman of the Old Road’, and so it’s the opposite of lamenting; she’s basically saying; “go away everybody, and leave me on my own, because I really don’t need to have any of your trucks and traffic anymore”.

It sounds quite pensive.

Well staying with the poetry element, there is also a kind of a funny, forward-thinking one which adds a bit of humour, but it’s also very dark. It’s a sort of dysfunctional future where the electric car is going along and the driver is paying no attention to the car, and no attention to the children in the back seat, so there’s a bit of craic in it. The road inspired different perspectives.

All five creatives got together to walk the route of the dual carriageway before it opened; what was that like?

It was really lovely. It was a sunny Sunday in June, and because some of us didn’t really know each other, we were making those classic Irish connections at the beginning, and we were all a bit nervous. We were on this stretch of tarmac, some parts of the new road were further on than others with road markings etc. Some were still just tarmac through pristine countryside. We chatted and we stopped for an amazing picnic. It was a beautiful day, and all you could hear was our footsteps, which was a privileged feeling! I think we all felt a bit tingly about it. It was a goosebumps moment, because we really were doing something that we could never do again - it’s not possible that it will ever happen again.

You must be delighted with the final project, now that it’s complete and on display.

Yeah, it is lovely complete. It’s running at Sligo City Hall on weekdays from 10 until 4. It is a lovely space. It’s a short-term public viewing, and then we might save it. Some of the pieces certainly could hang very beautifully in the county council offices, so we’ll see if it’ll have another life. We’re going to try and put it online so that people can flick through, almost like a booklet form, and see all of the poems and listen to the audio. It is a sort of semi-immersive thing, because there’s a great soundtrack from John Joe Kelly playing, and you’ve got Anya’s voice while you’re actually looking at the paintings and the map and the poetry. But yeah, I do feel delighted it’s done!

How has the residency helped with bringing the work to life?

This is part of the Hawk’s Well Theatre ‘Time at the Well’ residencies, and I feel I just wouldn’t have been able to do it at all unless that residency existed. It gave me the opportunity to do the research that I needed to do, and to work out what I hoped to get from the project. They’re very supportive, and obviously, because the Hawk’s Well has got such a mix of talent at their disposal, there are a lot of things that they can bring. I really appreciated everything, and I’m still there as it’s ongoing at the moment. It’s a big plus, and basically it wouldn’t have been possible, and if Marie O’Byrne [Hawk’s Well Director] hadn’t have said; “that’s a great idea!” then we wouldn’t have been doing it. So it takes somebody like her to be able to see the potential. As she was saying at the launch, she would never have thought of an arts project related to the road, so it’s a nice confluence of two things.

'Are We There Yet’ is a Hawk's Well Theatre exhibition made possible by the support of Arts Council Ireland and Sligo County Council.

‘Are We There Yet’ can now be viewed online.