Eoin Barry- Social Printmaker and Activist (Artist)
Tell us about yourself.
Well I majored in print making in LSAD. Then, I went straight back to do a Masters in Social Practice and the Creative Environment, which I loved, and it is in that my work is mainly based. From there I’ve got involved in urban art projects. I started CathairGrá, or ‘City Love’ as a community art initiative. It is an urban art project devised to combat the dominance of commercial language in urban space. It also promotes the Irish language, even if it is broken! I wouldn’t be fluent as Gaeilge myself but I love bringing it into my work and even using it in a basic way that other non-Gaeilgóirs will understand. CathairGrá is a basic translation that I’m sure true Irish advocates don’t approve of it but I love that it is relatable and identifiable to the passer-by. Using Irish that way makes it accessible to the wider masses, though I’d love to improve my own Irish… someday!
Tell us more about CathairGrá?
Well it started off as measurable community project, where I collaborated with other artists. We were supported by Limerick City Council, the City Gallery of Art, LSAD and the ESB to remodel and design the ESB power units around the city. So in the past few years, since 2012, we have painted 45 of the electricity boxes around the main streets in the city and brightened the place up a bit I guess. It has grown a lot since then with full wall murals and various random pieces about. I like using the cityscape as a place to create art that will make people think. I may not have an answer but my work can pose questions, like a Wi-Fi symbol may make people think how can the city get more widespread free Wi-Fi access? I actually went about with my measuring tape to see how much artwork CathairGrá has created within the city and it is currently at 356 metre squared (and growing!) of art, which is pretty amazing. It’s a changeable and undefined group of people involved – sometimes it is funded, sometimes it’s not but the philosophy behind CathairGrá and its aimsare essentially to brighten the city, improve and reflect the local community, and pose questions.
How exactly do you go about a project?
For example, this spring we’ve collaborated with Team Limerick Clean-Up, which was a cool project to work on out in South Hill. I liaise with both the people organising it and the people in the community. I discuss ideas with each party and draw up some mocks, then collaboratively the decision is madewith me as a mediator, in a sense. Everything I do has a message or a story behind it – the ideas stem from the community and I think that’s important because they’re the ones that have to look at it every day, not me.
Where would you like to be in 5 years’ time?
Who can tell? I’d love to be in the Gaeltacht, immersed in our mother tongue and working with local communities on art projects. I love challenging myself so I don’t see struggles in what I do, and I go into projects with an open mind so, yeah, I’d like to see what I could do in the west somewhere.
What’s the most random artsy thing you have done?
Haha, I guess maybe my Uisce Campaign. I made 2000 prints and sent 235 hand written letters with a print to random addresses worldwide. I was in second year in college and it was my first time trying to reach out to the world, and my first real endeavour out of the studio. I posted some to high profile places and got official responses from Buckingham Palace and ÁrasanUachtarán, but the most rewarding replies were like one I got from a secretary of a business who said she and her children loved my print and it really gave them a buzz. That was a pretty random act I guess!
Have you anything exciting in the mix at the minute?
Well I have a few projects up my sleeve, such as working with Make a Move, and then some of my own endeavours too. I’ve been working on an educational project for the last couple of months that I’m delighted has come to fruition now. The idea is that I go into a school to work with the students on a cross curricular project. The focus is obviously art but it brings in CSPE (human rights), LCVP (mini business), Maths/ Business (budget and sales/ marketing prices), and Home Economics too I guess! I would show the students some of my own work and tell them about what I do, then a short documentary ‘Behind the Swoosh’ showing child labour in the third world countries. We discuss it and then we produce our own product- canvas bags- using a silk screening bed the class must assemble. It’s essentially a small enterprise project in an assembly line process. At the end of the day the students price the bags and sell them in the school/ locality. When they sell the class must make a democratic decision; will the class keep the money or donate it to charity? So that’s one I’m thrilled to put into practice.
Words – Rebecca Egan
Photography – Tarmo Tulit