IT’S a long way from North Clare to Estonia.
In the cases of the travel arrangements of Maria Kerin and Fiona O’Dwyer, it’s a cross-country trip to Dublin for a flight to Riga in neighbouring Lithuania and then aboard the Tallinn Express for another four-and-half-hour bus journey.
But the path is getting well-worn at this stage and in both directions as the relationship and bond between two artistic melting pots – separated by thousands of miles yet hugely symbiotic for two different cultures and communities – continues to grow and feed off each one another.
“It’s a very long trek alright,” admits O’Dwyer from her Ennistymon home last Wednesday – her bags packed, her precious art parchments too, and her two-day journey just about to begin.
But just in case you think there’s a hint of sigh as she hits the long road, the opposite is the case. Instead, it’s a blend of anticipation, excitement, privilege even as the Outrider Artists get ready to ride again.
Into the great wide artistic open. Opening minds, Irish and Estonian. Exploring theirs and others’ art. Or to parse it down to the fundamentals of being an artist – getting work done and getting it out there.
FIONA O’Dwyer traces it all back to an informal gathering of seven artists in the north Clare catchment back in 2009. Apart from being artists, they shared common experiences – the bane of creative talents the world over – of rejection slips coming in their doors, if they came at all that is.
“As a group of artists in north Clare we were frustrated,” recalls O’Dwyer. “Applying for exhibitions, not getting responses and feeling that we were a bit isolated in a kind of rural context in north Clare in terms of access to galleries in Ireland and internationally,” she adds.
Out of this Outrider Artists were born – a loose association of artists based on friendship, hospitality and generosity, where a value was placed on pooling resources, sharing knowledge and providing peer support to one another.
“We set out in Outriders,” says O’Dwyer, “to try and actually get out of – not get out of Clare, but get out there and bring people back. We have created working relationships, that is the real important thing, because by doing that it incentivizes artists to actually work and get things done.
“We said we’d try to turn it around and see what we could do. We didn’t set ourselves a grand plan, because it wasn’t really about ambition or anything like that. It was more about just trying to survive and work as artists and have some outlet for showing our work and not have our work stacked up in the corner of a studio,” she adds.
It was through Outriders that a cultural exchange was developed between north Clare and Estonia – artists from north Clare participated in the SALT Exhibition in Tallinn in 2011, while the same year Estonian group Liquid staged an exhibition entitled ‘Liquid is Everywhere’ at the Courthouse Studios in Ennistymon.
“It is significant link that has been developed,” says O’Dwyer. “We didn’t realise when we started out that it would happen – that it would work, or that it would be effective. It has been hugely effective and this is probably the fifth event in what is an international exchange. It’s really important to say that Clare County Council have been hugely supportive of the whole concept,” she adds.
AS part of this latest exchange, O’Dwyer has been invited by Liquid to exhibit ‘Cold Hands (warm heart)’ in the Metropole Gallery in Tallinn – a body of work that involves drawing, video and sculpture in various media including fur, lightbulbs, silk, wax and natural pigments. Then, both O’Dwyer and Kerin will travel to Tartu where they will create two solo exhibitions in the Centre for Creative Industries.
Ms O’Dwyer will be showing a series of sculptural print-works made from earth and compression and drawings using pigment glue pencil and ink in an exhibition entitled ‘I dug this dress up in the garden’.
Ms Kerin will develop an exhibition entitled ‘Meeting Marks’ using her Embodied Creativity Process – engaging with 10 Estonian artists and writers and responding through embodied movement with mark-making and framing the response with new media.
Then as part of the exchange both artists will host 4 o’clock tea in conjunction with Estonian artists from the Vedelik/Liquid group. People are invited to come and meet and engage in discussion on a given thought over a working tea.
“We did the same at the Merriman School and it proved very successful,” says O’Dwyer. “The theme of the Merriman was about surviving at the crossroads, so what we were trying to do was quite relevant to that.
“Most of us as a group had been working in north Clare for 20 years, trying to get by living here, by creating opportunities for ourselves to work and live here as artists. It chimed with the themes of the Merriman.
“Maria Kerin spoke and the response was really interesting – people really got it, what art was about. That’s it’s not about producing art for the sake of it, that this is our lives, that we’re not making things for the tourist market, that’s it’s real and that it’s not about creating art to get something out of it, but having a deeper value of the art.”
It’s what has the Outriders in Estonia; it’s what the afternoon tea with Christmas pudding, brandy and chocolate all the way from north Clare will be about.