Photographs by Áine Phillips and Tom Varley from locations in Co. Clare

Áine Phillips - Rural art project

Art is a form of communication between people using visual or physical forms, using new media or live actions. It is a method by which people share creative ideas and new ways of looking. It is other vocabularies, new and alternative languages.

Rural place is where we are – we all live in the landscape. Even in cities we inhabit a landscape transformed by technology. The urban space may be artificial but nature still prevails within it. Landscape/nature/rural is ubiquitous. We are inseparable from it; we shape the world and are in turn shaped by it.

Art for a rural context is the opportunity to make communications/dialogues that engage with our rural environment – the place we live in. What are the subjects for dialogue - the themes most relevant, urgent and interesting? What is worth saying in this conversation about rural place?
How beautiful is our environment or how fast is it being transformed or destroyed?
How profound is our connection to rural place or how dislocated are we, how un-grounded are we?
How do we truly inhabit the environment that supports our life or do we just drive by or gaze out at it from interiors?

In answering these questions for myself I reflect on our need to connect with the environment in meaningful ways – to make a relationship. We need to care for and spend time in the rural environment. On a very basic level such changes in attitude or action can make an effect in this relationship that is both personal and political. I feel art has a role – visual and inventive art works can offer new ways for the viewer to perceive the landscape and their relation to it. Traditionally, we have contemplated and ‘looked at’ images or pictures of landscape in art and the work of certain artists has changed our perception – opened us to a new way of seeing. Contemporary art seeks to develop new ways of engaging the viewer or audience. It seeks to create an imaginative context where new models of art and landscape can intersect. Within the practice of contemporary art it is recognised that the viewer ‘completes’ the work by looking at it, by bringing to it her own history and understanding – a unique relationship is begun in the encounter with an artwork. So also with the experience of landscape or the environment, each encounter is unique and individual; each perception can be part of a new relationship.


Art and Community as Communication

How can we define community when all gatherings of people larger than face-to-face contact are imagined? Communities are to be distinguished by the style in which they are imagined and style is very much open to interpretation or re-fashioning. Style can be traditional or contemporary; it can be fluid, changeable or solid and dependable. The communities of rural Clare are all these things and are imagined in many styles. The advantage of exploring rural community through contemporary art is that art is also expressed through style and art IMAGINES things. Art as culture and community share common characteristics.

The term community opens up debates around belonging, about similarities, about how much and what kind of difference is tolerated. Community and fellowship, joint interests or all the people living in a specific locality/ the specific locality including all its inhabitants. This is how we have defined community in the past but consider… diversity, difference and the only common denominator between people who live in a locality being the fact they live there. We encounter a new definition of community in rural Ireland of the 21st Century - an exciting rich mix of a community where difference and challenge and growth are the new culture. Let’s imagine that

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Community is the place from which we create culture. We need a community first; our culture becomes the expression and the representation of that. To find a new culture we need to look at the traditions and customs of our place and our identity to re-imagine them. Its easier than it sounds – culture is an unstoppable force, always seeking to rise up, express itself in all the little details of life, in how we dress, in what we talk about and sing about. Art is part of that.

Community is a unity of fragments - a unity of individuals. Art can speak on an intimate level to each individual. It can communicate with one to one, face to face contact that becomes a collective imagining.



Possibilities for Landscape Art…

To open us up to a new way of seeing...
To question our beliefs or priorities or received ideas...
To create new ceremonies, sacred spaces, symbolic sites
To express the flow of life’s experience...
To animate the landscape – populate it...
To serve the community and traditions it comes from...
To make visible the invisible...
To make real the imaginary...
To express who we are, with visual objects and pictures...
To harmonise contradictions...
To give form to complex feelings, sensations And the experience of being...


Art offers the opportunity to step outside our everyday life and engage with something totally different. It could be sacred or metaphysical, or it could be a playful interaction with ideas. The job of an artist is to show the world in a fresh, inventive way, to re-imagine the world around us and our complex experience of it. To make whole aspects of ourselves that are disconnected or to unite fragmented experience. Art also contributes to a visual culture dominated by advertising whose only function is to induce us to buy, to feel dissatisfied with what we have, to consume. Visual art can balance out that plethora of images by presenting commentaries on advertising, alternatives, and positive representations of our lives.

Contemporary art can be difficult for public audiences who feel artists use shock tactics or deliberately controversial material to generate publicity. However, there is an important function to art that is not traditionally ‘beautiful’ or harmonious or finely crafted. This art can make real the contradictions of life, it can show conflict or tensions in our experience or in our society. In doing so it releases, interprets, makes bearable the intolerable, heals our culture.