Simon Mckeown 3/10/2015
“We Are Still Here”
Cork Ignite was a hugely ambitious live art project by Simon McKeown. It played out to an audience of 7-10,000 thousand in the City of Cork on the evening of September 15th forming the culminating event of Cork Culture Night 2015.
This two-year research project into disability arts practice in a public setting resulted in Cork Ignite, a major, free, public art outdoor projection event in the city centre of Cork, Ireland, which became one of the largest outdoor disability-led public artworks in Europe. McKeown demonstrated a new way of working collaboratively, rooted in his own lived experiences of disability and in those of people often deemed beyond disability engagement. Research results included four artworks: a video artwork made of 21 vignettes, a live performance, two collaborative sound/video compositions and an exhibition. Cork Ignite was instigated by an invitation by Create Ireland, Dublin, and was funded by Arts and Disability Ireland, Cork City Council and The Arts Council (Ireland).
This research sought to develop innovative disability-inclusive public art with ambitious engagement (Wodiczko, 2015), collaboration and expenditure processes to transform conventional cultural event production (Dodd, 2010), that views and uses disabled people archetypically. McKeown’s expertise in projection methods, technology and dramaturgy formed the project’s participatory research design, the structure of which embraced embodied discoveries around identity revealed tangentially through artistic and technological collage methodologies. This fundamentally challenged tropes that are often applied to disabled people’s lives – Exclusion (Barnes, 2005), Ableism (Loja, 2013) and the Tragedy Model (Oliver, 2012). Cork Ignite was conceived as a dialogical process (Kester, 2014; Finkelpearl, 2013), underpinned by the project’s ability to affect concepts of ‘bodymind difference’ (Viscardis, 2019).
The resulting bespoke multi-media production, which explored access, enablement and status throughout, led to the public and participants seeing and presenting themselves, and their social relations, equitably. With an audience of 7,000-10,000, Cork Ignite’s research directly engaged 20 organisations, approximately 100 participants including 20 disabled artists and their PA’s along with 30 volunteers. Traditional perceptions of commissioners and partners were challenged by disabled people as fully-engaged creators of the unique project, using often exclusionary high-end technology. This led to the project being awarded status as the central event in Culture Night Ireland in Cork. In superseding a normative and exclusionary City Centre (Kitchin, 1998; Bate, 2019), McKeown drew major partnership investment, money, time and permission that transformed Cork City Council’s commissioning processes and practice. This has had lasting significance for national arts modelling in Ireland, particularly within public spaces.
Cork Ignite, resulted from an invitation by Create Ireland, Dublin, and was funded by Arts and Disability Ireland and others. garnering significant media coverage, transnational partners (FACT, Liverpool) and exponential impact when McKeown was invited to create, We Are Still Here at St Helens (Heart of Glass, 2018).
During Cork Ignite, international artist Simon Mckeown engaged with technology and disability on a grand scale, using Cork College of Commerce as his large-scale dynamic canvas.
The final work was conceived as a public artwork, tailored to suit a large and diverse audience. The conceptual appeal of the material, its staging and dramatic effect were serious issues to be addressed and as such the work had to be much more than a single thematic theme. This was not narrative-driven cinema. Rather, it was about confounding, confusing and entertaining an audience, aged 5 to 80+. Cork Ignite did this using 3 key intertwined themes, taking inspiration from Cork and its history, material from the creative disabled community of Cork and finally the manipulation of city and architectural space. It was a poetical visual work, full of fun and chaos which surprised, amused and stunned viewers.
Two years to the day in the making using state-of-the-art equipment provided by XL PRG Video, Hemel Hempstead, near London and supported by a team of engineers using 3D scanning and projection mapping technology, the City of Cork was brought to light.
McKeown’s work used projected Braille as a method of communication and as a way of linking the journey of the work. Video and audio were deliberately full of mistakes such as the dysfunctional cuckoo clock which persistently misbehaved; inspired by one of Cork’s creative workshops. The many and various fabulously coloured buildings of Cork made speedy appearances linked to McKeown’s favourite 1970’s disability car. Hidden amongst the clips are images of Cork graffiti – Love is Real with love hearts a feature of the work.
Work of the famous blind Irish composer Turlough O'Carolan (Born 1670 County Meath) makes a wonderful appearance in a solo string performance by professional strings player Ellen Brookes. Travelling into the past, we journey through a 3D map of old Cork and Victorian Cork cutout artists O’Driscol and Edouart make appearances in a shadow performance led by Aoife Sullz and other performers from the core art team.
Journey is a theme as well as architectural distortion. The College of Commerce building is distorted in 3D and unusual events happened. Water is central to Cork and features in the work with participants in scuba costume floating in air bubbles. Computer technology that finds its home in Cork is referred to using colour based and DNA inspired games. From the shadows emerges Icarus and Deafness inspired music derived from wonderful visual and audio workshops with disabled cork artists. which all made sense on the night!
Please do watch the event videos, but please remember, the 3D feel which we worked so hard to achieve, and one that you only experiences at a live projection-mapped experience, is missing from the videos, The sense of excitement and enjoyment conveyed is not.
“We are still here"
It is our journey
… Do not kill us
We are still here
Love us …
And we will love you”
The work has since featured in documentaries, promos and academic review. In April 2016 McKeown launched Trace Elements, a solo exhibition at the Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool, UK, which detailed Cork Ignite.
Cork ignite was made possible by a heady combination of commissioning agencies, supporters, and sponsors and was managed by a unique Irish partnership involving the Arts Council (Ireland), Arts & Disability Ireland (ADI), Cork City Council, Galway City and County Councils, and Mayo County Council
Ignite (at the time) was a new platform designed to generate Ireland’s most ambitious showcasing of talent from people with disabilities, led by international and Irish artists and performers with disabilities, with projects taking place during 2014 and 2015 in Cork, Galway and Mayo.
www.irelandignite.ie www.artscouncil.ie www.adiarts.ie www.corkcity.ie
Simon presented at FACT in Liverpool on the 1st of December 2014 and this event also featured a panel including Mary McCarthy, Director of the National Sculpture Factory and Chair of Culture Ireland, Kath Gorman, Independent Producer and Cork Ignite Project Manager, Pádraig Naughton, Director of Arts & Disability Ireland and Dr Paul Darke, academic, writer and cultural critic.