"Oblivion is an alchemy, turning the sounds of the past into a completely unheard-of landscape that will only appear for an extraordinary moment, like an eclipse or aurora borealis."
- Aideen Barry
Music Network and the Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA) have appointed visual artist Aideen Barry to create a new artwork inspired by the Bunting Harp Collection, one of Ireland’s national treasures.
In 1792 Armagh-born Edward Bunting was commissioned by the organisers of the Belfast Harp Festival to notate and preserve the music of the last of the professional Irish harpers. Bunting strove to preserve indigenous culture in Ireland at a time of great threat and this task was to prompt a lifetime of collecting and publishing Irish traditional music. His first collection A General Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland [Volume 1] appeared in 1797 and its influence continues to be seen in live performance, print, recorded and online settings.
Aideen Barry, who is an Associate Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and a member of Aosdána, was awarded the €15,000 commission for her intriguing response to an invitation for proposals issued by Music Network and ITMA in 2019.
Barry will collaborate with Inuit throat singer and electronic musician RIIT, Irish harper Elaine Hogan and artist Margaret O'Connor to create Oblivion / Seachmalltacht / ᖃᐅᔨᒪᔭᐅᔪᓐᓃᖅᑐᑦ, a new cross-disciplinary project that draws parallels between Bunting’s preservation of ancient Irish music and the existential threat to all human culture and existence.
Through the use of cutting edge technology, archive materials, sound, music, design and film, Aideen Barry poses these concerns as artistic dilemmas to be addressed through a language of multidisciplinary collaboration.
Through the realisation of her new work, Aideen Barry will ask:
“What is the role of the artist in a time of great uncertainty, when we may be facing oblivion as a species? What if we are the last ever generation of artists left to live? If environmental collapse is really around the corner what responsibilities do we have to face up to and how can we interpret the notion of oblivion in our role as creators?”
Music Network’s CEO Sharon Rollston commented: "We’re very pleased to have awarded Aideen Barry this commission in partnership with ITMA. It builds substantially on a previous Music Network project in 2016 which took the Bunting Collection as its inspiration. A significant part of this project involved Music Network documenting solo performances of the 66 tunes of Volume 1 of the Collection, in ITMA’s recording studio. The resulting bank of audio-visual recordings - by 10 of Ireland’s leading contemporary harpers - acted as a catalyst for further exploration, with ITMA, of new ways to introduce this important collection, and the musicians who perform it, to wider audiences through an exciting cross-disciplinary approach."
Liam O'Connor, ITMA Director said: “Connecting artists with archival material to inspire new art is a great privilege for the staff of ITMA. To have a visual artist of Aideen Barry’s calibre ‘drawing from the well’ of digitised 18th century publications and manuscripts by Edward Bunting (1773-1843) is truly exciting.
Oblivion will bring Bunting’s life’s work on a new and unexpected journey while connecting us with our past, present and future. Along with our partners, Music Network and Special Collections & Archives, Queen’s University Belfast, the staff of ITMA are eagerly awaiting what promises to be an inspiring multi-disciplinary installation.”
Oblivion / Seachmalltacht / ᖃᐅᔨᒪᔭᐅᔪᓐᓃᖅᑐᑦ will be premiered at the Limerick City Gallery of Art from December 2021 - February 2022. This presentation will feature a special live performance by RITT and Elaine Hogan on 21s December 2021. In addition to a number of international presentations in 2022, the work will also be shown in The Source Gallery, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.
A separate commissioning resource will also be provided by Belfast International Arts Festival to present a unique re-imagining of Oblivion / Seachmalltacht / ᖃᐅᔨᒪᔭᐅᔪᓐᓃᖅᑐᑦ in Belfast in 2022. This presentation will take place with the generous support of the Department of Communities and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Further details to follow.
Music Network is funded by the Arts Council. The Irish Traditional Music Archive is funded by the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The support and co-operation of Special Collections & Archives, Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) is gratefully acknowledged, as is funding from The Canada Council for the Arts.