Part two of this interview is here
You were involved in a project in Kildonan Park in Finglas, Dublin called The Bridge. How did that come about?
This was a two-stage commissioning process; that is often the case with public sculpture projects. This 2021 project was run by Sculpture Dublin, inspired by Dublin City Council, supported by Hugh Lane Gallery and Visual Arts Ireland.
Economic, social and political, areas were researched on the area and site, from all the way back to the Vikings, to present day writers and artists, community activists, and various other historical moments. Once there was an extensive knowledge of Finglas, I started talking to and running workshops with residents and they had a vast amount of local knowledge to layer up on my own collated bundle. Through listening and hearing, you start to build and knit together an overall narrative with future vision for the place.
There was an approach which local representatives agreed, which was to celebrate the unrecognised or forgotten voice such as the local artist Una Watters, educationalist Eliza Bishop, pioneer for women Sophie Pierce-Healy, freedom fighter Kevin Barry and musician Seamus Ennis etc.
How was the dialogue between you as the artist and the local community facilitated?
We had workshops, site walks, bulb planting, a time capsule made up and hidden! Lots of discussions, so plenty of dialogue and conversation. We had thinking workshops, interviews via ZOOM with people who had lived in the area but now lived overseas. There was a core of people who I communicated possible idea directions with.
During workshops which were planned out to the last second, I spontaneously abandoned from my written format with the realisation it was more about me being quiet and listening to the people who attended and facilitating their engagement. The project was about the local people, the residents, the community, and what they wanted to reflect and be voiced in the sculpture. I think I then became a facilitator of their dreams and ideas at that point.
We set up a framework where the local community was at the centre of the creative process and I had to be quite vulnerable and let myself be directed. I repeatedly mentioned to the locals that this sculpture, this reflection of the area, was being put up in their area, outside their front door. It wasn’t going to be put up in a park outside my front door and so it had absolutely to reflect, and be supported by, the local community.
Ultimately it is the commissioned artist’s own understanding of material choice for the sculpture and their imagination which is paramount in successfully pulling together these local voices into one sculpture.
There was a real community arts feel about the project?
Many of the key themes and ideas came from the residents. Sometimes I had to think through if what was being suggested could be delivered. It was suggested that we should have the sculpture in bronze and that simply wasn’t doable. My aim was to have the sculpture very visible; viewable for people in the park to see from both ends of the 20 acres site. The sculpture is 7 metres high, making its form in bronze was not possible. After two decades of experience working on public sculptures, one realises the restrictive boundaries to local requests and some are just not possible, of course there are always budget constraints for material being applied and the chosen scale for a project.
We knew that glass or ceramics would not work in that area for example; the material had to be able to survive over time and I think we managed that and the community was very happy with the end result.
We organised an unveiling where local community artists were involved, with poets, rappers, a community choir and people from the local community. That was a wonderful event which completed the project by bringing people together which was the initial intention of the project and as far as I am concerned the purpose of my work for local and beyond.
To see more of Sara Cunningham-Bell’s work – see the link below