Denise Chaila: “Every Time I Listen, I Flex”

(This is the full, unedited version of a piece published on RedBull.com on Friday April 12th, in advance of the brand’s ‘Free Gaff’ weekender event in Dublin)

Following the release of two-track single ‘Duel Citizenship’ in January, rapper Denise Chaila is poised to change Irish hip-hop, combining a newfound confidence with a burning passion for addressing the big social questions facing the scene. Ahead of her appearances at Red Bull Free Gaff, Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down with the ‘Man Like Me’ wordsmith for a conversation.

We’re approaching the height of exam season, and amid all of the usual stress and strain that students all over the country face, Denise Chaila conveys a quiet, well-spoken confidence down the phone. Fair play to her for keeping a level head: balancing a sociology degree with a burgeoning musical reputation is no small feat. Not that she’s one for small feats: having contributed to the success of Limerick/Clare outfit Rusangano Family as a spoken-word collaborator, Chaila directly addressed some of the major discussions in Irish hip-hop in January with the release of debut extended-player ‘Duel Citizenship’, almost immediately garnering wider attention, and premiering tunes via tastemaker blog Nialler9.com.

The road to ‘Duel Citizenship’ was a long and winding one, taking in her involvement in the ever-vibrant Shannonside music scene, and spoken-word work. Bringing her ideas and vision to Rusangano man MurLi, the process of getting the music out and into the world was the end of another journey. “(Now that it’s out), it puts me into this space where there’s so much more I want to create… the process of working with MurLi probably began in 2012, when I moved to Limerick. I was around when they started the band, a really cool thing to see happen. In some ways, I’ve been working on a body of work for quite a while, and when I decided my emotional and mental health… all these things were in a place where I could commit to music, MurLi was the first person I rang. I went over to the house that night, and MurLi’s always cooking. He was able to compose this stuff, and marry it to my hopes and dreams, really, as fluidly as if he was living in my own head!”

The E.P.’s leadoff, ‘Copper Bullet’, addresses the conversation of what a ‘female rapper’ is, and rightly calls out the idea of gender or identity as a sub-genre, a novelty to be used as a tagline for promoters or music writers. It’s met a hugely positive reaction, and most importantly, has initiated conversations. “I think it takes more than a single statement to effect change, but it’s made people more conscious of how they use the terminology. If that’s happened, I’m really grateful, because we define our world by the words that we use, and if I’m not going to say, ‘she’s a female architect’, or ‘she’s a female doctor’, I really see no reason why we should keep to this idea of ‘femaleness’ as a novelty, not something that you can represent within the canon of musical literature. I think that what it’s done is made people more conscious of that while talking to me about their favourites, which is an interesting byproduct of that. Just the fact that it is being emphasised makes me proud. I want to hear your Foxy Browns and Lil’ Kims next to your Jay-Zs and 2Pacs.”

Nowhere is Chaila’s resurgent swagger more evident also than in her contribution to Sim Simma Soundsystem’s track ‘Man Like Me’ alongside God Knows, taking direct aim at some of the insecurity inherent to male-dominated cultural spaces. It’s a big tune, tackling a big inequality, borne from collaboration and mutual support among friends. “It was fun, and it’s a song that came from such a place of joy, that every time I listen to it, I flex (laughs). God Knows’ little sister, Geraldine, that song is hers. It belongs to her, and my little sister, and so many others… my family has taken that song and ran with it. I thought that was really interesting, because I’m also finessing pronouns. I’m frustrated by the way people speak about me on that song, like ‘do you need to have a conversation on gender?’, but at the end of the day, it was incredible to see so many people across an age spectrum really adopt (that attitude). In the studio, Ben (Bix) did a tonne of ad-libs that made us shook, we were vibing and dancing to it, it was just… joy, and by the end of the track, I’d imagined this angry song, I was just giggling, I lost the plot in studio.”

Studying sociology at the University of Limerick has informed Chaila’s ballsy approach to the conversations of gender, sub-genre and identity in Irish hip-hop, but that love in turn was sparked by music to begin with, something that’s evident when she talks about how she implements those ideas. “For me, music is a process of trying to create the world around me. There’s a writer, Anais Nin, and she has a quote, ‘one writes, because one has to create a world to which one relates’, and sometimes you look at the world that your parents or school have made for you, the way people have taught you to define yourself in relation to other people, and it just doesn’t work. I went into academia as a child of grime, hip-hop, dancehall, someone who has learned to remix my reality, to make it fit me before I understood what it was, because culture wasn’t made for me, I didn’t fit in the boxes my friends did growing up, and it gave me a real sensitivity to language.”

Red Bull’s ‘Free Gaff’ weekender, happening in Dublin city centre from April 19th to the 21st, will be her first major live outing since the extended-player’s release, and she finds herself sharing the billing with some of the country’s most vital artists, producers and DJs, across three stages. It’s the kind of challenge she’s been waiting to take. “I’m excited. I’m more nervous about the fact that I want to see people play, and want to be part of this space as a punter. I’m also really excited to see my name on that line-up, with Jill Staxx and Daithí, all those people that are just… I’m nervous (laughs). I’m really excited about the idea of being onstage again, after all this time, having been a rapper, intermittently, it’s the exception, rather than the rule. Having a space where I can look around, and just vibe. I feel like there really wouldn’t be a better place.”

With her year off to a huge start, and Free Gaff serving as an essential port of call in the run-up to the summer festival season, there seems to be no stopping Denise Chaila at the moment, a state of affairs that’s being backed up with more music and projects in the pipeline. “More music. More music this summer, actually. I’m still in studio with MurLi, and we’ve been really cooking. I think that’s what startled us a lot about the reception to ‘Duel Citizenship’: when we put it out, I just wanted to say ‘hi, world’, and the world said hello back, and it was like, ‘oh, hey’ (laughs). I thought I would just slide through, and go back into hibernation, and no-one would notice, but now it’s really amazing. I’ve been playing, making things, reading and writing, and learning, getting to know my artistic personality. Now that I’m settled, the next thing is a mixtape, then getting ready to tour and gig more consistently than I am now!”

Shane J. Horan: “You Gotta Do It”

Over the past few years, photographer Shane J. Horan has been an important part of the Cork music community. Not only has he documented the recent development of the scene for Goldenplec.com, but he’s provided advice and support to local music industry professionals, drawing from his own experience and expertise. Mike McGrath-Bryan gets a chat in about the hard work involved.

From his time running gigs in Limerick cafés, to co-founding community metal promoters Bad Reputation and sharing his knowledge with a new generation of promoters and artists on presenting and framing music, the importance of the work of photographer Shane J. Horan in the Cork music scene cannot be understated. Most recently, he and Good Day News contributor Cailean Coffey have been working together to document gigs and artists in Cork city via Irish music site goldenplec.com. His professionalism and dedication to the ongoing health DIY music and its culture in the city is rooted in his own passion for collaboration. “It’s people creating, and pushing themselves to do more. It means so much for people to get out there, and show what they have made to others. To allow others to take part in the experience. I know people can agree that getting out there and making a human connection is more important, with social media sucking people in these days. However, it’s always been important. It’s inspiring to see individuals in corpse-paint and kilts, or making rhythms and expressing themselves. Take Post-Punk Podge: if expressing yourself means putting an envelope over your head, and banging out dance tunes on a violin, then you gotta do it.”

Not only are collaboration and working together toward a common goal a professional motivator for Horan, but the community spirit engendered by Cork’s music scene has been a big part of his (and others’) personal life, as collaborations become friendships. “I mean, I’m surprised at the amount of people that bond over watching that Post-Punk Podge. It’s the work of others that helps us express ourselves. Sometimes just to dance, sometimes to question your values. It’s the grouping and bonding of people. It might start with a chat at a gig, and then you’re sharing a house with one guy, and working in a job with another. Sometimes it’s years apart between things happening.”

Developing over the years, first as an events professional, then as a photographer and music aesthete, Horan has loaned his skills and expertise to promoters in Limerick and Cork city, most recently mucking in with Cosmonaut Music, a promotions marquee for ‘aggressive but intelligent music’, to paraphrase founder Cormac Daly. As Daly himself transitions into a managerial role for local artists, Horan discusses his experience working together with a driven and focused promoter. “I have worked loads with Cormac of Cosmonaut, in many different venues, and as part of many different teams. He is very responsive to suggestions and collaboration, which makes for a great work environment. I generally keep my mouth closed, though when given the chance though I’ll find myself relighting the stage. After that it’s a case of just being observant.”

As mentioned at the outset, Horan is presently working with Goldenplec.com, and aside from his own work and building a mighty portfolio of music photography, he’s been working with Cailean Coffey, utilising his own contacts to enable Coffey’s own work and professional development via the Irish music-media survivor. “Working with GoldenPlec is a pleasure. I couldn’t ask for better than working with Coffey. I helped him with a few introductions, and since then it’s a partnership. It’s great having a sounding board for your ideas, and with someone who has a different experience and needs something else from the same events. We come from two different points of view on many things musically, I don’t think our playlists overlap. Often, Coffey has a history and insight into how things work which I’d never get as a photographer. It’s also beneficial to see what he sees at gigs and in music media. Highlights how you need to draw influence from all different parts of society.”

GoldenPlec itself is something of a survivor, now, with 16 years of serving Irish music under its belt. Rare has been the digital long-runner among Irish outlets, to say nothing of the changing role of print in media consumption, so the question is: how does an outlet like Goldenplec stay relevant and adapt? “I think they’ll adapt well with the ever-changing landscape of media consumption. They keep their ears close to the ground, and aren’t afraid to cut their own cloth either. There’s a high level of communication within GoldenPlec. Ideas get pitched around all the time, and there’s loads of freedom to experiment. I think the pressure of the changing media will be on bands to self-promote. It’s a delicate balance between staying relevant and over-exposure, but it’s an interesting thing when your local act is fighting with the likes of CNN for your attention and time.”

Having spent a number of years in Cork building a body of work to stand by, the photographer now has his sights set on the future, but is holding his cards close to his chest regarding the specifics. “There’s a couple of projects just started, and a few areas of my personal work I want to focus on. I’m currently drafting up a list of who I want to document. It will be a case of a lot of logistics, which is something that isn’t really seen when you just see the finished work (laughs).”

Search “Shane J. Horan Photographer” across all your social media, and check Goldenplec.com regularly for his visual coverage of Cork city’s music scene.

Asylum Archive: “How Reminiscent of Our Previous Scandals”

The Direct Provision scheme has been an issue in Ireland since its creation twenty years ago, effectively ghettoising asylum-seekers and refugees, placing them out of the control of their own destinies for years at a time. Processing his experiences in this purgatory via visual documentation has kept curator and photographer Vukasin Nedeljkovic going in recent years. He speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about the Asylum Archive, currently on display at the Triskel Arts Centre.

The ‘direct provision’ scheme, for asylum seekers and refugees looking to Ireland as a place to escape conflict, famine and other humanitarian issues, was introduced as a “temporary” measure in November 1999. There have been 150 centres located across the country; some of the buildings repurposed for a situation made semi-permanent by government inaction include convents, army barracks, former hotels, and holiday homes. Most of the centres are situated outside of the country’s cities, on the periphery of Irish society, reducing integration with the local population, and often leaving asylum-seekers without a community, says Vukasin Nedeljkovic, curator of the Asylum Archive, himself still reeling from his time in the system. “Asylum seekers live in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, where families with children are often forced to share small rooms. The management controls their food, their movements, the supply of bed linen, and cleaning materials exercising their authority, power and control. According to Ronit Lentin, direct provision centres are “holding camps” and “sites of deportability”; which “construct their inmates as deportable subjects, ready to be deported any time”. According to Flac, these privately owned centres, administered by the Government of Ireland constitute a “direct provision industry”, which makes a profit on the backs of asylum seekers.”

Over the past decade, Nedeljkovic has set about creating photographic excursions of direct-provision centres around the country, contrasting the outward respectability of some of these buildings with the conditions of those therein, and illustrating the historical parallels the situation has with other Irish institutions. “I continue to explore the processes of collaboration between me as an artist and activist, and asylum seekers’ community; to archive and document Direct Provision as a reference for one period in the recent Irish History, in the relation that we have very little visual information about other previous Irish carceral sites, including the Magdelene Laundries, borstal, Mother and Baby Homes, and Lunatic Asylums.”

Individual pieces, indistinct in terms of location but definitive in terms of intent, like an arresting photograph of a memorial simply entitled ’61 Deaths’, are haunting to say the least. Documenting those horrible moments of gravity and realisation of the circumstances for those involved must be a heavy burden to bear, and the duty of framing them as artistic pieces is evident in Nedeljkovic’s approach. “The title of the work that’s displayed in Triskel Arts Centre is titled: ‘At least 70 people have died while in State Care’. In 2019’s Ireland, we don’t know the names of the people who have died, the causes of their deaths, or where they have been buried. The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) don’t keep any of these records. How reminiscent of our previous scandals, like the Mother and Baby Homes.”

Found objects are perhaps the most haunting part of the project – allowing the people viewing these photographic studies to imagine the daily uses the objects received, and contrast their mundanity against the sheer gravity of the situation. These questions are posed, and weigh heavily. “I have been working on collecting and archiving found objects from the children that once lived in Direct Provision, and who were either transferred or deported from the Irish State. The questions remain: ‘What had happened with the child that owned a yellow truck, to give you an example? Is the child safe? Has the child been deported? Has the child been separated from their parents?”

Following his own time in direct provision, Nedeljkovic has maintained this project as a record of the abuses and injustices of the Direct Provision system. Curating and maintaining it has been a coping mechanism for the artist, and he offers to help those exiting Direct Provision and trying to relate those experiences to others in their new communities with the outlet he has created. “Asylum Archive has its contributory aspect, a collaborative and collective space, where individuals from other social and political subcultures can contribute or take part in creating an online repository of Direct Provision. The contributory aspect of Asylum Archive is deliberately designed for asylum seekers to upload their visual or written experience from Direct Provision centres. Asylum Archive is not a singular art project that stands ‘outside of society’, engaged in an internal conversation; it is a platform open for dialogue and discussion inclusive to individuals that have experienced a sense of sociological and/or geographical displacement, memory loss, trauma and violence. Asylum Archive has an essential visual, informative and educational perspective and is accessible, through its online presence, to any future researchers and scholars who may wish to undertake a study about the conditions of asylum seekers in Ireland.”

The exhibition is currently at the Triskel, where it will be for the next two weeks from press time – the public response to the current exhibition from the people of Cork has been significant. “It is absolutely brilliant to have an exhibition in Triskel Arts Centre. We had a great opening with a packed house, and Joe Moore and Nomaxabiso Maye from Anti Deportation Ireland (ADI) officially launched the exhibition.” This response and support has provided a bottom line for the project to grow and develop over the coming years, with the exhibition continuing to travel, and Nedeljkovic’s work to catalogue the issue deepening. “I continue to document Direct Provision Centres dispersed across the country. After the Triskel, the exhibition will travel to Source Arts Centre in Thurles, and I will also get into the second edition of the Asylum Archive book.”

Asylum Archive is on exhibition at the Triskel Arts Centre until March 29th. It can be viewed online at asylumarchive.com.

Kaiju Gaming Lounge: “A More Positive Aspect to Gaming”

Placing itself directly in the spiritual Leeside home of modern social gaming, Kaiju Gaming Lounge has put a lot of stock in the city’s core gaming community, as well as the idea of videogaming as a casual social activity. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with end-of-level boss Paulo DeBrito.

Videogaming’s potential as a social phenomenon has been overlooked since the dawn of the medium. From the earliest days of its development, when multiplayer became a defining feature of pioneer computer game Space War and arcades became staples of urban centres around the world, to the massively multiplayer online environments of triple-A titles across multitudes of gaming platforms, collaboration and competition has been an important part of the medium’s enduring appeal. Cork, of course, is not without history in this respect: while arcades have been present to some extent in the city centre since the seventies, McCurtain Street’s Coliseum centre, now the Leisureplex, is the sole survivor of coin-op gaming’s heyday, while Barcadia on the Mardyke Road competes for the casual consumer buck with a strong lineup of refurbished arcade cabs and Neo Geo MVS machines.

A lesser-spotted part of gaming in Cork, however, has been the ever-shifting migratory pattern of the PC gaming community, serviced ably before the economic crash by outposts like Area 51 and the Webworkhouse. With its popularity growing on a cult basis in recent years, the time has been right for a while to revisit the idea of a physical centre in Cork city. For Paulo de Brito, it was just about mad enough to work. “Kaiju Gaming Lounge was initially discussed playfully between friends, while I was on holidays three years ago. I then realized that it was worth a shot to try to open a gaming lounge, and decided to take a start-your-own-business course in Cork, to understand how to plan a business. There were many challenges initially, such as budgeting for the machines, choosing each component for the computers, and the overall decoration and business identity such as the name and logo of the place.”

Offering a selection of custom-made gaming machines and augmented console experiences, Kaiju occupies a space in the city that’s been waiting to be filled. While the aforementioned venues hit specific beats in terms of gaming fandom, there are still groups of gamers in the city that have been going between available venues for a while, including the Cork Fighting Game Community, veterans of world-class competitive fighting games. A place like Kaiju is well-positioned to meet a variety of gaming niches, and challenge stubborn mainstream perceptions of gaming as an anorak pursuit. “Straight up, we wanted to offer a variety of choice between console and PC gaming, as there was no other place in Cork city offering this range of services, and I had visited other gaming lounges outside of Ireland that were successful by catering to PC and console gamers. The overall idea of the social events was definitely to bring a more positive aspect to gaming, that is still seen as a loner activity by some people. We wanted to create a place where you could meet up with friends or make new ones, without the need for alcohol, for people of several ages, ranging from children with their parents, to adults that remember fondly their videogame times.”

Arriving in the site of the former Area 51 on North Main Street was surely no accident. In the pre-recession times, the internet café was the centre of a then-nascent gaming culture, centred around multiplayer games at the outset of their popularity, like Counter-Strike, as well as demented sandboxes like Garry’s Mod, a user-led contortion of the Half-Life engine. Puerile in-jokes, like a stock of the inappropriately-monikered Bawls energy drink, abounded, while the overnight gaming deal made for great impromptu accomodation for gig-goers in the event of a missed last bus. Huge shoes to fill, then. “Area 51 definitely left a mark in Cork, and people have mentioned it as they come in, sometimes as a joke they even call it ‘Area 51 2.0’. Overall, the reaction has been great with some people saying that Cork was overdue for a place like this. We are fortunate to have been able to find this premises, as it not only brings back memories of friends playing videogames together late at night, but also have had some parents that want to bring in their kids on the way to or from shopping in town.”

The physically solitary nature of online multiplayer gaming, rife with broad and offensively inaccurate stereotypes of foul-mouthed youngfellas, is something the space seeks to combat in its own way, rather than simply play on nostalgia. There is an element of pre-internet social gaming to the space’s M.O. and configuration, though. “Online videogames can still be quite isolating, but I believe that to be caused more due to the convenience of being able to login, play and chat with friends from around the world, without leaving the house. It is, however, important to remember the origins of videogames, as before online gaming was introduced, players would have to gather around the living room and play together. What we aim to bring back is precisely that, a friendly place where you’ll want to meet your friends and make new ones.”

Virtual-reality gaming and console rental are also part of the space, mirroring the experiential marketing of the arcade sector and providing access to the cutting-edge of this gaming generation’s technology for a fraction of the retail price devices like PlayStation VR command. It also provides a little bit of people-watching joy for DeBrito and staff. “An unexpected side of VR gaming that we’ve seen at Kaiju has been how much friends enjoy gathering together to see the one that using the VR equipment, and either help out getting through a tough part of the game or have a laugh at how silly things can get. We haven’t had a dull moment with it.”

It’s an interesting one to consider, how a space like Kaiju develops: without precedent for change in recent years, and with the explosion of competitive gaming as a spectator attraction, potential is definite for something like it to expand and maintain its own niche in the city’s social life. “Once it becomes possible, we’ll start investing in promoting eSports which is an area that goes deeper into competition and specialization into a specific game. This should definitely change how gaming is perceived by anyone that hasn’t had the chance to be introduced to this kind of entertainment, from simply playing a game to a challenge for the mind, in terms of coordination and team cooperation.”

Kaiju Gaming Lounge is open now on North Main Street. Find it on social media, or email info@kaiju.ie for more information on social gaming packages and party rates.

Cork Multiple Births Club: “Unique Support from Others on the Same Journey”

In the absence of formal support structures, Cork Multiples Club has provided parents of multiple-child births with advice, assistance, and a little bit of breathing space for ten years. Mike McGrath-Bryan spoke with organiser Alexie Ui Laoghaire on the eve of the anniversary edition of the group’s monthly coffee morning in Wilton.

Beginning or expanding a family is undoubtedly a seismic event in anyone’s life: the amount of planning and preparation that goes into welcoming someone new into the world is a drastic and transformative process, that alters every aspect of how one looks at the world, their work and their responsibilities. And if that either frightens you, or resonates with your own experiences, you can probably imagine what goes through the minds of new parents when told that their upcoming arrival is, in fact, twins, triplets and more. But despite what one might imagine, supports specific to the situation of multiple new additions to your team are scarce on the ground, bar some benefits and home help. It’s an issue that led to the foundation of the Irish Multiple Birth Association, a volunteer-led charity that provides new ‘multiple’ parents with information and advice, directly from multiple parents themselves.

But taking that first step to get involved and help oversee that support for your own area is another big step again, one that was taken in February 2009 by multiple parents Noreen O’Keeffe and Valerie Maout Uí Aodha, IMBA members and co-founders of the Cork Multiples Club. Seeking out a space in which to host families from across the city centrally, the pair began running coffee mornings in Wilton’s Brú Columbanus. For Alexie Ui Laoghaire, the club’s current co-ordinator, these mornings provided space, support and a sense of community. “I originally attended the monthly coffee morning, before my twins were born. I had received an IMBA booklet from CUMH, and had seen a poster in the twin clinic about the group so decided to check it out. I missed the following month’s meet as I had just had my babies, but I have attended pretty much every month since for the last four years. I took over running the group about two years ago, and love meeting all the multiple families. I think it is a really important space to enable multiple parents to get together, and share their experiences, their challenges and to be supported through these by their peers.”

Mutual support among parents is important to the development and growth of individuals, families and communities, all over the country, and the intensified need for support around multiple-birth families is met with aplomb by the Club. The coffee mornings are an important part of the group’s activities, but not the only means of addressing the questions of support, time management and keeping things afloat in a busy household. “The coffee morning is a space for multiple parents, expectant parents, or carers minding multiples, to chat and share peer support over a cup of coffee while little ones nap, play, feed, or squabble (laughs). It is an informal meet but it provides an opportunity for unique support from others who are on the same journey. As well as our monthly meet, we host a quarterly information evening, also in Bru Columbanus.  This is an opportunity for expectant parents to chat to multiple parents further along on their parenting journey, about what to expect when babies are brought home, what to get organised, possible sleeping arrangements, feeding, breastfeeding, routines, equipment etc. Our evenings are well attended and hopefully reassuring to expectant parents that while it is challenging it is also survivable!”

The club’s home in Brú Columbanus is a natural extension of the facility’s accommodation of multiple parents’ needs at CUMH. An independent charity, it provides “home from home” accommodation for relatives of seriously ill patients in the hospital, as well the headquarters for the club’s coffee mornings. “Initially, the coffee morning started in a meeting room within the building, but for the last number of years we’ve held it in the family playroom there. The room is bright, and cheerful with plenty of space for the double buggies, lots of toys and comfortable couches. It was recently redecorated by Dulux. Anne-Maria, Pat and their team are so accommodating, and we are delighted to be able to rent the space each month and for our quarterly information evenings. We would like to thank them for enabling us to keep our meet going for the last ten years.”

Over the course of a decade, you’d imagine a group like Cork Multiples Club spanning not only the development of young families, but the growth of multiple-birth kids not only as groups, but as individuals. As time has worn on, the Club has been present for families as schedules and life allows, and the common experience of bringing pairs or groups of people into the world has brought people together outside of it. “While some families attend the monthly meets for a number of months, or years, other parents return to work, or babies become pre-schoolers and then start national school, and may occasionally come along if the meet falls on a school holiday. Sometimes it’s hard to believe our pre-schoolers were once the tiny babies other parents are now arriving with! Some regular parents have struck up friendships that continue outside the Club, and we hope these families have fond memories of their time at the meets.”

February 22nd just past marked the Club’s tenth anniversary, and while it was business as usual regarding the meetup, it’s also cause to look toward the future for Alexie, still-active contributor Noreen, and for the group’s development, as it looks at expanding to new towns and areas in the county, and raise further awareness wherever multiple-parents may be. “We’re thrilled that the group is still going strong ten years later, now Noreen’s twins are twenty, and my own are turning four! It was great to see both new and old faces, and we look forward to welcoming more families to IMBA and Cork Multiples Club, in 2019 and beyond. We plan to continue running our monthly meet, our quarterly information evenings, and hope to get more volunteers involved.  We would like to get some posters up in local GP and Public Health Nurse offices, to spread the word further offline.”

For more info on Cork Multiples Club, search for their page on Facebook. For more info on supports for multiple-birth families, check the Irish Multiple Births Association’s website (imba.ie) and Facebook discussion group, or call 01-8749056.

The group’s quarterly information evening is held the first Wednesday of each quarter, from 7.30-9pm. The next installment is 8 March 2019, at Brú Columbanus in Wilton.  

Sexual Violence Centre Cork: “It’s About Talking About It”

This Valentine’s Day afternoon, dancers and volunteers for the Sexual Violence Centre at Camden Quay will gather at the Opera House for a special flashmob, as part of a worldwide event raising awareness of sexual violence, and the worldwide movement to break the stigma surrounding its victims. Mike McGrath-Bryan checks in with SVCC head Mary Crilly and flashmob leader Inma Pavon.

Valentine’s Day in Cork City will mean an extra-busy few days for shops, restaurants, florists, and by the time 1pm rolls around, the beginning of an influx of panic-buying significant others, descending upon Paul Street to get the last few bits in (or all of them in some cases!) ahead of the evening’s proceedings. The perfect time, then, for a flashmob to strike, and disrupt the routine. Thursday week will see the volunteers of Cork Sexual Violence Centre, accompanied by dancers from around the city, co-ordinate and dance to raise awareness not only of their own cause locally in the wake of movements like #MeToo, but of the realities that one billion women, out of three worldwide, will have been raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

The flashmob, kicking off at 1.15 on the day, is part of the One Billion Rising project, that sees similar displays of solidarity and expression happen around the world on Valentine’s Day. For Sexual Violence Centre Cork co-ordinator Mary Crilly, creation of awareness via the arts and community outreach is as important as fundraising, keeping the word out there after a busy holiday season of fundraising initiatives, like Cyprus Avenue’s ‘Undivided’ Christmas mega-gig. “For the people working in the centre, I think they feel an incredible buzz. Not just listened to, but that we matter. Sometimes when you’re working in a centre, especially when there are counsellors seeing people everyday, you’re not aware of what else is happening out there, so it’s encouraging to see that there are young people, listening, and that they want to raise awareness.”

‘V-Day’, the one-day campaign for One Billion Rising under which the flashmob falls, has been on the peripheries for the Sexual Violence Centre for a few years, in terms of its community outreach goals and collaborations with local artists. But in getting something like a flashmob together, creating a sense of urgency was also important. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and the 14th of February is very soon. If we started rehearsals in September or October, people might forget by February. January seems awfully late to try and do it, but we said we’d give it a go… We’re very aware that the majority of people will not come in for counselling. I think Irish people, in general, are very private. One in ten people (affected by sexual violence) will come in for counselling, and it’s about letting the world know that if this has happened to you, that we’re really sorry that it’s happened, and that you’re not on your own, and for the people supporting them: we’re here to help. It’s about talking about it.”

That process of community outreach has been important to many of the Centre’s drives for fundraising and awareness led them to look into the city’s vibrantly-busy dance community, whereupon they were introduced to locally-based contemporary dancer and tutor Inma Pavon, whose experience and passion for people made her a perfect fit for the project, according to Crilly. “We were really fortunate. One of the women here knew Inma, and she said ‘why don’t you contact her?’. I did, and she got back immediately, within a few hours. She said, ‘I dance, I do dancing, I teach, I know a lot of people, I’ll organise this part’, and she made it so much easier. It’s wonderful when you have someone like Inma, who wanted to help, but never knew how to help, looking after things, it’s wonderful, totally.”

Wanting to help, but not knowing how to help, can be a big obstacle for many ordinary people who might like to volunteer, not only for SVCC, but for charity in general. When asked how people can get involved, Crilly is open about what anyone can bring to the fray for a community group like theirs when they reach out. “People have organised community events in here, and for us, it was a way of getting people into the centre, who wouldn’t previously have been in, who might have wanted to, and felt safe coming in and leaving like that. People, when they want to volunteer, I hate them thinking that they have to have so many skills. It can be big, or small, or whatever they’re willing, or able to do. We do want new energy coming in, new people coming through, whatever they can do for us.”

Making her home in Cork after a lifetime of pursuing contemporary dance around the world from her native Spain, Pavon has, in recent years, harnessed the power of community across different media and artistic disciplines, to create a compelling body of work that goes from freeform dance classes to appearances in music videos for local artists like alternative folk singer Elaine Malone. Working on the flashmob, Pavon gets to bring her expertise in working with new people to the fray, and embark on rehearsals with people of different skill levels (and none). “Working on the flashmob has been absolutely incredible. Just the fact that I am a dancer, and a believer that dance helps to break chains, the flashmob is, in fact, a gift given to me to help me spread this message. I love working with new people, that’s the beauty with dance, that you meet new people all the time… It’s a place to make people feel good through the learning process, which can be at times more difficult. My task, I believe, is to help faciliate that process, and make it easier for everyone to pick up.”

The choreography of the piece has been agreed upon by project participants around the world, focusing on breaking the stigma of silence and shame surrounding sexual assault. For Pavon, who’s used to far more freedom of movement and concepts in her work, the differences are stark, but the validity of expressing a message and empowering others is important “Contemporary dance is a very ‘expanded’ dance technique, where lots of different styles come to be. Also, it depends a lot on the choreographer’s taste, to add something completely unique to their dance works. I like to think we love as many different dances as we love people: all dance is good if feels good for you… I love making my own dances, sometimes to no music, just allowing the movement to emerge from a sensation or visual stimulus. Music comes later sometimes, but it’s all to bring on a journey, along with the dance.”

Pavon’s work with various groups and new dancers in the community from her studio on Monahan Road have informed her approach to community outreach, so when it came time to muck in on the V-Day project on a local basis, she eagerly answered the call to do so. “I want to thank the Sexual Violence Centre for making this happen, and bringing the awareness of this issue to the people of Cork. This is a very important event, and its goal of raising awareness about sexual violence around the world is really necessary, still, in peoples’ lives.”

The Sexual Violence Centre continues to go from strength to strength, with more calls to action and ongoing projects, such as nightlife safety initiative ‘Ask for Angela’, taking place over the course of 2019. Equally as important, however, is the health and wellbeing of the people that keep the SVC running and serving an all-important purpose in the community. Last year saw Mary Crilly diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer, a horrible shock that refocused her personal efforts, but also provided a profound perspective on her work, as she rounds the corner to recovery. “I needed lots of surgery, I needed lots of chemotherapy, so it came as a huge shock. I was lucky enough that I got diagnosed and had chemo all through the summer. Last week, I had an operation to reverse the stoma, which was joining my bowel back together. It’s been a rough year, but I’m at the end of it, and I feel amazing. I feel lucky and privileged to have the people that have supported me, and that I’m at the stage, now, where I’m feeling ready to go again!”

The Sexual Violence Centre Cork flashmob, for the V-Day Project, happens at 1.15pm at Cork Opera House. For all the latest information, and to get involved, check ‘Sexual Violence Centre Cork’ across social media.

Imaginary Neighbours: “It’s Possible to Find More Meaningful Connections”

As Quarter Block Party sets out to re-imagine what the city’s historic quarter can be this weekend, one group of artists sets out to fill in the blanks left by vacant spaces left on North Main Street, creating a group of ‘Imaginary Neighbours’. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with installation co-creator, Gergő Lukác, and Quarter Block Party co-organiser Eszter Némethi.

It stands as proud as ever it has, for better or worse. North Main Street, at the centre of the city’s ‘old’ quarter is an important lifeline in traversing the city, linking Shandon Street and the Northside to Barrack Street and the Lough beyond it. A historically proud area for businesses and trade, the street has seen the ups and downs of arrivals, departures, and the seemingly endless cycle of boom and bust over the years, forging a strong and resilient community of traders and the loyal custom that keeps the area alive. For the past five years, Quarter Block Party arts festival has sought to breathe new life into the area’s vacant spaces, nooks and crannies, with music, performance and public engagement, doing so right as winter gives way to spring.

This year, a group of visiting artists from Budapest in Hungary have given specific consideration to the issue of vacant retail units and lots in and around North Main Street, devising a number of interactions and provocations through street art, installations and performances, among which is an intriguing proposition: ‘Imaginary Neighbours’. Asking workshop attendees to imagine the people and stories that could fill the empty spaces and open new possibilities for the area, the project sees the ideas rendered as images, drawn onto kites, to be flown during a special parade later in the day. At a time when vacant properties risk creating vacant neighbourhoods, co-creator Gergő Lukác explores the process of getting a conversation going beforehand. “Approximately 300 people live on North Main Street now. In theory, it shouldn’t be so difficult to reach and convince people to participate, but in practice, it definitely is. This is the reason we created a three-step strategy. First, posters will appear in the streets with our faces, to not be complete strangers when we show up. The second, to send letters to the residents, with more information about why we arrive. And lastly, to get to know them in person, on those four days when we arrive in Cork.”

Further to the process of finding out who will have “arrived” at the workshop, the stated theme of who is “yet to arrive” in real life hangs poignantly over proceedings: our city is to become a City of Sanctuary for refugees, and the artistic community works hard to create place for them wherever possible. Such concerns, though relevant, will be explored indirectly, via the simple process of imagination, as well as the chats with locals, says Quarter Block co-organiser Eszter Némethi. “The workshop, and the parade propose a curiosity and gives space for thinking together, about what it might mean to live together. What it might mean to move in to a very specific place, with a very specific history and situation. Like Gergő said, there are 300-odd people living on the street, that’s six busloads, a very small community. I think to be in the same room with your neighbours in itself is quite exciting, even if it is temporary.”

Reclamation of real and imagined spaces are a theme for the parade: vacant living and retail spaces have always been a feature of the city centre, like cavities, in its forward-facing nature, and in recent years, have coincided with the death of community arts spaces like Camden Palace Hotel, commonly falling victim to property hoarding and an inaction on infrastructural issues and changes in customer habits. For Nemethí, public art like this is an attempt to find a common way to suture up the disconnections with the city centre that have followed. “With Quarter Block Party, my personal question is: ‘what is the place of art on a street?’. And I like to propose this question to artists, traders, residents. To think together, because I think the answer is not simple, the dynamics change. The values and priorities shift. I learnt a lot about how much space there is on North Main Street for art, often more than I thought. Often in places I didn’t anticipate! But I also think ‘sensing’ this place requires a continuous dialogue, and it’s a slow process, a negotiation of differing value systems. It’s not the point to fill temporarily vacant buildings, meant for trade or living with art. It can help to lift spirits, but I think it’s possible to find more meaningful connections.”

The workshop was developed as part of the Common Ground programme of cultural exchanges between Cork and Budapest, that runs over the course of Quarter Block Party weekend, with the help of the EU’s Erasmus+ programme. For Lukác, the challenge was working from Hungary alongside Cork-based Némethi and the Quarter team, with all of the challenges that occur. “In Common Ground, we work and research on how we can reach and engage local communities through the tools of art. We work in small groups, along different approaches of the topic, everyone according to their main interest. We were interested in how to involve the people who actually live on this street, and what’s the topic we could catch their attention with. ‘Imaginary Neighbours’ was then designed especially for North Main Street residents.”

Quarter Block Party has, for half a decade, explored and shone a light on spaces and interactions for local people along the city’s old quarter. The initiative and effort that organisers like Némethi have put in to bring life to spaces that could otherwise be construed as ‘left behind’ by development and gentrification cannot be underestimated. “I think in the margins, the places where people do not look, wild and magical things can happen. There is a possibility for things to emerge and develop. And it might be hard to establish or eradicate things, but I also think this is the strength of these places, that they change, but also persevere. I think North Main Street is one of these wild spaces, just that it also happens to be in the very middle of Cork.”

The ‘Imaginary Neighbours’ workshop takes place between 1pm and 6pm on Saturday February 9th, at the Middle Parish Community Centre on Grattan Street. Families are welcome. The Parade of Imaginary Neighbours then sets off from Skiddy’s Castle Plaza at 6pm. To book a place, email eszter@quarterblockparty.com.