News, Stories | 22 December 2020

Artist Helen Barry on creating Winter Lights for the Civic Offices

Helen Barry and the artwork projected on the Civic Offices building. Photo: Mark Stedman.

Helen Barry and the artwork projected on the Civic Offices building. Photo: Mark Stedman.

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Helen Barry is a visual artist and classically trained dancer with over 30 years experience.

This autumn, she collaborated with members of the Henrietta Adult & Community Education Service to create their artwork called Together for the Civic Offices at Wood Quay. This three-minute animation created using shadow puppetry will be projected on the front of the building for the month of December as part of Winter Lights.

Below, she reflects on her experience of the project.

Tea, chats, and pressing play

I am trying to figure out where I am at, now the collaborative process is finished.

Or is it finished? The making is complete and our animated film is ready for screening, yet I find I am still holding my breath. I reach for the Play button to reconnect to where my mind was at whilst immersed in the making process. This is always accompanied by one soundtrack (on repeat, possibly to the annoyance of my domestic companions). This time it is Stormzy; he and I are up until the early hours as I cut the detail of Dublin’s architectural skyline and characters that tread on her cobblestones. The words become mixed with the sounds of each new blade slicing through indigo blue paper, the cut-offs building their own interesting forms on the floor. The methodical process of cutting and slicing encourages the mind to wander and lose itself, a place where I am most comfortable. Ideas, ponderings and reflections abound, yet through the blizzard of thoughts my minds sits contented, a word mentioned frequently on the album I am listening to. So do other words resonate, such as grateful, sharing, and community. This album was written well before the pandemic but it mirrors many of the words and reflections voiced by my collaborators.

This is my second online collaboration with many of this group so we know each other a little. They and the newcomers welcome this opportunity to challenge the dexterity of the mind to direct the dexterity of the fingertips, in this case mine. We had a specific task - to create a piece for Winter Lights.

Our discussions sought to uncover a narrative that we wished to share with the city.

Contented, grateful, connected, sharing, community, belonging, resilience, hope and peace - were bricks we chose to build upon.

Throughout this creative journey I reflected on how the pandemic has begun a process of pushing aside that self-deprecating Irish humor. It has given us the time to pause and reflect in our achievements and to be proud of them. In our final online session I presented the storyboard of the scenes, characters and components that formed the narrative that the group directed. I witnessed the in-takes of breath and accompanying exclamations of delight as the achievements were absorbed and acknowledged. I should note that the participants’ reactions were not made without a slight feeling of embarrassment.

With the new reality the pandemic brought, we had thought we had lost everything but perhaps we just actually found ourselves. It is ok to acknowledge and voice our achievements, to defy the cultural norms of self-deprecating criticism and be proud of ourselves: “Sure wasn’t I the one who made the tea, I didn’t really do any of the real work”, is often a response to praise in an Irish context. Never underestimate the synergy of stirring tea and the chat that ensues.

As much as I am eagerly anticipating watching the projection of our animation Together - nine meters tall and 16 meters wide - on the front of the Civic Offices, only when I actually see the faces of my collaborators glowing with pride shall I allow myself to exhale.


Helen Barry is a visual artist and classically trained dancer with over 30 years experience engaging creatively with children, adults and older people. Her work is driven by an exploration of ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ not necessarily in a religious sense but how and where do we find these within ourselves and the communities in where we live.

Helen’s practice takes the form of interactive multi-sensory sculptural works, installations, performances, sound works, textiles, printmaking, poetry, children’s books, artist residencies and workshops. She has been awarded several bursaries and commissions for her work.

You can find out more about her work here.


Discover more

You can view the group’s light display on the Civic Offices at Wood Quay for the whole month of December. Find out more about the Winter Lights Festival, and all 17 locations here.

If you can't make it into town, you can watch the full animation here.

Winter Lights is a Dublin City Council initiative.