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Stories | 17 September 2020

Swimming with the Thursday Zoom

Credit: Dan Butler

Credit: Dan Butler

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Since May 2020, The National Neighbourhood has been bringing people together from across the city, through a series of 12-week online projects with our cultural partners and artists - exploring all that the city has to offer, and keeping us connected through culture and conversation.

The project features weekly discovery sessions and conversations, focusing on everything from history and heritage, to visual art, music, theatre, performance and more - all via Zoom. At the end of the project we will help you identify your next creative or cultural steps, whether that is through developing a project idea with us, engaging in one of our other programmes, or using your new connections to the city’s cultural resources to continue your own adventure!

If you think you’d like to get involved in the next round of The National Neighbourhood, we have a few places left for our September edition - find out more here.

Below, artist Brian Fleming who worked with the most recent group recalls their final session - a socially distant celebration of culture and new connections.

Taking a leap

Lately, I’ve been swimming a lot in the sea.

There’s always a slight sense of dread as I approach the water, a fear that something will come out of the great unknown to bite me and the fear of the cold. By the time I’m leaving the cold water and coming back to land I’ve usually left my troubles behind and I’m strangely warmed from the inside out.

“I’m trying to do four things at once here. Can you send the extension lead outside for me and I’ll get the piano when I finish this,”

Sinéad is juggling two cafetieres, two flasks and a giant kettle. She turns and looks at me for a moment.

“Do you get nervous about these things or do you enjoy them?”

There’s a familiar sensation in my gut.

“It’s a bit like sea swimming” I tell her. “I really enjoy the feeling afterwards, but the bit just before is a bit kind of ‘ah Jaysus’ .”

I leave her to her juggling and buzz off around Richmond Barracks in a kind of Brownian Motion, bumping into familiar members of the Dublin City Council Culture Company team - Sandra, Linda and Chris.

Saying real-world hellos

As the countdown to 11am accelerates, participants from the 12-weeks of Zooms with The National Neighbourhood begin to file in to reception, some doing double takes to see if they really recognise me. I usually wore a shirt with a collar in the Zoom meetings, but now I’m still in the combat shorts and sweatshirt I wore cycling in this morning. I imagine my hulking 5’ 5” frame probably looked a bit more imposing onscreen.

It’s great to finally meet as a group in the real world. That fact alone is a kind of celebration and I’m beginning to feel particularly sorry that Bernie our Project Manager will miss this event after skilfully guiding us this far.

I find myself staring up at Connor’s smiling head atop a broad 6’ 4” frame. He’d never been more than two inches tall on my screen and always seated in the distance, somewhat dignified and detached.

I’m equally surprised to be looking downwards at Deirdre, the elegant ballerina from the Silver Swans. A little embarrassed to be still in my sweatshirt, I explain I’m going to up my game and put on a real shirt.

“Why don’t you just go without a shirt and we can call it a real party?”, she suggests, breaking the ice and, as I disappear for a moment to change, I feel like I’m beginning to swim out from the shore.

Connor looks at the white Victorian chairs arranged on the grass in a circle.

“No place to hide down the back of the class,” he says.

“I think it’s always been about the group leading the discussion,” I reply and we share a laugh.

Recalling 11 weeks of culture

Linda is Head of Creative Engagement at Dublin City Council Culture Company and joins myself and nine participants as we go over the 11 Zooms of the project so far - visits to the Abbey Theatre, Irish Museum of Modern Art, The National Gallery, Dublin City Libraries, The National Library, The National Archives, a tour of public art on O’Connell Street, The Hugh Lane Gallery, 14 Henrietta Street and Visual Thinking Strategies with Dublin City Council’s LAB, where we’d stared one day, for 35 minutes, at a recent painting by Vera Klute.

There’s no criticism from the participants of any of the tours. Along with Bernie and Linda, I had agonised about the length, content and opportunities for participants to contribute on all the tours by the experts at the National Cultural Institutions, but, from the participants, there is only praise.

More importantly, they offer great insights into the personal journeys they have been on with us. Sandra, Danielle and Sinéad from Dublin City Council Culture Company bring tea, coffee and buns, including orange madeira and queen cakes, brought by Anne, one of the participants. As we revisit the Zoom sessions and people’s thoughts for the future, Linda occasionally interjects with insights into Dublin City Council Culture Company’s past, current and future projects to give the conversation context and focus.

Maeve found the whole experience mind expanding and makes a beautiful pitch for a series of projections on the GPO with their own musical soundtrack, remembering previous struggles of the nation and giving hope.

Deirdre enjoyed the experiential zooms most and even the ‘homework,’ which linked one week to the next and, at one point, linked her into a live Black Lives Matter dance Zoom session.

Michael and Anne both missed their regular trips to galleries, during the lockdown. The interaction with Owen Roe, in the Abbey was Anne’s favourite. Michael was delighted to get access to hundreds of magazines from home with the library. He has since convinced his wife and her friends to join too.

Michelle was happy to discover all the people in the background that make the museums work. It was a “‘grand aul way to spend a pandemic”.

Maura loves Maeve’s idea and wants to celebrate the rise of women. Emer is going to miss her Thursday routine. She’d love to make a theatre piece together, inspired by the Abbey’s ‘Dear Ireland.’ Anne says she can come over and visit her for madeira cake on Thursdays.

Emma loved the chat among the group over the 12 weeks and wonders could we be the art ourselves?

Giving thanks

I fill up a whiteboard in the middle of the circle with themes as we go along. The overriding sense of gratitude among the group is reflected in a willingness to create a project that would share their experience and good fortune with others, perhaps with people who aren’t as likely to have the opportunity they just had.

Connor shares that he found the ability to connect during lockdown invaluable. The libraries were a revelation to him and he regrets having had to miss two Zoom sessions and looks forward to doing more.

I ask him to describe the vivid story he had spun about the painting by Vera Klute during the Visual Thinking Strategies session. He recounts the full story of how the picture to him depicted people who played music together coming to a river to remember a trumpet player, who used to play with them, but had since passed on.

Sinéad starts to play the piano and I recite a spoken word piece I had written, based on his theme. Even though the poem is kind of sad, Sinéad’s beautiful singing and playing and the fact that a small unique work of art has been created directly out of our collective experience and imaginations puts a smile on everyone’s face, not least of all Connor’s.

By 1pm we have to break up, still in full flow, as a tour is starting and some of the participants are booked on it. We say our socially distanced goodbyes, with a strong sense that we will meet again.

I make my way back to shore, warmed from the inside, collect my bag and hop on my bike, wondering will I manage to sneak in another swim in Dún Laoghaire on the way home.

Would you like to take part in the next series of The National Neighbourhood? We have a few places left for our September edition - find out more here.

Brian Fleming

Brian Fleming BA, Hdip, MA is a percussionist, producer and theatre maker. He has performed in over thirty countries and on over 50 albums. He is credited in the Guinness Book of World Records 2001 as the creator of the world’s largest drum and is the author and performer of three one-man theatre shows, which played at venues around Ireland and New York and were nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic. He is Co-Director of the Big Bang Festival, and annual festival of rhythm for Dublin and Artistic Producer with the St Pat’s For All Parade in New York. He loves art and culture that is about inclusivity.

You can find out more about his work here.

Brian Fleming