Stories | 08 October 2020

That warm feeling that companionship brings

That warm feeling that companionship brings
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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!

Our September edition of The National Neighbourhood is already underway but if you you think you’d like to get involved in the next round, we will be posting information about how you can join in the coming weeks - find out more here.

Below, artist Helen Barry, who worked with one of the recent Tuesday groups, recounts her experience of getting to know one another through the screen.

Virtual greetings

There is nothing like watching a smile spread across the face of someone whose eyes you have just made contact with.

Even pixelated, the natural movement of the mouth as it lifts and breaks into a smile, spreading across a person’s face, their eyes widening, their forehead lines vanishing, as the hairline lifts - all cannot go unobserved. That moment of being acknowledged by another is unmistakable. My own heart lifted as I too was acknowledged one by one by my companions gathered together each Tuesday afternoon.

As an artist, I wondered how my role could (or if it should) shape or influence the dynamic. How could I draw these individuals out a little? I usually listen to snippets of conversations between people, or invite people to expand on their conversation or topic of interest, but here in our virtual world so little was initially offered. It was hard to begin to figure out aspects of the different personalities, what made them tick and how I fitted into the group dynamic as it evolved and grew.

Culture in the city

It was not one particular moment but a series of engagements with the different cultural partners that enabled the boundaries to fade and the participants to take ownership. Our conversation with Caomhan Mac Con Iomaire of the National Gallery of Ireland opened up the discussion on the work of George Wallace; the artist’s narrative draws deeply from his own theological beginnings and offered an insight to the group’s knowledge of similar cultural and biblical references.

The different lines of enquiry that Phil Kingston took them on as we unpacked our reactions to the Dear Ireland: Part One short plays produced by The Abbey Theatre offered an emotional and articulate response from an experienced group of theatre goers. Aoife Convery’s careful selection of female Irish artists from the Hugh Lane Gallery’s collection mirrored the strong voices of the women in our group.

Over the weeks, our cultural partners curated specific tours in response to the interests of the group. The Chester Beatty Library linked where our virtual tour had brought us to specific pieces in their own collection which afterwards some of the participants ventured outdoors to visit - the venue having awakened their cultural appetite. As we continued our journey, our group of individuals began to bring with them reflections and considered responses for sharing with the group. Ideas were proposed and questions asked of each other. Memories and experiences began to draw connections and only as we got to know each other better did the impact of Phelim Drew’s musical response to 14 Henrietta Street (our very first stop) became clear.

Comfort and companionship

The National Neighbourhood’s tour of Dublin’s local and national cultural venues offered opportunities for observation and a deeper understanding of each other. I enjoyed being able to sit back more and talk less. Gradually, the participants looked sideways at each other on the screen, acknowledging each other and clearly enjoying each other’s company. In my observations I began to be acutely aware of how much body language can be revealed through an on-line platform. The raise of an eyebrow, the frown of a questioning brow, the sudden perch on the edge of a seat as a burning question comes to mind or a passion for something is felt.

In Chinese characters, the symbol of laughter is the image of bamboo blowing in the breeze, this too I witnessed when laughter took hold and the bodies swayed back and forth as they shared and drew comfort and companionship from each other in a time where loneliness was the companion of many.

Helen Barry

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.

Helen Barry