Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Westport Festival's Róisín Dubh Stage Preview for Sunday *With Updates*

Sunday afternoon is going to power through any sort of cloudy-headedness that might linger on through the morning after the night before. With a mix of punk, indie and electro, the Róisín Dubh stage is offering more great music after a solid lineup on Saturday.

Kid Karate, the twosome from Dublin who pride themselves on their fearsome noise, are going to challenge those of a nervous disposition with their live show on Sunday afternoon. Anyone who saw last year's performance by The Minutes at the Westport Festival should definitely make it to the Róisín Dubh stage for these two. Pure energy and talent.

Go on, annoy the neighbours. Turn this one up.

Kid Karate 'Two Times' from AntidoteFilms on Vimeo.

The multi-talented Not Squares are also playing Sunday evening. With a musical range from Aphex Twin to Bloc Party, there's a visceral carnage to their sound. 'Release the Bees', the opening track from their album 'Yeah OK' is a proud display of their capacity to delve into different genres, and to excel within them. With cowbell and synths grappling with bass and vocals, Not Squares are one of the most exciting bands of 2013. You can buy their album for the unreasonably reasonable price of €2 here. They're playing 20:25-21:05 at the Róisín Dubh stage.

The timetable used for yesterday's preview has been changed. Updates are as follows:
Sleep Thieves, Saturday, 17:40-18:10.
Tieranniesaur, Saturday, 19:25-20:05.
Le Galaxie, Saturday, 21:30-22:30.

You can find the official timetable for the festival and all other important details on the official Westport Festival website.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Westport Festival's Róisín Dubh Stage: Saturday

A wonderful mix of Irish music is being offered at this year's Westport Festival. With the three musical stages presenting a mix of all the flavours of Irish and international music this weekend, it's worth taking a look at the smaller stage, the Róisín Dubh stage where the gems of the growing Irish music scene will be found.

The lineup for Saturday afternoon offers great promise in the form of the melodic synths and epic orchestral scores in the form of Sleep Thieves, Tieranniesaur and La Galaxie.

In some Crystal Castles-esque waves, 'Spirit Animal' is the standout track of Sleep Thieve's album 'Islands'. It's available to download here for €5. They're on 17:30-18:00.

The upbeat pop from Tieranniesaur is the complex musical musings of the six-piece band who're aligned with the Popical Island collective. Three female vocalists are to the fore amongst sharp drums and defiant bass. 'The Changeling' is seductively easy to hum along to. Watch them do cool music at 19:30.

Taking their well-earned place as the headliner of Saturday's electro offerings, Le Galaxie are providing the powerful finish to Saturday's events. With new music on the way, and great reviews coming from their show at Forbidden Fruit, their live show is going to be an exciting way to see the sunlight fade out from the grounds of Westport House. Catch them from 21:30-22:30. They have generously put their album available to download for free on Bandcamp.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Militarisation of Singaporean Society

There's part of Singaporean psychology that's occupied by its military. There's a daily flyover by various attack aircraft or troop transport planes and the sides of buses are plastered with soldiers pacing through jungle, weapons readied. All part of the advertising campaign for the obligatory national service of two years for all men. Singapore embraces its armed forces.

Since its establishment as a nation independent of Malaysia in 1965, Singapore's military has grown in strength, size and influence. After its inception as a new country, it faced similar challenges to that of Israel. It was a small nation with a small population, surrounded by ethnically and ideologically different neighbours. Singapore quickly established ties with Israel and began putting together its military strategy. It now ranks second in the world on the Globalised Militarisation Index, following only to its mentor, Israel.

Throughout the city are advertisements for the armed forces. Some of these depict children taking part in faux-military activity; playing with toy-helicopters, riding in airplanes and on first sight seem largely innocent and reflective of some boyish childishness. However, when they're examined more closely, the boy in the rear of the plane has his arms outstretched, fore-fingers pointing outwards, palms clenched, depicting a pointed gun. It's detached from the reality of military action and the effects of violence against the human body. The uncomfortable normalisation and sanitisation of the wretched aspects of human behaviour is difficult to understand.

The advertisements seem unnecessary, especially when you consider that there isn't any choice involved. Failure to complete training means a prison sentence, followed by compulsory service. Young men leaving Singapore for more than three months before are required to post a bond to ensure their return. The advertisements are guiding and encouraging public support for conscription. It's as if no one's read 'Dulce et Decorum est'.

Other promotional materials for the Singaporean armed forces reference Angry Birds and World of Warcraft. As the world's 2nd busiest port, Singapore has an understandable concern for its naval affairs. There's a sense of preparedness and willingness to deploy aggression in the posters though. 'Torpedoes that hunt' and imagery of special forces units emerging from the tide are indications of the underlying sense of international threat that Singapore feels.

Singapore has remained at peace since its founding, free from some of the insurgency and terrorism that have affected its neighbours. The Pedra Branca territorial dispute was the closest the nation came to an international conflict. It occurred when its closest neighbour Malaysia began naval patrols of a cluster of rocks that support a lighthouse and a military communication facility in the South China Sea. The difficulties were dealt with civilly at the International Court of Justice. If the disputes that Singapore are involved in are being solved with at court, and there is no actual conflict, why does Singapore feel so threatened?

The economic disparities between Singapore and its neighbours provide an unfavourable backdrop in a changing social atmosphere. The nation-state has been criticised by NGO's such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for its stance on freedom of expression, labour rights and civil liberties. Last December, the first strike in 26 years took place after a dispute by foreign workers over pay and living conditions. In combination with a mass demonstration against the government's White Paper plan to increase the city's population by 2020, there is a marked difference between the outlook of the state and how citizens feel. The distinction between security and paranoia is unclear in a nation with as little history of violence as Singapore.

The threat from abroad remains unclear. Domestic terrorism is still an issue for Indonesia, a decade on from the Bali Bombings. The separatist movements of Thailand and the Philippines are confined to their own regions, with their own political wrangling and violence. Their scope of operations is focused against the governments of what they consider as an opposing force and the issue of piracy in the straits of Malacca has been largely resolved. The region has been free from the violent uprisings and unrest which has seen dramatic change in the Middle East and so Singapore's efforts to arm itself appears to be an overreaction.

The extent of its military force is comprehensive. With a sophisticated navy and an equally well equipped air-force, Singapore is capable of wielding its might from within its own borders. However, the emphasis of promotion and acceptance throughout society seems needless, for a nation which has never seen armed conflict, has no resources and has been unharmed from terrorist activities. The reality of its situation is rather sedate; a small city-state, with strong manufacturing and business industries, quietly engrossed in research and development. The glorification of its army is out of touch. Perhaps it could only occur in a nation with so much money, that they didn't know what else to spend it on and the advertisements from Saab were too slick. An air of readiness pervades in Singapore. The biggest question though is, ready for what?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Ancient Ireland: The Harry Clarke Windows of Newport

In this second instalment of the weekly series 'Ancient Ireland', Skríobh paid a visit to the Harry Clarke windows in St. Patrick's Church in Newport.
Harry Clarke is Ireland's premier contributor to the world of stained-glass. He was born on North Frederick Street in 1889 to Joshua Clarke, who ran an ecclesiastical decorative workshop. Harry left school at 14 to help with the running of the family business and took art classes in the evening. As his craft developed, Harry spent time studying abroad, travelling to Paris and London several times. His talent flourished, with national recognition at the age of twenty one when he won the Board of Education's Gold Medal three years in a row. At this stage, Harry's work was being exhibited around Europe, in Dresden and at the Louvre. In 1915, Clarke won his first piece of commissioned stain glass, completing the eleven windows of Honan's Chapel in County Cork which won him widespread acclaim and further work.

His skill as an artist allowed him to work in other areas. He provided the illustrations to Hans Anderson's 'Fairy Tales' as well as Edgar Allen Poe's 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination.'  Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Moreau and Joris-Karl Huysman have been cited as amongst the strongest sources of inspiration for Clarke. Their work, which dealt with the grotesque, the morbid and the realistic, allowed for an era of artists to dwell and consider the human condition at the turn of the 20th century. The naturalist movement was coming to an end as the symbolist aesthetic gained in popularity. This meant that there would be a greater emphasis put on the artist's melancholic outlook on life, which may have been reflective of a period of social discontent and strife.

The windows of St. Patrick's Church of Newport were commissioned by Canon McDonald of the Burrishoole parish. The same priest was responsible for the construction of St. Patrick's Oratory at the summit of Croagh Patrick. Situated at the top of Barrack Hill, the Roman Catholic church forms an imposing landmark on the countryside. The stained-glass was ordered for the new church in 1917, and would be paid for by the priest's own life insurance policy of £800.

The windows are situated in the east wall of the church and are known as 'The Last Judgement Windows' and also as 'The Three Sisters'. Three, equal sized windows stretch from behind the high-alter to the ceiling of the church. They depict a scene from the apocalypse, as the souls of the mortals are cast into hell. Harry's eclectic style can clearly be seen in the intense visuals, breaking from the traditional, conservative style of Roman Catholic stain glass.

The almost cartoon-style imagery is most clearly seen in the window on the right, which contains the tormented faces and skulls of the condemned. A long running trend of Harry's was to insert a self-portrait into his work, and at this stage in his life he was suffering from the aftermath of an almost-fatal bicycle fall and chronic tuberculosis. In what could be seen as a reflection of his own state, his image can be seen in the green upside-down face, descending into hell.

Harry Clarke died at the age of 42 in Switzerland after a long illness. His work can be seen throughout Ireland and in Geneva at the International Labour Organisation building in Geneva. More information about the artists can be found on this thoroughly informative website. To visit Harry Clarke's stain glass windows, travel to Newport along the N59. The town is situated 10 kilometres north of Westport. St. Patrick's Church is found in the centre of Newport, 200 metres north of the Black Oak river, just off the main street at the top of the hill. St. Patrick's Church is open to the public with mass on Sundays at 10am.

Photo Consciousness 9

People Taking Photos

The footage captured over the past 6 months was done with the intention of examining if photography was providing the means for people to examine and review life, or if it was allowing people to disengage from their surroundings. Last January, a delayed flight allowed me to spend the day in Paris. I visited Notre Dame Cathedral. Considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Europe, it draws visitors from around the world. I sat, confused and alone in the pews, watching people. As the organ played, streams of people poured through the aisles; a barrage of cameras pursuing the photo that would provide the essence of this church.

Maybe the sense of fulfilment from time spent in the areas of outstanding natural beauty, the company of friends and exploring ancient temples is best delivered by photography. Maybe it's only through retrospection and display of the photograph will people take more time to consider the wonder and glory of human existence. Maybe the thought that the natural world really does exist in framed splendour and that to attempt to dissect the behaviour of those travelling camera in hand, the poses staged and smiles pulled, is unhealthy cynicism on my part.

Memory is the brain's attempt at photography. Our experiences go far beyond imagery alone. Emotions are tied up in a huge sensory matrix of the sounds and smells, our thoughts and relationships at that time. Looking back on a memory, is it possible to extract emotions from that memory? If it's not possible to remember without the photo, was it worth remembering? Photography allows us to examine our behaviour and challenge the world around us. If we're being true to ourselves, we'll examine photography too.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Posters from 1970's Vietnam

The above posters appeared in the Vietnamese National Women's Museum. They celebrate the role women played in the fight against the United States during the 1960's and 70's.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Dublin Shakespeare Festival

This year marks the fifth and final year of the Dublin Shakespeare Festival, which has brought a whimsy and liveliness to the streets and parks of Dublin, as students recreate the famous bard's works. The summer sunshine adds to the refreshing production taking place throughout the city and this year's festival is now truly underway.

Chris O'Connor and Kayla Walsh in a scene from Star Cross-Dressed Lovers
Taking place in the historic corners of Dublin; the Georgian gardens and squares provide the backdrop to the plays. Excerpts from some of the well-known and some from the less-well-known of Shakespeare's vast body of work are delighting audiences in the open air of St. Stephen's Green and the grandeur of Trinity's front square. A great vitality and colour is to be found in the reproductions, delighting the lunchtime attendees and bemused tourists.

More information about the festival can be found here. There are two days remaining in the festival, Friday and Saturday, the 7th and 8th of June, with events taking place throughout the day on both days. A highlight is certainly, 'Much Ado About Shakespeare', which offers a complete performance of all of Shakespeare's works, in one hour, by three actors. It takes place in the Yeats Memorial in St. Stephen's Green at 3pm on Friday and 5pm on Saturday. All events are free of charge.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Ancient Ireland: The Cistercian Monks of Clare Island

The pre-historic standing stone outside St. Brigid's Abbey, Clare Island

In a new weekly series for the summer months, Skríobh explores some of the historic aspects of the West of Ireland.

Some of the oldest and complex aspects of Irish history can be found along the west coast of Ireland. St. Brigid's Abbey on Clare Island acts as a focal point for understanding the development of Irish society throughout the past nine hundred years. Positioned beside the pre-Christian standing stone and nearby well, it's believed that the abbey's location was chosen with the existing pagan culture in mind.  The first written mention of the island appears in the Annals of Ireland (1235 AD) and refers to the burial of two brothers (Domhnall and Muircheartach Ui Maille) who were buried on the island after dying in a feud. While the Abbey was used by the Carmelite Order in the 1100's, the functioning of the church became associated with Cistercian monks who'd spread from Mellifont in Louth having originally come from France.

The O'Malley clan who controlled the island at the time would have sought the prestige of hosting a religious order within their territory. Contributing to this would've been the monks' desire to embrace the isolation offered by the island. The powerful O'Malley family allowed for the stable development of the Cistercian Order whose art and culture prospered on the island. The oldest, and most important artwork from the 1300's in Ireland and England can be found on the roof of the abbey. The paintings show the art, music and lifestyles of the monks and are of the highest quality to be found from this era.

The level of sophistication of decoration found within the church is an oddity. The Cistercian monks were an order which were banned from decorating their monasteries. This rule was deviated from at St. Brigid's Abbey, with sophisticated architectural work present, forming a bowed roof and well-worked niches for the tombs in the chapel.

Their preservation has allowed an insight into life on the island, from a religious and secular perspective. The rarity and quality of the drawings makes them of international significance, and show the levels of sophistication that existed on Clare Island at the time. More information on the iconography of the abbey can be found here.

The image on the left shows a boar being struck by arrows from three sides. Underneath is a sailing vessel and the words 'O'Maille' and 'Terra Maria Potens' or 'Powerful by Land and Sea', indicating the importance of the O'Malley clan in the region. The image on the right is of what's believed to be the tomb of Grainne Ní Mhaol

Grainne Ní Mhaol (Granuaile) 1530-1603AD, occupies a primary role in the island's fame and history. Her ability to impose taxes along the western coast of Ireland on foreign vessels brought her power and respect. In 1593, ten years before her death, Grace's sons had been arrested by Lord Bingham. She sailed to London to meet Queen Elizabeth and to petition for their release. These two women occupied positions of power in a world controlled by men, with Grace refusing to bow to the queen as she refused to acknowledge the Queen's claim to Ireland. After her death at the start of the 17th century at the age of seventy three, her body was buried on Clare Island in the family plot. Her legacy has occupied an important role in the historical context of the development of religion and politics of the past 900 years.

To visit Clare Island, take the ferry from Roonagh pier. The O'Malley and O'Grady families offer daily services. The journey takes about 20 minutes and costs €12 at the time of writing. A quality map of the island can be found here.