From Limerick to New York and back again, Deirdre Power’s education and experience living in two vastly different cities informs her work as a socially engaged practitioner.
“I had gone out there in the mid-80s and I think the notion of living in a country without any identity papers was something I hadn’t quite welcomed. I worked in a bar on the Bowery, which was a stop for other artists in the area en-route to the Clocktower” (a participating space to the MoMa PS1, one of the oldest and largest non-profit contemporary art institutions in the United States). Deirdre met artists like Dermot Seymore there and current director of the Limerick2020 bid team Mike Fitzpatrick, amongst others.
“Having spent my first 7 years in New York as an ‘illegal alien’ I was living this life of being different, not having an identity. Even though being Irish was somewhat privileged, you were protected, allowing for a sort of ‘right of passage’. Identity crept in to this notion of being, of defining a sense of place. Ironically, after many years and having secured my U.S. citizenship, I immediately felt the urge to leave.”
Deirdre returned to Limerick in 1999 to find the city changed, but in essence it was still the same. “Whether it is a good or a bad thing in a small community, in Limerick City one gets to know people very well and very fast reinforcing that ‘rite of passage.’ I have the advantage of being able to connect to a lot of people very quickly, so probably one of my favourite things is knowing how to traverse the city on a grass roots level. Geographically Limerick is quite small, the urban fabric of the city lends itself to my practice and I love that kind of idea of the synergy between the two; it’s ephemeral. When I bring people around the city, off the main streets, you bring them through the alternative spaces. It’s having that connection between the veneer of the beautiful and the wonderfully gritty. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s of Limerick, one only knew too well the failure of spatial politics. I think we all embrace that about any city.”
Speaking about her work as a socially engaged practitioner, Deirdre sees her role as a facilitator, a mediator of sorts, “The methodology I use involves negotiation which opens up conversations with various communities of interest. I have adapted a particular skill, primarily through the camera, as a way of opening up alternative dialogues. The photograph creates a discourse in these in-between spaces, connecting the social capital of the city. It’s working with people for people allowing a kind of development within a community to make our own lives better socially, economically and culturally. It may appear as a utopian vision where everyone is working together with notions of reciprocity and generosity but I believe that’s what Limerick has, and ultimately what makes us unique.”
Discussing the Limerick2020 bid and culture, Deirdre points out the intriguing nature of the word “culture.” “It’s a funny word. It’s become a ubiquitous, throwaway word, but it can also be a powerful tool that can enhance the city; it brings us together."
"It’s like a mini Manhattan here. People are talking, the space is open, people acknowledge others, connecting the neighbourhoods and the community. For Limerick, for me, culture is the essence of the city, it’s the very fabric of life here. But culture is not just about entertainment, I see it as something that we all embrace. It can be anything from community awareness, to walking the streets, to having a festival. It doesn’t just have to be about spectacle. The spectator contributes to the very nature that is culture. The concept has to be sustainable which will only happen by including everyone.”
Deirdre is currently in the midst of a new project, a development on her recent project, Nice Screams in collaboration with Softday (Sean Taylor and Mikael Fernström), a contributing work to the EVA exhibition Still (The) Barbarians. “It was only two months ago that we created a citizen’s anthem, A Better World. Now we have this new anthem how do we in some way make it a reality in regards to a developing culture and a new beginning? With the assistance of Pat Lysaght we went looking for an unihabited island, we found two, one is Sod Island in the Shannon estuary; it’s just a small build-up of soil. The project raises the question of globalisation, do we embrace the notion of multiculturalism or do we retain or own identity? In a world where everyone has a voice via the body politic that is social media, what is identity? That is a very interesting question to me.”
You can read more about Deirdre’s work on her website http://deirdreapower.wix.com/social-art-practice