Over the coming weeks, we'll be bringing you a series of 'digital postcards' from a variety of creatives who have, like the rest of us, been staying put and filling their days and nights as purposefully as they might, in the most curious of times.
Today, acclaimed artist Amanda Coogan checks in...
I'm obsessed with the birds these days, birds and hair cuts. I’ve moved my studio into the garage in my back garden so I can make messy drawings. The birds are curious. Before the pandemic swept in I was working on a few large scale projects and was starting to move into 4th gear with them; A Beethoven project, and a project looking at the fascinating history of the Wrens of the Curragh - 19th-century women who lived in 'nests’ in Furze bushes outside the barracks, servicing the British Army.
As the pandemic closed in, I thought I could continue with these, sequestered in my real studio in glorious self-isolation; drawing, planning, developing and scheming. I work out of Queen Street Studios alongside thirty other artists. Our building was closed - of course - in March. I was interrupted. I was very cross. I brought all the drawings and plans back to the house and started clearing a space in the garage beside the lawnmower, the pitchfork and the shovels. All the performances and exhibitions were postponed, the funding streams suspended. And then they came, the birds.
I’m a performance artist. I make live performances. Togetherness is the beating heart of my work. I need the commune of audience and performers to complete work. I wonder should I say needed here - who knows how all of this will land. I love making long durational performances; anything from 3 hours to 24 hours. It’s in this duration the work rises above itself and soars. This form of work has sometimes been called Endurance Art. A few years ago, the brilliant performance artist Kira O’Reilly challenged me on the term as it applied to our durational-based body art. ‘We don’t endure art-making", Kira told me, "we endure queuing at the bank". Are we simply enduring this lockdown? Are we just waiting it out, tolerating the interruption?
Getting the information on the virus and how it is marching across our island has become key to our safety. I also work as an Irish Sign Language Interpreter. In the pre-Covid days I used to interpret plays and musicals, even last year’s Late Late Toy Show. As the lockdown arrived I started interpreting in Stormont for the Executive’s daily press briefings (theatre of a different kind). Wash Your Hands, I translate. Stay Home, I plead. Social Distance, I elucidate. Save lives, I declare. We’re getting into the real juicy stuff now as we look at how to open up - the reproductive number is a doozy to translate. And, everyday, I disseminate the numbers; how many died in the last 24 hours; how many confirmed cases today; how many in hospital at the moment; how many in ICU; How many nursing homes infected. We count. We watch. We endure. I count how many hours a day my son has been on his phone. How many weeks we’ve been locked up. How many birds in my back garden. How many furze bushes breaking into their glorious yellow blossoms. I have a dream - I’m waking up in the shower. I’m Bobby Ewing. The locking up of our children and the daily death of our older people has just been a bad dream.
I’ve gone back to the drawing board on all the projects. They just felt irrelevant as we count, as we watch, as we endure. They need reform. I need to re-calibrate. Reconfiguration is a must but I don’t know what it is, yet. I’m drawing my way into finding it. I’m drawing my way into questioning my need to find anything. I’m drawing big gluppy wet ones. I spill coffee over the paper watching how it splashes and moves. I pouring yellow ochre in pools letting the liquid flow in unpredictable directions.
I became the uber lockdown mum and cut my family’s hair out the back garden. Locks of soft blonde hair; the dog’s and the son’s, twinkled like nuggets around the garden. A magpie swooped and snatched some. Then the littlies came; the robins, the sparrows, the blue-tits, the wrens, squabbling and pouncing onto the golden strands. Lifting them and flying up into the sky. I watch the theatre of it. I grab the dog and cut some more. Cutting the dog’s hair is a tricky gig and happens anywhere and at any moment that I can grab him in the garden and snip. He is now a furry patchwork; gouged strips around the body and trailing hair falling over his eyes. The eyes are impossible. I left some freshly poured drawings to make their journey around the page one morning and forgot to close the door behind me. After counting in Stormont I came back in to check my drawings. Two beating birds flew around the ceiling. There was twigs, there was leaves and there was blond hair all over my desk. There was manic fluttering (the birds) and manic screaming (me). They were interrupted. They were very cross. We all ran out of the garage, the birds and me. My family ran out of the house. There was shrieking. The husband suggested we watch Hitchcock’s The Birds. I blamed the hair.
I dreamt about us working together, me and the wren family. They had to be wrens. They would walk over my wet drawings making bird footprints on the paper. Then I thought about shit - literally - bird shit, the bird shit that flows unpredictably out of a busy nest. Bird shit drawings. I peeked in the door the next morning, afraid to go in. No birds. I hung around the garden watching and waiting. Lots of them flying around busily pick up my son’s hair but none going into the garage. I waited and watched. Had I dreamt the nest building on my Covid studio shelf? Enduring becomes dreaming. I waited more. I watched more. I gave up. I went back into the garage. I shut the door behind me. Now its just me, the lawnmower, untouched wren drawings and Beethoven. I need an Ode to Joy. I’m draw-dreaming. I spill more yellow liquid. I scratch marks into these drawings. And then they came, the birds.
In lockdown in Belfast, 19 May 2020
Read more Postcards From The Pandemic here.