Cristín Leach is a writer, broadcaster and art critic, a columnist with The Sunday Times and occasional contributor to RTÉ Culture, where she created the popular series 21st Century Ireland In 21 Artworks.

She has just published Negative Space, described as 'a memoir about writing and of art as a salve and a means of escape, marriage as a refuge and a trap, the nature of home, and what happens when everything falls apart'.

We asked Cristín for her choice cultural picks...

FILM

Going to the cinema is one of my favourite things. Next on my list is An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), an Irish language film based on the novella Foster by Claire Keegan. The book blew me away and this adaptation by Colm Bairéad has won awards in Berlin, at the Dublin International Film Festival, and at the IFTAs. It’s about a young girl sent to live with relatives for the summer in rural 1980s Ireland.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

The last film I saw was The Batman, which really didn’t take off until the Batmobile appeared, but had me - visually and emotionally - from there on. What a car chase scene! I will go to see Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness too, mostly for Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda. I worked part-time in the now demolished Douglas CinemaWorld in Cork while I was in college so there was a period of time where I saw almost every film that was released.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

MUSIC

I have totally eclectic taste in music. I think the only thing that unites it is my attraction to great storytelling in lyrics, certain singing voices, and harmonies. Right now, I’m loving CMAT’s album If My Wife New I’d Be Dead. That line in her opening track, I Don’t Really Care for You - "Oh, the Marian Keys of it all, Babe, you rewriting everything I do" - is pure genius.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

I’ve been listening to Saint Sister’s Where I Should End album a lot lately, and to Denise Chaila; I love her latest Untitled/Fantastic (Foynes to Feakle Remix). I’ve also been listening/watching back the Other Voices Courage gigs that were streamed live from The National Gallery of Ireland during the height of lockdown in 2020 (Denise Chaila played one too), and I have Lisa Hannigan and Loah’s performance of Undertow on repeat. The harmonies and the words together make my heart burst.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

BOOKS

I’m always reading more than one book at once. Right now, it’s a combination of new fiction, vintage journalism, recently published short stories, and books about criticism. I’m devouring Niamh Campbell’s Dublin artworld saga We Were Young, and slowly enjoying The Long-Winded Lady, a collection of Maeve Brennan’s once anonymous columns for The New Yorker, published by The Stinging Fly in 2017. I love Brennan’s succinctness, her dispassionate tone of voice and how she captures New York so immediately at a certain moment in time. The pieces run from the 1950s through to 1981.

Maeve Brennan

I recently finished Lauren Foley’s Polluted Sex, a complicated, messy collection of short stories filled with darkness and moments of pure gold. Foley plays with page layout in unexpected ways and adds drawings and other graphic interventions to the text to brilliant effect. I’m also reading The Ends of Art Criticism by Patricia Bickers, published last year, which offers some counter arguments to James Elkins’ seminal 2003 What Happened to Art Criticism? The last book I read that really hit me in an unexpected way was Irish actress Evanna Lynch’s memoir, The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting. I have a proof copy of Seán Hewitt’s forthcoming memoir All Down Darkness Wide next on the top of the teetering to-read pile.

THEATRE

The last play I went to was Friends! The Musical Parody at The Everyman in Cork with my teenage kids. We laughed our heads off. I think all the theatre I’ve seen before that since March 2020 has been virtual. The pandemic brought some amazing writing and acting into my living room: Enda Walsh’s Medicine at The Galway International Arts Festival with Domhnall Gleeson, Aoife Duffin, Clare Barrett and Seán Carpio; Siobhán McSweeney in Beckett’s Happy Days streamed from The Olympia; Stephen Rea in David Ireland’s Cyprus Avenue from The Royal Court theatre in London. The play I really wish I could have gotten myself and my teens to at the start of this month is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon at The Abbey. Any chance it might tour to Cork?

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

TV

I tend to stream rather than watch live TV. I’ve just finished The Andy Warhol Diaries on Netflix. Highly recommended but NSFW. For slick, clever storytelling with layers, visual wow, and brilliant casting, my favourite recent watches have been Severance on Apple TV and (not so recent but it has stayed with me) WandaVision on Disney+.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

I first saw Tomorrow is Saturday about the life of Irish artist Sean Hillen when it was streamed as part of the 2020 IFI Documentary Festival. It’s on the RTÉ Player now and also coming to Netflix this summer. It deserves an international audience. It’s a really heartfelt and insightful documentary directed by Gillian Marsh. I’d love to see more biopics made about the lives of contemporary Irish artists.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

GIGS

I’m hoping to get to one of the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming new Outdoor events, especially Em’kal Eyongakpa’s Mámbáy bebhɛp 43t / besáŋ berat / bakay nɛkɔ, described as an immersive sonic installation presented on the terrace of the formal gardens, with singers and storytellers in Southeast Nigeria, Southern Cameroon and Ireland. It’s a new commission in partnership with EVA International.

Em'kal Eyongakpa, "Ketoya Speaks," (2016)

The last gig I attended was outdoors at The Triskel Courtyard in Cork last summer to see my brother Brian Leach play with Torcán as part of the Cork Folk Festival. It seems important now more than ever to have events to look forward to, so I’ve just bought tickets to see The Sultans of Ping who are playing one night only next February at Cork Opera House to mark 30 years since they released their debut album Casual Sex In The Cineplex. I’ll be heading to King John’s Castle in Limerick in August for what Denise Chaila has been pitching on Twitter as a MEDIEVAL themed gig, "Like the Met!! But we actually live up to the theme lol". Count me in.

ART

The RHA Annual show opens in Dublin on 23 May. An essential snapshot of some of what’s happening in contemporary Irish art right now and Ireland’s largest and longest running art exhibition (almost 200 years old). In Kilkenny, the Butler Gallery’s Generation 2022 New Irish Painting runs until 10 July. It features some of the most exciting painters at work in Ireland today, including Sinéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Sheila Rennick, Gabhann Dunne, Jennifer Trouton, Cecilia Danell, Helen Blake, Megan Burns, Stephen Doyle, Mollie Douthit, Ciara Roche, Salvatore of Lucan, Marcel Vidal, Jane Rainey and Emma Roche.

Generation 2022 New Irish Painting at The Butler Gallery

If you are in Navan, get to the Aisling Prior curated show at Solstice Arts celebrating 21 Years of The Golden Fleece Award. This prize is the largest of its kind on the island of Ireland and unique in its approach in that it doesn’t distinguish between fine art, craft, design, and applied art practices. Bassam Al-Sabah, Aideen Barry, Joe Hogan, Isobel Egan, Paul Hallahan, Dragana Jurišić, Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Hilary O’Kelly, David Quinn and many more are in this show. It runs until 4 June.

The Golden Fleece Award: 21 Years at Solstice Arts
Top row (L - R) Annemarie Reinhold, Colin Martin, Sinéad O'Dwyer.
Bottom row (L- R) Bridget O'Gorman, Liam Flynn, Marcel Vidal
(Images courtesy of the artists)

RADIO/PODCASTS

I binge podcasts based on real life events while I’m walking, most recently The Dropout about Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing company, and Hemmingway’s Picasso about a potentially fake ceramic artwork used as payment for a drug run financed by Pablo Escobar. I’ve found total comfort listening to Now You’re Asking with Marian Keyes and Tara Flynn.

If you haven’t heard it, don’t miss the Talk Art podcast interview with five members of the 2021 Turner Prize Winning Array Collective in Belfast. I always podcast if I can’t listen live to Playback with Sinead Mooney on RTÉ Radio 1 and Culture File with Luke Clancy on RTÉ Lyric FM, and I love Zoé Comyn’s Shelfmarks, made while she was podcaster-in-residence at the Royal Irish Academy last year.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

TECH

On 10 May, a Turkish-American data artist called Refik Anadol sold an NFT (non-fungible token, essentially a digital artwork) called Living Architecture: Casa Batlló for $1.38 million at the Christies 21st Century Evening Sale. It was the last lot of the night and the only NFT auctioned that evening alongside traditional works by Monet, Picasso, Warhol, Basquiat, Banksy and Van Gogh, as well as Elizabeth Peyton, Lisa Yuskavage, Reggie Burrows Hodges and more. Self-described as a "Media Artist…Embedding media arts into architecture with data and machine intelligence for public art", Anadol made a dynamic digital artwork that reimagines the exterior of Gaudi's Casa Batlló in Barcellona as a morphing, moving façade using realtime data.

Anadol makes work that can exist IRL (in real life) as well as virtually, and his auction piece was also on display at Christies Rockefeller Plaza prior to the sale, as "a public art IRL" and as a live A/V performance on Casa Batlló itself on May 7. It's pretty eye-boggling in its digital form when you see it on a screen, but I really want to see it live/IRL. Maybe this hybrid public art/live A/V NFT is the real future of digital/data art? It’s certainly more interesting than trading art as a purely digital commodity.

THE NEXT BIG THING...

NFTs are the next big thing. For players in the cryptocurrency/art space they are already the current big thing. Absolutely tonnes of them are rubbish, or unsuccessful, or simply gimmicky, just like art in any medium. Much of what has gone on in this space so far is not exciting or interesting from an art point of view because most of it is about money. How long this next big thing will last, or what it will morph into, is anyone’s guess, but digital art has been with us for a lot longer than we might think, and it is definitely here to stay. It’s up to artists to show us what they can really do with it next.

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Negative Space is published by the Merrion Press