The Warrior Artist Podcast [26] Aideen Barry – the role of the artist as rule breaker and messenger

In this episode of the Warrior Artist Podcast, host Éadaoin Glynn sits down with the renowned visual artist Aideen Barry to delve into her intriguing artistic journey, the profound themes encapsulated in her work, and her unique approach to addressing contemporary socio-political issues through art. Aideen, an artist with an international reputation, known for her exploration of themes such as domestic labor, environmental changes, and human vulnerability, shared insights into her creative process, inspirations, and the significant role art plays in reflecting and shaping societal discourse.
Aideen is a visual artist based in Ireland but with an international profile. Her work incorporates performance, sculpture, film, text and experimental lens based media. it explores a broad range of themes such as domestic labour, environmental changes, CLASS-ism, intersectionality and human vulnerability.  She is a member of Aosdána and the RHA. She has won many awards and her work is in prestigious private and public collections globally.

The Early Calling to Art

” I guess I am the first generation in my family that stayed in Ireland and walked away from the permanent pensionable job.”
Aideen’s journey into the art world was seemingly predetermined. From a young age, she felt an innate pull towards creativity, a calling that was met with apprehension by her family, highlighting the generational fears of financial instability often associated with the artist’s life.
Art school was not easy however and Aideen got very sick. “I got meningitis when I was 18 and [in my] first year at art college, and I ended up in a coma for six months…I ended up only doing two blocks, which were sculpture and I think photography or like lens based media and things like that and I actually really thrived on that. So when I woke up, I was like, I better go into those disciplines anyway. So if I’d only done painting and maybe ceramics, I would have done a different course, so it was a really life changing moment for me.”

Having a broad practice

” I started thinking about art as a liquid state. It isn’t any one thing… it’s like a chameleon that keeps changing and moves between theatre, architecture, dance. It’s a political movement. It’s something else. It’s always in a state of flux.”
Aideen’s narrative is a testament to the belief that art is not confined to a single medium but is a fluid expression that takes various forms to convey its message.

Global Recognition and The Importance of International Focus

“I’m really lucky and I’m going to do as much as I can to raise the visibility and profile of Irish visual art in the world.”
The podcast conversation sheds light on Aideen’s intentional decision to maintain an international focus in her work. Despite her deep roots in Ireland, she actively seeks global resonance for her art, looking to collaborate with artists and audiences worldwide. This global perspective is infused with a keen awareness of socio-political issues, from environmental crises to post-colonial identity explorations, demonstrating how art transcends borders to comment on universal human experiences.
‘Klostės,’ translated as ‘Folds’ or ‘Pleats’, is Aideen’s first feature length film, involved nearly a thousand volunteers  in Kaunas, Lithuania. The non-verbal film highlights the city’s architecture and explores Lithunaian identity, cultural heritage, and collective memory.

Folklore and Environmental Narratives

“My biggest anxiety is I’m worried we are the last of the artists. I’m worried that there is very little being done about what is happening about global disintegration of our environment.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the interview is Aideen’s discussion on folklore and its influence on her work, particularly her project inspired by the UCD Folklore Archive. Delving into historical narratives and mythology, she crafts compelling stories that connect the past with the present, drawing parallels between traditional folklore and contemporary environmental concerns.
‘Song of the Bleeding Tree’ is inspired by the story of the bleeding tree from the Irish folklore archives, relating to a pre-christian tradition in which women placed the placenta after giving birth on the roots of the blackthorn tree in a gesture of connection to nature.  At the same time it’s a lamentation for our lost connection to nature.
“Oblivion” was inspired by Aideen’s research into the Irish harpists which had almost died out only for the 18 year old Bunting who wrote down 66 scores and thus saved them.

The Role of Art in Society

“I don’t exactly know what the role of the artist is. I battle with this myself all the time,  but I feel in a way we are like a vehicle. I see artists as a vehicle that carries a language or a a message..What we can be is messengers of the dilemmas of our time.”
Aideen candidly addresses the existential question of the artist’s role in today’s world, a world teeming with anxiety and uncertainty. She views artists as messengers, tasked with reflecting the dilemmas of our times through their creative expressions. This perspective is not only reflective but also forward-looking, urging artists to engage with societal issues creatively and thoughtfully.
Aideen talks about art as a trojan horse and art as protest, specifically her decision making behind her protest work in the National Gallery’s recent exhibition ‘It Took A Century’.
“I’m going to be a rule breaker in that regard and I’m going to stand on the right side of history about this and say no.”

Collaborations

The podcast also teases an exciting collaboration between Aideen and the iconic musician Peter Gabriel.  Some of Aideen’s other collaborators include Less Good Idea, Steve Shannon, Joan O’Malley, Margaret O’Connor, Cathal Murphy, Aisling Lyons, Mary Barnecutt from the Crash Ensemble, Inuit singer   ᕇᑦ Riit, Sandra Bernodaitė, Junk Ensemble.  See more details on Aideen’s website.
Junk Ensemble performance of ‘Ritual’

Conclusion

“Always be aware of what your privilege is and how you can extend the hand to raise somebody up always, not pull up the ladder behind you.”
Aideen talks about the challenges of juggling family life and her international art practice and the barriers for artists with family responsibilities.  She plans to create a residency space in her Tipperary home which would accommodate families.
The conversation with Aideen Barry on the Warrior Artist Podcast gives an insight into the life and work of one of Ireland’s most innovative visual artists. Through her story, we are reminded of the power of art to challenge, communicate, and connect, urging us as a society to reflect on our values, our history, and our future. Aideen Barry’s art is a call to action, embodying the spirit of creativity that drives us all towards a more understanding and compassionate world.
All images are Aideen Barry’s.
instagram: @aideenbarry
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