Words by Sorcha Kenny
This film, and the writing contained within it, comes out of a series of workshops I facilitated with SAOL Project as part of Dublin’s Culture Connects’ The National Neighbourhood. When I came into SAOL at the beginning of our National Neighborhood project I was the artist in the room, nervous, trying to figure out what we would make together. The women in SAOL have faced many challenges in their lives. Through our first couple of workshops ,one theatre based, the other a memory exercise based around clothing, I felt there was a need to use art to transcend those challenges and adversities. It being year of the woman, celebrating one hundred years of suffrage, we also discussed how we felt about women in Ireland today and about how most of us in the room still wouldn’t have been able to vote in 1918, not being property owners.
Serendipitously one day I sat in on a SAOL creative writing workshop with facilitator Adrienne O’Connor and was blown away by the great writing that was in the room, by the immediacy the women had with words and the page. At the time I was re reading The Long Gaze Back, an anthology of Irish women writers edited by Sinead Gleeson. It was coming up as Dublin City’s One City One Book. It seemed to reflect so much of the work we were doing in SAOL as well as the the fact it’s a book celebrating 200 years of Irish Women writers. The seed was planted. I knew what our National Neighbourhood project would be.
Anne Gannon at Charleville Mall Library kindly loaned copies of The Long Gaze Back to all the women of SAOL and we began our reading/writing group. Every week we would read a couple of stores from The Long Gaze Back, together out loud, taking turn to read. Then a break for the all important breakfast, a massive part of the SAOL morning and an aspect I will definitely miss. Hot tea and toast has never tasted so good. After breakfast we would sit around the table and discuss what we had read earlier that morning. Such interesting insights came out of those discussions. This was followed by the writing portion of the workshop. Each of us would pick out individual lines from the stores we had read that stood out or spoke to us in some way. The women would use those lines as jumping off points, adding their own lines to create new stories and ideas.
The art you see here is the result of those exercises. We continued this process for four sessions. Time was our only barrier. The words were flowing but my time with SAOL had come to an end. What you see here is only a taster of what these extraordinary women are capable of. Towards the end of our time, Sinead Gleeson very kindly came in to chat to us about The Long Gaze Back, writing and getting published. She gave the women advice, tips and encouragement. I feel a fire was lit under us all that day of what we, as artists are capable of. We just need to stick at it. Again I was reminded of the sheer determination of the women of SAOL.
This moving image piece, The SAOL Gaze, was filmed on location at the Abbey Theatre, who were one of our partner organisations on The National Neighbourhood. It felt apt to have the women stand with confidence & pride on the stage of the Abbey as their words echoed through the auditorium. I’ve no doubt in my mind that my SAOL sisters will continue to make great art and it’s been one of the highlights of my career getting to collaborate with them.
This project was developed in partnership with The Abbey Theatre, The National Concert Hall, Dublin Public Libraries & Archive, City Arts Office and Dublin City Council Community Development teams. With ‘The National Neighbourhood’, we want every neighbourhood to know and ‘own’ their city’s cultural resources, so we build cultural projects in community settings. We connect artists, groups and villages with libraries, museums and creative places to deepen their understanding of each other and themselves.
The National Neighbourhood spans the Dublin City Council region, and brings together Dublin City Council’s Library and Archives, the area offices, the city arts office and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, in partnership with National Cultural Insitutions: the Abbey Theatre, the National Museum of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Concert Hall, the Chester Beatty, the National Archives and IMMA.