Renewed understanding and contemporary relevance is brought to the events of 1916 in this novel fusion of spoken performance and image projection
With our much debated Decade of Centenaries reaching arguably its high point this year, 2016 has begun with a wealth of projects, programmes and pamphlets taking us back to 1916 and events in Dublin, Flanders and beyond.
Interest in the events of 1916 from all perspectives on this island has never been stronger, and opportunities to learn about it have never been richer. All of this activity has also given the opportunity for some of Ireland’s key thinkers to weigh in with their perspectives on the century that has passed since the Rising and the Somme and what it all might mean.
However, the problem with intellectual and academic debate is that it can tend to be impenetrable for those of us who are not academics and intellectuals and its impact is lessened as a result.
Richard Kearney and Sheila Gallagher’s Twinsome Minds is a novel attempt to issue a corrective and bring new audiences and new relevance to the debate. Kearney needs little introduction and is currently the Charles Seelig Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, having written, spoken and broadcast widely on cultural and identity issues in Ireland and beyond for over thirty years. Professor Sheila Gallagher is a Boston-based artist and academic working in video and digital media.
The collaboration between the two has developed through Guestbook: a project around media, identity and conflict which inspired the development of Twinsome Minds (its title borrowed from Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake) as a 'multimedia performed talk' with text and moving images.
What this means is a fusion of Kearney’s polemicism with Gallagher’s art practice that delivers knowledge in a genuinely engaging and accessible way – theory as performance if you like.
As Kearney explains in the introduction to the piece, this is premised on established learning around recovery from psychological trauma and the unlocking of repressed memory. In this process memory returns to victims first as images, with the words coming later. What we have seen is more readily recalled and processed than what we have learned and understood. So what better device to apply to the contested and divisive memories and legacies of 1916?
Twinsome Minds opens with Kearney perched on stool, centre stage in the Abbey Theatre, surrounded by a triptych of large screens and with Gallagher seated at a control desk to stage right.
The curiousity of the audience is immediately piqued as to how this is all going to work and what exactly we are going to see, and it soon becomes clear that is very much a live performance – with Kearney’s words being illustrated in real time with pictures, collages and video pieces from Gallagher that are performed on her desk and beamed live onto the screens behind him.
This adds a real rawness and immediacy, and the real sense that this is a unique event – every telling and re-telling of Twinsome Minds will be different.
As Kearney sets the context of the piece – around the retrieval of opposite sides of the events of 1916, not just from history and politics but also a retrieval of these events as culturally informed acts (we are reminded that half of the leaders of the Easter Rising were poets), Gallagher shows us extracts from the 1916 scrapbook that Kearney created as a schoolboy in Cork to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising in 1966.
Words and images interlock as Kearney draws parallels between the 'promissory note' of the Proclamation and the Downing Street Declaration of 1993, reminding us of the real contemporary purpose of all of this exploration of memory.
A beautiful short animation, scored by Dana Lyn and created by Gallagher and Kevin Sweet then takes us on a literal flight of fantasy through Cuchulain to the GPO and Flanders Fields and we are really off on our journey.
Over the course of the next hour Kearney and Gallagher weave together diverse threads of the 1916 narrative, from the Stevens family in Fermanagh, which saw one brother fighting in the GPO while the other was fighting for the British in Belgium, to the MacSwiney’s and the Sheehy-Skeffingtons (where the inclusion of a range of female perspectives is very welcome).
We also hear, and see, some of Roger Casement and Joseph Gordon’s twinned stories and those of Erskine Childers, before closing on Francis Ledwidge. At every turn the ridiculousness of the contradictions of 'Twinsomeness' are presented and the critical role of the artist and writer in articulating and exposing it are highlighted.
The format of the show really works – the audience stays with Kearney through this tour of his thoughts and even at its most febrile moments the holistic experience of Gallagher’s supporting images help us to understand and connect with knowledge that is being shared.
Kearney’s overriding message seems to be one that 'Twinsomeness' in Ireland is not new, but recognition of it as a normal part of the Irish condition is essential. Our artists have long appreciated it but 2016 may give an opportunity for this to penetrate deeper into our understanding of life today on a divided island – a place where psychological ‘Twinsomeness’ merely mirrors the physical.
In terms of both content and presentation it is a vital contribution to the wider understanding of 1916, and its meaning for us here in 2016. Go see it if you get the chance.
Twinsome Minds: Recovering 1916 in Images and Stories tours throughout Europe from next month with performances at the Swedish Museum of History, Stockholm (March 6), Gulbenkian Arts Centre, Lisbon (March 8), Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris (March 11), Irish Arts Center, New York (March 22), Quinnipiac Performing Arts Center, New Haven (April 4) and Tsai Performing Arts Center, Boston (April 29).
Further Irish dates are to be be added for summer 2016. For more further information and the latest updates visit www.twinsomeminds.com.