Limerick, Ireland
Achill moonlight, courtesy of the artist.

Sarah Durcan / Q&A

Sarah Durcan is one of six artists working with EVA International as part of the ‘Platform Commissions’ initiative of the 40th EVA International (31 August – 29 October 2023). In this Q & A, the artist briefly introduces the project and her working practice. 

EVA: What are some of the key themes or ideas that are explored within your artistic practice?

Sarah Durcan: My practice explores the idea of intergenerational memory and the interplay between time and memory. I create speculative narratives often based on female experiences. My work is informed by ideas of ‘time travel’ and ‘documentary fictions’ in which fictional devices can express real experiences. I am fascinated with the mediatisation of experience and how different media formats and technological rhythms condition the construction of memory.

EVA: Could you expand upon the materials and methodologies you tend to be drawn towards within your artistic practice?

SD: I am interested in experimenting with the hybrid aesthetics of photochemical film and digital media and how we remember through the time-based media of film and video. I work with historical photographic sources and documents as well as generating new material. I think about the gaps and occlusions in archival records and I also write to develop narrative threads and ideas.

EVA: Could you introduce your upcoming Platform Commissions project that will be presented as part of the 40th EVA International in Autumn 2023?

SD: Taking a ‘spectro-feminist’ approach, The Invisibles essay film focuses on Ella Young, a revolutionary Irish activist and mystic who emigrated to California in 1925, forging her own spiritual citizenship. Young was a poet and writer, involved with Cumann na mBan who was also a Theosophist and pagan believer in the power of trees, mountains, and an otherworld of supernatural forces. Young’s trajectory from a radical nationalist to a self-proclaimed druidess in a liberated West Coast artistic scene provides a counter narrative to the conservative and misogynistic Irish Free State that emerged after 1922.

EVA: Are there any particular research and development processes or approaches that you generally engage in when preparing for a new commission or for the production of a new work?

SD: I tend to begin with a lot of research through reading and collecting images and sounds when developing a new work. Ella Young is particularly interesting not only in her own right but because she moves Zelig-like through the lives of more well-known contemporaries like AE, Yeats and Gonne. Part of my approach aims to correct the dismissive way peripheral figures like Young are treated in some accounts of the time. In California she was photographed by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston and interviewed for radio so there are many sources of material to work with.

EVA: Could you expand upon any research plans that you hope to undertake during the development of The Invisibles project?

SD: For The Invisibles project I am excited to move into collaborations with theatre practitioners to develop a 2022 version of a tableau vivant – the type of performance Ella Young participated in with Inghinidhe na hÉireann. I am also collaborating with musician David Lacey who is developing a contemporary response to Young’s description of a ‘ceol sidhe’ or otherworldly beat she could hear in certain places. Young spent a lot of time in remote rural locations from Achill, Co Mayo to the mountains of Northern California and I’m working on ways to capture the scale of these environments in film.

EVA: Are you working towards any other upcoming projects, residences or exhibitions currently?

SD: I have another film project in development, Troubling Time funded by an Arts Council Bursary [2021]. This draws together interconnecting time travelling narratives based on the lives of three women and three locations: ‘The Colony’, Achill, Westport, Co. Mayo, and Strokestown, Co. Roscommon.

Sarah Durcan is an artist and writer concerned with the intersection between subjective memory and historical events, her moving image works form speculative narratives often based on female experiences. Recent projects include curating Intermedial Encounters, a screening and discussion (BIMI, London, 2021); The Memory Image, a screening and pamphlet (with aemi, IFI, Dublin, 2019); and recent book Memory and Intermediality in Artists’ Moving Image (2021) which addresses the preoccupation of memory in contemporary artists’ moving image installations.

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Platform Commissions