Interview with Geraldine Coakley Music Festival Visual Artist

Bernie Higgins

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With the evenings becoming brighter and the explosion of daffodils in our view, we can certainly feel a cheeky bounce in our steps. That long-awaited breakthrough of sunshine has our body dancing to all the feelings of Spring/Summer. Our souls are happy, the smiles are wide and what other way to make young Irish revellers happier, than the endless list of music festivals been announced. With social media in overdrive with ticket release dates, people are busy discussing what bands and DJ’s they are most excited to see. But, do you ever stop and think about all the visual artwork that is been displayed at the festivals you will be attending? Who are the masterminds behind the work?

Maybe you do just go for the visual art display, and the music is secondary to you? With the growth of Irish music festivals over the last few years, each one supersedes the next with the biggest musical acts. Yet, in the background, the lively adult playgrounds are being crafted for us to let that inner child run wild, but sometimes all that effort from our craft masters never gets the acknowledgement it should. Many budding artists are taking the time to craft a visual feast for us to stare, touch, admire, trip out, wonder and sometimes –  cause us to wander.

One of the budding artists, who started her first exhibition at Body and Soul many years ago, is graphic designer Geraldine Coakley from Cong, Co, Mayo. According to Geraldine’s Instagram account being “Mayoish” is her most important attribute.

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Colours in motion- Photo Credit
Colours in motion- Photo Credit Geraldine Coakley (Website)

Hailing from the wild west of Cong, it is no surprise that she has garnered a level of creative ability from her beautiful surroundings.  For a rural village in the south of Mayo, it is well recognised on the map. Interestingly, Oscar Wilde spent a lot of his youth in Cong and his father Sir William Wilde wrote a book about Cong’s lake district “Wilde’s Loch Corrib”. Today the book is considered to one of the best books to be ever written on the topography of Ireland. Sir William Wilde described his “homeland as a unique and special location”. Also, the two-time Oscar-winning The Quiet man was also filmed here. The town has finally produced another artistic gem.

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So, I caught up with Geraldine Coakley to get the low down on her visual exhibitions that have resided in Body and Soul, Electric Picnic, and Knockanstockan. I’ve questioned where she gets her ideas, her mannequin challenge, who inspires her and what exciting new work she has planned for 2017…

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What do you do for a living?

To pay the bills I work as a Graphic Designer. I studied graphic design in Letterkenny for five years, then I worked in Web design and I have been pretty much at that for 10 years, occasionally dabbling in print when the occasion arrives.

How did you get involved creating art for festivals?

I first started with Body &Soul festival a few years back. I was freelancing and didn’t have much work on and I wanted to go to the festival but couldn’t afford it. So, I  applied with an idea and thankfully they gave me the opportunity to build “Colours in Motion” even though I had no previous experience with festivals or building installations. But being a part of the festival build was something I always wanted to do, working in the outdoors on something that on your average day you wouldn’t get to do. Since then I feel like I’m missing out on something if I can’t be a part of the festival build up.

Electric Picnic (EP) 2016, I just applied through their website when they were looking for artists to apply with ideas. I had two pieces I had already used at previous festivals so I applied with those, each time I try to change it up a bit in terms of how it’s displayed, scale or use of materials. Every time is a learning curve, especially when working with the elements of the outdoors.

How would you describe your experience of the festival?

As said above I love being a part of the build, getting to go down on site in advance and seeing the place stripped back before the madness arrives. I can be a bit of a stress head so I won’t say it comes without its emotional moments:) But that’s probably more to do with me than the festival. More often than not no matter how much you plan and plan something will go wrong, but I’ve realised over time not to take it as seriously as the festivals are giving you an opportunity to experiment so they will often be prepared for some slight change. Of course, you don’t want to let yourself or the festival down, the people that organise these events and work there are always so supportive and there to help you, even down to the last minute before gates are opened you always get there in the end. There’s a great feeling of unity and support!

This was my first year to work with EP and it was requested that all art installations be up a week in advance. At first,  I thought great I’ll get it up in advance and be able to chill out the week running up to the festival… this was not the case. I spent all week worrying about the pieces and when I arrived down for the actual festival half the pieces had been taken down, it was on its side and knotted…but nothing could be done, only to learn from the experience: such as don’t put up your work a week in advance.

 What’s it like being an artist? do you find it difficult to get recognition?

Hmm, well I wouldn’t consider myself to be an artist as such. As much as I would dream about working as a visual artist, I don’t really know where you’d start. I’ve tried to look into it, but I feel out of my depth when I read of “real” projects seeking visual artists. That I guess is the great thing about these festivals it’s not about your experience, instead, they are offering an opportunity to anyone who has an idea and a love to be part of the festival experience. It gives people a chance to step away from their 9-5, get outdoors and I guess release that creative side. With the festivals, it can reach a larger audience and you do on occasion get other festivals asking to use your work or collaborate on something new which is always encouraging.

 What themes do you like to explore?

I love to experiment with anything that can create light, colour or movement. When working for festivals you can be on a tight budget so it’s good to try and work with recycled materials. the great thing about a festival is you have both daylight and night to work with so you can get two different experiences from one piece.

 

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 What inspires you/ motivates you?

If I could just spend one day working with Yayoi Kusama that would be pretty awesome. It probably sounds like an obvious one but there is nothing like getting out into nature to inspire you and get the ideas turning. Looking for patterns, sounds, changes in light the list can be endless. Also, it can be a great source for materials. Travelling can be a great source of inspiration, taking ideas and processes from different cultures and seeing how they make something so beautiful from so little, again taking inspiration from what is around them, nature (Cong), seasons. As I come across ideas, I try to store them and come back to it when I’ve time or there is a time to use it. Always handy to carry a notebook or just take pics with your phone. Sometimes you can have an idea straight away for a project the other it can be lots of trial and error before you get there.

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Most recent would have been South America and seeing how the Inca tribe developed, how they still keep some traditions. The colour, detail, time and thought that went into their work, the scale of it is phenomenal and the fact that we don’t even know why they did what they did is, even more, mind bobbling! We came across a Carnival party one day in Northern Argentina, which still has some Inca tradition and the costumes they had made were phenomenal and very inspiring, so many styles and colours, instruments all representing different groups.

For the Disco limbs collection, I already had some mannequin limbs I found ages back and then realised I also had loads of CDs so just by looking around my room at what I had helped me come up with that. I also have a book called “The art of looking sideways” My go to for when looking to spark some ideas. Basically, a bit of daydreaming can go a long way;)

 

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What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

One thing I have found working as a Graphic Designer for years is I kept getting stuck in a rut of doing work that just wasn’t challenging me, over time it would become monotonous and I felt regret for every getting into the industry, I didn’t feel creative at all and thought I should be doing something different altogether. When I started doing work for festivals I realised I could find other avenues of being creative that weren’t from behind the screen. I got to work on ideas that were my own, I was given the opportunity to manage my own project, step out of my comfort zone and gain confidence in my work. This has made me realise you don’t have to work in the same area all the time, mix it up to keep your creativity satisfied, experiment and have confidence in your work. Yes, your idea might end up being a million miles away from its original concept but that’s what the experience is all about, and you will probably end up being disappointed at times but that’s just because you want to perfect it, don’t let it bog you down, learn from it and move on. Drunk revellers really won’t take a blind bit of notice if something is misaligned or not lit up properly at night;)

More expert advice…

On a more practical side always plan, plan and plan again as much as you can in advance, measure, experiment and test, ask questions of the organisers. Keep them updated on what is going on. Think about transport, installation (make sure your piece is secure and can uphold gale force winds) and importantly  Health & Safety. H&S can be a pain and really slow down work, but 100% important-  it usually depends on the size of the festival, smaller festivals are a lot more laid back.

Be aware that people can damage your work not out of malice more out of being drawn to something very colourful and wanting to get all up and involved…it is an adult’s playground after all. So, you can’t be too protective of it, especially when it comes to the weather, I once lost a mannequin that  I had spent weeks working on to a biblical storm, so make sure your budget covers all your expenses.

Don’t underestimate the value of your work, it’s not just materials you need to be covered; it’s also the time that goes into the work. I’ve made pieces that can be reused and changed up, this can be an efficient way of covering your cost and can save time. Importantly, always give yourself enough time, as I said anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Work with other artists and don’t be afraid to get people involved, my friends are always great for helping they also love getting to do something different away from their usual 9-5.

What’s next…

This year I’ll be working on a new piece for Body & Soul, using more natural materials weaving with hazelwood and willow, fingers crossed it works out!

Look forward to seeing the next project in place, best of luck Geraldine!

 

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Bernie Higgins