Making Contemporary Art in Ancient Ireland: Jennifer Gunlock Shares Her Latest Residency Experience

Jennifer Gunlock's studio at her residency at Cill Rialaig Project
©2019 Jennifer Gunlock

As is the general rule for all travel, the best outcome at an art residency is achieved when it is approached with a spirit of openness, flexibility & adaptability, and out of generosity and respect for one’s fellow residents. I’ve done four residencies so far, and each one has been uniquely good to me. Some will pick you up from the airport and provide for all your meals, while others require residents to be self-sufficient. Last month I had the fortune of spending two weeks at Cill Rialaig Project on the southwest coast of Ireland, a residency that fell into the latter category. On this trip I self-coordinated all hotel stays, flights and car rental, and for the first time ever I drove on the left side of the road, completely alone in a strange car (“Where are the headlights?” “How do you put it in park?!!” “I can’t unscrew this gas cap!”), and I drove through the rain with only Google Maps Lady (AKA “Lady Goo Goo”) by my side for comfort and directions. (“Take the third exit in the roundabout to stay on N22.” “THANK YOU, Lady Goo Goo!”) 

©2019 Jennifer Gunlock

My objective was to photograph various historic sites around Ireland, then apply these images into new collage-drawings at the residency. I cut rag paper to fit into my luggage side pocket, stuffed my colored pencils, brushes, and decorative papers between my clothes and shampoo, then upon arrival in Dublin I hit a local art store for the gesso, acrylic medium, and a utility knife. I spent four days in Dublin visiting Medieval churches with their Gothic arches and Celtic Cross grave markers, photographed Georgian architecture and local trees, got my Irish Pre-History 101 on at the Archaeological Museum, and spent about $30 printing out these photos at an internet cafe. While I thoroughly enjoyed all this new imagery I had to play with when I reached the studio, my art-mind was ironically blown by my findings after I printed out all those photos.

©2019 Jennifer Gunlock

At Cill Rialaig I bonded with my fellow creatives. We shared rides to the village for tea and internet, to the grocery store for food and peat, and exchanged peat fire lighting tips. (The recurring great debate: which burns longer to keep your studio warm? Hand-cut peat turf or machine-pressed briquettes?) But our favorite collective memories were of spontaneous hikes to local Neolithic standing stones and early Christian monastic cells, which are littered all over County Kerry. The general Irish history that I dug up in Dublin didn’t prepare me for the layers and layers of archaeological history, spirituality and mythology that I stumbled over in the countryside. We scrambled up to the top of the hill behind our cottages to locate ancient moonstones where legend says a great Celtic warrior was buried. Within days after that find, a local directed us to another standing stone site across the bay, where supposedly this warrior’s lover was buried. Then, oh yeah, don’t forget to visit the wedge tomb up that road on the way to the chocolate factory! If you place your wedding ring on it, the ring will snap in half! Three of us are still messaging each other links to websites, in an attempt to make sense of the possible histories and likely pseudo-histories about these places we visited.

The Irish-speaking village of Ballinskelligs where Cill Rialaig is based has a history of early Christian monasticism, where 6th century monks from the continent would come in search of harshly remote places to live out a hermetic existence. Cill Rialaig’s programming itself, a residency comprised of eight repurposed stone house ruins by the Atlantic Ocean, is founded on this local tradition of silence and solitude. The nearby island of Skellig Michael is one famous monastic site, and just a few feet up the road from the residency is a collection of half-buried monastic cells that I imagine to still be inhabited—not by humans but by beings of a more ephemeral nature.  

©2019 Jennifer Gunlock

This residency so unexpectedly reminded me of what I’d been trying to convey in my work for the last twenty years: that a supposedly dead, inert stone-built thing is actually very much alive, like an old being sleeping with one eye open. And, although a “lost” architectural site’s original inhabitants may no longer occupy it, over time that crumbling site becomes fused with the living landscape in which it resides. And in the case of Ireland, over the—in some cases 5,000 years—of a monument’s lifetime, different peoples come and go, projecting their own spiritual beliefs and ritual practices on it. In the present, under Christian influence, these old belief systems may have shapeshifted into superstitions, but that essential mystery never went away.

From this residency I now have tons of fresh visual material to play with in my art practice, as well as a head full of historical and philosophical questions to ingest, and I’m excited to see how all this will play out in my work this coming year.

Photographic reference material.
©2019 Jennifer Gunlock
©2019 Jennifer Gunlock
Inside the studio.
©2019 Jennifer Gunlock

Applications for two to four-week residencies the following year are due twice per year.  For example, for my October 2019 residency, applications were due September 2018.  While the residency is free, they do charge 60 euros per week to cover utility costs. The application process involves emailing an introductory letter stating your residency project proposal, a simple application form, your CV, 10 work samples and an image checklist.  In 2018 the application fee was 35 euros.  For more information about this residency, to receive the application and inquire about due dates, either click here: https://cillrialaigartscentre.com/contact/ or email crsiorpa@gmail.com.

Other great residency search links:
Facebook group “Arts Grants and Residencies Club
Discover Quality Arts Residencies: resartis.org/
New York Foundation for the Arts: www.nyfa.org/Opportunities


This is a contributing post by Jennifer Gunlock, a Long Beach artist whose work explores the relationships between the objects of nature and those imposed upon them by human activity. Learn more about her work at www.jennifergunlock.com/ Convinced that it was a faerie that knocked the lens off her camera at Newgrange, she is currently petitioning Santa for a new one.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Jennifer, This is a wonderful piece of writing, very informative, interesting and with the visuals, a real delight. Thank you for sharing all the information and congratulations on your many successes. Please post your exhibitions to me. I would love to see some of the new work. I have always loved your work and the new seems to be right on track for a great progression. Happy Birthday too. Hugs, barbara nathanson

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