Cork group supports 400 artists over the past 30 years

Since they began 30 years ago, Backwater Artists Group has provided studio space and access to facilities and information to hundreds of artists. As they celebrate a milestone year, COLETTE SHERIDAN finds out about their current exhibition and what’s in store for the year ahead
Cork group supports 400 artists over the past 30 years
Artist Cara Farnan. Picture by Róisín Bohan

ARTIST Cara Farnan was somewhat nervous about her first solo show, not to mention the fact that it kicked off the 30th anniversary programme of the Backwater Studios.

The curiously titled exhibition, Sometimes the River Flows Backwards, continues until February 7 and includes sculpture, drawing, text and sound (in collaboration with sound artist, Jennifer Moore.)

Backwater Artists Group has been in operation since 1990 and was one of the first artist-led initiative’s in the region, set up by graduates of CIT Crawford College of Art and Design looking to remain in Cork city to pursue careers as artists. Since their inception they have provide studio spaces, access to facilities and information for more than 400 artists.

Cara, 25, is from Dublin and currently doing a masters degree in art at HKU University of the Arts in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She was selected by arts organisation Basic Space, in association with the Backwater Artists’ Group, to present her exhibition. The title was inspired by her stay in a studio in Ormond Quay, Dublin.

“My window looked out at the Liffey,” she explains. “One of the first things I noticed when I moved in was that the Liffey, a lot of the time, doesn’t go towards the sea. It goes inland and it shouldn’t. I have never quite figured it out.

Artist Cara Farnan with her work, which is showcasing at the Backwater Artists on Wandesford Quay. Picture by Róisín Bohan
Artist Cara Farnan with her work, which is showcasing at the Backwater Artists on Wandesford Quay. Picture by Róisín Bohan

“I printed off the tide times and stuck them by the window of the studio so I could see the tide coming in and what way it was going. It didn’t quite stick to the tide times. Maybe it was the wind but I watched bits of debris and seagulls floating inland instead of going out to the sea. I thought about it a lot because it’s really weird and I don’t think anyone really thought about it before. It has always been in my head.

“When I was making work for this show, I was writing a lot, mostly stream-of-consciousness stuff. The underlying narrative is the basis for the exhibition.”

Cara elaborates, saying that her show is about someone who feels they’re going to fragment and fall apart.

“Every time they speak, when the words are leaving them, it’s like parts of their body are leaving with the words. They’re trying desperately not to speak. But that leads to the words getting a bit sharp and aggressive and trying to find other ways out.

“There’s an imaginary character in my head that does weird things, like sew pockets onto all of her clothes so she can collect the words back up. This idea of the river going the wrong way came back into my head.”

The main feature of the unusual exhibition is a large piece of circular digitally printed polyester with drawings of mouths on it and pockets with bits of text tucked into them, which viewers can read.

“The pockets contain snippets of the narrative. I really like pockets because I think they’re quite closely related to the mouth. By being covered by loads of different pockets and being able to hold every interaction you have with the world in your body interests me.”

Cara is a graduate of the NCAD (National College of Art and Design) where she specialised in printmaking.

“But my degree show was more based on sound, text and video. I haven’t really printed a lot since then.”

Cara Farnan's work. Picture by Róisín Bohan
Cara Farnan's work. Picture by Róisín Bohan

Since graduating, Cara was lucky enough to be awarded a six-month peer residency with three of her former classmates at the RHA.

“That was amazing, like falling into a cradle. After that, I didn’t really have a studio so I was working from home.”

Cara applied for residencies and got one in Joutsa, a small Finnish town north of Helsinki.

“It was brilliant. It was my first time being away entirely by myself and being surrounded by international artists. It was a very focused period. I was making work there for a month, working close to three other artists. It has always been very important to me to be surrounded by other artists when I’m working.”

After Finland, Cara was awarded a residency at the Cowhouse Studios in Wexford.

“After that, I was exhibiting in group shows in Dublin and around Ireland.”

To earn money, she worked part time in retail and also taught art and science to children in after-school classes.

Since September 2019, Cara has been at HKU.

“I needed to get out of Dublin. I was feeling in my practice that I was bouncing around, getting to a certain point and then hitting a wall and not quite knowing how to get over it, where to go next and how to push my work a bit further.”

Backwater 30 Year Anniversary

Programme 2020

Backwater Artists Group has developed a year long programme of events and projects to mark the milestone. Here are some of the highlights:

Sometimes the River Flows Backwards, Cara Farnan — runs until February 7.

Inherited Possibility, Joseph Fogarty, runs February 21 to March 20.

Waterford-based artist Joseph’s sculptural artwork is based on the suggestion by Heidegger that the possibilities that we project have to be drawn from the past as a heritage.

Land of Some Other Order. Curated by Paul McAree (Lismore Castle Arts). Runs at the Lavit Gallery, Cork. March 14 to April 11, features the work of Backwater studio members and focuses on the way the artists respond to changing definitions of landscape, climate, borders, and our human intervention into the world.

Ceyda Oskay. Curated by Miguel Amado (Cork Printmakers). Studio 12, Backwater Artists Group. June 12 to July 10.

Cara Farnan's work. Picture by Róisín Bohan
Cara Farnan's work. Picture by Róisín Bohan

Cork Printmakers and artist Ceyda Oskay are producing a work that addresses the exclusion of racialised subjects from mainstream identities in Ireland. This work is co-created with asylum-seekers based in Cork, particularly women living in direct provision centres across the city and the county, who are supported by Cork Migrant Centre, an organisation that is part of Nano Nagle Place.

Fuzzy Logic. Curated by Simon Fennessy Corcoran (126 Artist-Run Gallery Galway). Studio 12, Backwater Artists Group. September 4 to October 2. Featuring 126 artists.

Divide Road by Fiona Kelly. April 3 to May 1. This constructs a diorama, showing the esker’s ruination from industrial extractivist activity and as an allegory of Ireland’s historical and contemporary geological, social and border conditions.

Beasts, Katrīna Tračuma. July 24 to August 21. The prevailing theme in the work of the artist is humankind’s estrangement from nature, as viewed through the lens of our relationships with other species.

Drawing Clinics, Cassandra & Megan Eustace. February 15, May 15, June 5, July 16 (afternoon only), 17th July. Booking essential: 021 4961002 /

Backwater Artists Network Group Exhibition. October 23 to November 20. Opens October 22 at 6pm. The inaugural annual exhibition from members of the newly launched Backwater Artists Network.

Art Shorts: A new Art Shorts series will also be introduced in 2020. These week-long slots will allow artists to hold artist talks/workshops/discussions/screenings, install artwork and document it in situ. Currently scheduled (more to come):

A collaboration between Aoife Desmond (invited artist) and Helen O’Shea (Backwater member). May 4 to 8.

Redd, Paul Carroll, in association with Cork Harbour Festival. May 18 to 22. A photographic series by Backwater Darkroom member Paul which explores how people and communities in Ireland interact with a selection of the 70000km of waterways.

An exhibition and associated events by Benchspace Cork in association with Cork Craft Month. August 24 to 28.

Ciarán Langford Memorial Bursary Exhibition, 2020: Padraic Barrett. The Gallery at 46 Grand Parade, CIT Crawford College of Art & Design. April 6 to 24. Opens April 3, 5.30pm. The artist’s work is a response to the archetypal male and patriarchal traditions in Irish society today.

For more, contact Backwater Artists Group, Wandesford Quay, Cork. Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm. Tel: (021) 4961002. E: W:

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