East Cork village celebrate May Sunday with special art trail in local woods

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle may be an important message for the planet, but for recent East Cork arrival, Aoife Banville, it’s also a source of creative inspiration, writes ELLIE O’BYRNE
East Cork village celebrate May Sunday with special art trail in local woods

Artist Aoife Banville.

SHE’S moved to East Cork, and she’s coming for your recyclables.

Artist Aoife Banville, who has spent a decade making a name for herself with spectacular installations at events including Body & Soul music festival and Ballymaloe Litfest, plans to decorate the follies of Glenbower Woods in Killeagh with repurposed household recycling, including tin can wind chimes, jar lid garlands, and bottle-top shakers made from plastic screw tops from Tetrapak cartons.

Aoife’s elaborate design will be installed in time for the East Cork village’s traditional May Sunday festival, which this year consists of an art trail in the local community-owned woodland for families to enjoy while taking social distancing into account.

A community effort, Aoife’s Folly Project pays homage to the history of Glenbower Woods by beautifying so-called ‘follies’ in the forest.

“Follies were built on estates and in parks as places to look at, and to look out of; they’re decorative,” Aoife says.

“I was wandering around Glenbower Woods and I noticed the remnants of one in a clearing, and I thought it might be a nice project to work with community groups to decorate them.”

Enlisting the help of the local school and an active retirement group, Aoife and May Sunday organiser Jessica Coogan-Byrne, who runs Greywood Arts Centre in Killeagh, filmed a video tutorial showing how members of the public can contribute to the art installation using common green bin items like tin cans, jar lids and bottle tops.

“We’re repurposing them into decorations,” Aoife says.

“Some will have an element of musicality to them: one will be a tin-can windchime, where you stack different sized tins into each other so they make sound as the wind moves them.”

In her site-specific installations, Aoife has used everything from umbrellas to lightbulbs to ping pong balls in the past.

Her love of recycling stems both from a personal awareness of reducing consumption and the necessity to find cheap materials on low-budget projects, she explains.

“When I first started making installation pieces for events and festivals 10 years ago, I never had a budget so that opened up the idea of looking at what’s already out there that can be repurposed into an art installation,” she says.

“In my own life, I don’t really consume very much and I like to repurpose and reuse what I can. I’m kind of interested in how you can take an everyday object and transform it, not necessarily by creating something new but by using something simple like a tin can, but you have hundreds of them and you place them in a certain way, they become something more.

“Things have a longer life than people think they have, if you’re creative about how you see things.”

Aoife is originally from Enniscorthy in Co Wexford, and made East Cork her home last year after completing a residency at the Greywood Arts Centre. She’s currently living in the grounds of Ballymaloe House, where she has connections, having worked on installations for events at the renowned cookery school.

Despite having worked as an installation artist for the past 10 years, she had originally studied languages and philosophy, before moving to Wellington in New Zealand, where she studied photography.

“I was really into the still image, and light,” Aoife says. “But the more digitalised photography became, the more my love for it dwindled, so then I got the opportunity to make an installation for Body & Soul Festival: I made a bulb tree, where I gathered a thousand old light bulbs and hung them from a beautiful oak tree, interspersed with pieces of mirror.”

Now, Aoife works primarily on installation art, but photography is still an inspiration, she says: “I make a lot of chandeliers or other things that mediate light in some form.

“Often, the installations are temporary and when they’re gone, they’re gone. So the only record I often have is the images I have taken of them.”

The May Sunday festival, of which Aoife’s Folly Project is a part, is 2021’s solution to a historic festive tradition only recently restored in the East Cork village.

The original May Sunday tradition was instituted by the DeCapell Brooke family, who owned Glenbower Woods. But the festival was discontinued in the early 2000s. It was revived in 2018, but unfortunately had run for just two years before the Covid crisis saw it cancelled in 2020.

This year, an art trail in the woods, including Aoife’s community art project, will allow families to mark the tradition while observing social distancing.

Aoife usually works alone, but has designed this project so that the local community can participate. Sixth class students at St Fergal’s National School will participate, as will members of active retirement group The Monday Club. But anyone else who wants to take part is also welcome.

“We’ve sent out a public invitation and the video of how to make four different pieces is up on the Greywood Arts website,” Aoife says. “We’re hoping people will drop the pieces into Greywood arts.

“I’m excited and nervous: like all of these things, you have a vision in your head, and then it comes together.

“Even though there aren’t events where people will gather this year, I really hope people will feel a connection to the past, and also feel that despite Covid, you can still make things for people to enjoy: a sense of hope and positivity, to lift the spirits.”

May Sunday Art Trail and workshops are on from May 1 to 9 .

Aoife Banville’s Folly Project tutorial video is at: https://greywoodarts.org/the-folly-project/

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