ARTIST Elinor O’Donovan’s interest in internet culture has inspired her exhibition, Brain Worms, at the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion at Fitzgerald’s Park. It consists of digital prints and collages made using photo-shop.
There are also playful cartoon-like drawings scattered around the space, sometimes imposed on the photographs. Outside the venue are three free-standing clouds made out of PVC with timber legs. The exhibition plays on the myth of the ‘digital divide’ — the perceived separation between the world of the internet and the ‘real world.’
This is Elinor’s first solo exhibition, the culmination of her Graduate Artist Residency with Churchfield-based Sample Studios.
Elinor, who describes herself as “a digital media artist”, graduated from Edinburgh College of Art with first class honours in 2019. But for the pandemic, she probably wouldn’t have an exhibition, she thinks.
“After I graduated, I was saying that I could wait a while before becoming an artist. I just wanted to work and earn some money. If my life had been going the way it was pre-Covid, I’d probably be still working at a full time job.
“I was actually in Australia when Covid hit. I came back to Edinburgh and lost the job I was supposed to have at the Edinburgh Fringe. Then I started looking at Cork. The uncertainty meant I didn’t know if I’d get a job. So I moved back in with my parents in 2020. I’m lucky enough not to have to pay rent. My parents are very supportive of me. They maybe baulked a bit when I said I wanted to go to art school when I was 16. But they got over it.”
“I was 19 and desperate to move out of home. I have family in Edinburgh. I think the art colleges in Cork and Limerick are great. But I wanted to leave Cork. Dublin is very expensive.
“At the time in Edinburgh, students didn’t have to pay any fees. So it was free for me to go to college there. It’s a great place to live and the college is great.”
While Elinor’s Scottish experience was positive, she says Cork has been very good to her.
“When I first came back to Cork, I thought I’d stay for a year and then maybe go to London or emigrate somewhere. It felt a bit undignified being 25 and living with my parents. But a lot has happened for me this year in Cork.
"The support from Sample Studios has been huge. The director of it, Aoibhie McCarthy, has been a real asset. She helped me write funding applications which I was successful at this year. It has been hugely validating to get Arts Council funding. And that has gone a long way towards convincing my parents that I’m in a professional job.
“I work part-time as a receptionist at the Cork Sexual Health Centre to keep me going. Between the Arts Council funding and some funding that I got from Cork City Council for this exhibition, I’ve got good support which I couldn’t imagine getting in Edinburgh.”
Elinor was also recently announced as the recipient of the Cork International Film Festival Commission Award. She will create a unique contemporary artwork which responds to the 66th festival programme, due out in November.
Earlier this year, Elinor took part in the ‘Notes to Cork’, an exhibition of works on billboards around the city. She will present a solo exhibition of new work in November this year in 126 Gallery, Galway.
Born in 1995, Elinor is a digital native. She was never without a computer at home. The title of her exhibition in the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion is often used “by people on Twitter to describe moments of utter stupidity. Someone might say ‘that person has complete brain worms. What are they doing?’
“Or it can be used about a thought that just won’t leave your head. I’ve been thinking about where internet culture meets the rest of culture such as film, television, cartoons and all that kind of pop culture stuff.
“My own personal brain worms have kind of been composting all of these references over the 25 years I’ve been on the planet. The products of these brain worms are the drawings and weird digital images in the exhibition. “
Elinor points out that people talk about the internet “as if it’s a completely separate domain. That is so funny to me. For me, internet culture is culture. So much of the stuff that happens on the internet and social media feeds back into stuff that happens offline. It’s completely porous to me.”
The artist’s friends “really get my work”. Elinor has tried to explain it to her parents and aunts and uncles.
“It’s digital work but it’s not like the work is on a screen. It’s very much part of a culture that exists on social media and weird internet meme humour that proliferates online.”
Describing herself as ambitious, Elinor says she works hard.
“But I should acknowledge that I have a lot of support,” she adds. “I graduated from college with a lot of talented artists but a lot of them are working full time at other jobs because they can’t afford to be artists all the time. I’m hugely privileged. While I work hard, I don’t work any harder than other artists.”
Elinor says she is “heartened by the resilience of arts venues. In the middle of lockdown, we weren’t able to be in Sample Studios but there was a lot of professional development over that time.”
Brain Worms continues at the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion, Fitzgerald’s Park, until September 9.