Eimear Walshe, ROMANTIC IRELAND, 2023 / Still / Photo Faolán Carey
Apr 20 – Nov 24, 2024
Irish Pavilion / Venice Biennale
Venice, Italy

Culture Ireland is delighted to present ROMANTIC IRELAND, an exhibition by Eimear Walshe curated by Sara Greavu and Project Arts Centre for the Irish Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Through a practice that spans video, sculpture, publishing, sound, and performance, Eimear Walshe’s work traces the legacies of late 19th century land contestation in Ireland and its relation to private property, sexual conservatism, and the built environment.

ROMANTIC IRELAND comprises a multi-channel video installation and an operatic soundtrack housed in an immersive sculpture. Set on the site of an unfinished earth build, the video stages soapy, dramatic encounters between character archetypes from the 19th–21st centuries. These figures occupy an abstracted ruin, a site under simultaneous construction and demolition. The pavilion soundtrack is a five-voice opera describing the scene of an eviction, composed by Amanda Feery with a libretto by Walshe.

Walshe’s project explores the complex politics of collective building through the Irish tradition of the meitheal: a gang of workers, neighbours, kith and kin who come together to build, harvest and cooperate in mutual aid. It depicts a frenzied and fraught engagement with the ancient labour-intensive practice of earth building, a form of construction with an 11,000 year history and local iterations across the world. The video work was shot on location at the sustainable skills centre, Common Knowledge, on Ireland’s west coast. Led by choreographer Mufutau Yusuf, a group of seven performers, including the artist, enact characters in constantly rupturing historical dyads. This was filmed on four mobile phones passed between each actor, blurring the traditional distinction between director, performer, and camera person.

Made in the shadow of the ongoing housing crisis in Ireland, the installation becomes, variously, a building site of possibility, a wrestling ring for Ireland’s generational and class antagonisms, a space of tender care, and a structure made into a cold ruin by the social death of eviction. The exhibition forces encounters between historic moments, and draws out their parallel power dynamics and affective registers; their forms of labour, conflict and pleasure; the entangled histories of sexuality, property, and the state.

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ROMANTIC IRELAND is on view at the Biennale Arte 2024 from 20 April to 24 November, 2024. After Venice, Walshe’s exhibition will tour nationally through 2025, returning to locations and communities across Ireland that have helped to inspire and foster the making of the work.