one kind and another | Fiona Woods publication

The following text was commissioned for Fiona Woods’ recent Collection of Minds publication one kind and another. 



Networks of Rural Cultural Production

We undoubtedly live in an age of networks. Global cities where different forms of power intersect continue to form constellations that reinforce each other. Human Geographer Doreen Massey in her text Place and Relations against the Grain writes of the impact of ‘unequal geographies’ and how distances from cultural centres are ‘played out in the disparities of opportunity and richness of daily life’[1]. She argues that in a system of networks where virtually all the national cultural institutions, museums, galleries, academies, are in capital cities, centrality is reinforced. But where one might expect this scenario to marginalize all other forms of cultural production and dissemination, the situation, Massey believes, is more complex than that. Although these centres of power have been reinforced, locating that singular centre has become more difficult as the ‘centre’ itself is now also networked; its very dispersion increases the sense of powerlessness.

If approached strategically, stepping outside the centre, or even further, outside the institutional site of art, an emancipatory position can present itself. The absence of a public gallery can often instigate genuine opportunities for artistic enquiry into communities and situations that might otherwise be overlooked. Some projects and exhibitions in non-art spaces have evolved as a reaction against this notion of the gallery as a vice of cultural capital, others as a direct response to the lack of this infrastructural edifice within their community. From my own position as curator in residence in County Roscommon, Ireland, I devised a practice that attempted to challenge the conventions of working in traditional gallery contexts. It was a cooperative endeavour that engaged both the resources of a Government Local Authority (Roscommon Arts Office) and a small visual art space (Roscommon Arts Centre). Being a multi-disciplinary venue, Roscommon Arts Centre is a busy space that has a strong attendance to theatre and atrium based events and activities. Unfortunately the architecture of the gallery space and its very restricted access left me with the problem that the visual art was not terribly visible. Over a 12 month period, I took the gallery programme offsite and a number of projects, events and exhibitions unfolded throughout the County, taking a more nomadic approach to programming that involved working with non-arts spaces and utilizing the County’s portfolio of sites including historic houses, museums and parks.

This cooperative approach supported the production of work by local and national artists while also providing a platform for its presentation and exhibition. Ultimately reflecting on the importance of rural spaces as discursive sites for non-instrumental forms of thought and action.

Roscommon, like many other places on the periphery located beyond the centre, utilizes networks of its own kind. Emerging from these networks is a form of cultural production where the nature of place, cultural geography and social history are being articulated to the wider world by drawing on locally specific experiences and indigenous knowledge. A renewed confidence and ownership of cultural production in non-urbanised[2] locations is playing out in new ways, due to a proliferation of cultural producers contesting the view that place is fixed and bound, instead setting up place as a constellation of relations within the global world. Rather than being an account of Fiona Woods’ practice or specific projects undertaken by her, this essay is a reflection on the various methodologies and structures that exist or were produced through decentralized networked systems.

Fiona Woods’ practice, particularly collection of minds, demonstrates the richness of engaging with practitioners across disciplines and ethnographies, forging new relations that shift predisposed notions and understandings of place. The projects that form collection of minds, dating back to 2009, unfold episodically and vary from brief encounters to durational engagements.

one kind and another hones in on a number of these episodes, where co-production informed eventual outcomes. Woods cites solidarity, understanding, trust and good will as the bedrock of collaboration; the practice also foregrounds reliance on a networked system of collectives, organisations and individuals employing operational models based on cooperation through mutual, respectful exchange of knowledge.

Increased interconnectivity and globalised networks have enabled the mobilisation of cultural producers, allowing them to work across unfamiliar terrains. As a contrast to the guilded halls of the cultural institutions, a form of cultural itineracy has influenced the terms of artistic production. In his essay “Nomads: Figures of Travel in Contemporary Art”, James Meyer argues that essentially, two nomadisms have emerged as a reaction to unprecidented mobility and migration since the 1960’s; the first being a form of lyrical nomadism representing a ‘random and poetic interaction with the objects and spaces of everyday life’ [3] while the second takes the position of criticality; ‘it does not enact or record an action or movement for the spectator’s delectation, so much as locate travel itself within historical and institutional frameworks.’[4]

Binaural/Nodar is a Portuguese Cultural Organization that bases its activities in the rural areas of Nodar and the Gralheira Mountain Range. The agrarian paradigm, which has been central to the history and social fabric of these rural communities, is significantly changing and the guardians of that memory are also disappearing. Founded in 2004 with the aim of promoting exploration and research into sound and new media arts, it focuses on the crossover of media and languages and the articulation of artistic production within the surrounding context of its creation. Working with experimental artists, Binaural/Nodar attempt to debunk misconceptions around artists residencie in rural locations being abour refuge, idealized visions of the past and relationships to landscape from the idealised standpoint of being “environmentally correct”. They are cognisant of the perception among new media practioners that audiences are confined to a closed circuit of followers. A result of a practice fed through a purpetual cycle of dependency on mass cultural mechanisms and institutions. They aim to disrupt that system by situating artists in new contexts. The necessity to adapt to unknown circumstances associated with the social contact will challenge the artists by adapting, reconfiguring and questioning languages, materials and aesthetic approaches.

These networked systems appear in many guises, each with a modus operandi of one kind and another. The commonality between them all is that they are equally dependent on that exchange of knowledge. Accessing that knowledge with its own engrained hierarchical network, where customs, experiences and indigenous traditions are often inherited, can be problematic but a principled approach can lead to a rigorous and informed methodology.

Askeaton Contemporary Arts based in rural County Limerick also endeavors to “Coax art out of the ‘white-cube’ spaces and embed it in the local community” [5]. Curator/artist and Askeaton native Michele Horrigan has developed a model that breaks the mold in conventional commissioning and production through the annual residency project ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’. The programme invites national and international artists to spend time in Askeaton to work in public spaces throughout the town, often working with the local residents who could potentially become active participants. This explorative model of presentation and production outside the institutional site of art opens up the expanded notion of an audience or a public, where a bystander, a user or participant is implicated in the works production or mediation.

How things can be individually or collectively considered, questioned or produced are all played out in this small rural village. In an Irish Times article ‘Askeaton’s been punk’d’,[6] writer Manchán Magan speaks with Askeaton residents, business people and tourist representatives about their response to the influx of contemporary artists who descend upon the village on an annual basis. When Anita Guinane, manager of the local tourist office, was asked ‘why Askeaton?’ her response was ‘why not? If you don’t bring art to the people, what point is it? Art in isolation or just for other artists, is a dead thing.’[7]

Cultural production in rural contexts can be pulled in divergent directions, often along the experience/interpretation axis. Artistic negotiations with stakeholders, communities and extended cultural institutions have characterised a state of being in culture while looking at culture, taking on a form of personal and collective experience. The dispersion of networks across broader cultural, social and discursive fields continues to assist with the production of both transient and permanent works outside the maintstream public arenas. The expanding digital and shrinking global terrains will continue to intoxify us.

This expanded mobility has led to a proliferation of organisations and residencies working outside the traditional cultural centres. Cultural producers act as the agents and subjects of possible futures while also articulating the relationship between indigenous, inherited knowledge and migrant cultures. But artists should mindful of the marks and traces they leave behind when engaging in these practices. As stated by Miwon Kwon in One Place After Another:

“Only those cultural practices that have this relational sensibility can turn local encounters into long-term commitments and transform passing intimacies into indelible, unretractable social marks – so that the sequences of sites we inhabit in our life’s traversal does not become genericized into an undifferentiated serialization, one place after another.”[8]


[1] Massey, Doreen. “Place and Relations against the Grain”. LOCIS Publication, Published by Leitrim Arts Office, 2015.

[2] The term non-urbanised refers to language used in European rural housing policy and is also used to describe parts of agricultural and green infrastructure in a paper on environmental pollution by the Dept of Architecture in Catania, Italy.

[3] Meyer James. “Nomads: Figures of Travel in Contemporary Art”. Site Specificity the Ethnographic Turn, edited by Alex Coles, p. 11. Black Dog Publishing, 2001.

[4] ibid

[5] Magan, Manchán. ‘Askeaton’s been punk’d’. Irish Times magazine, July 5th, 2014

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity. p. 166. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.









Linda Shevlin has curated, facilitated and managed both large and small-scale visual arts projects including the 53rd Venice Biennale where she was project manager for the representative artists Gareth Kennedy & Sarah Browne and is Tulca Festival curator for 2018.

In 2017 she was the invited curator for the Hennessy Art Fund, purchasing new works for the IMMA collection and also curated the visual art programme for Bealtaine Festival 2017/2018 where she developed projects, commissions, residencies & exhibitions. with numerous Irish artists including Vivienne Dick, Kathy Prendergast, Kevin Gaffney, Pauline Cummins and Frances Mezzetti.

In 2016 she curated Radical Actions at RMIT Galleries, Melbourne as part of Culture Ireland’s 2016 International Programme ‘I Am Ireland’. The exhibition featured works by Duncan Campbell, Jesse Jones, Kennedy Browne and Seamus Nolan.

Other recent independent curatorial projects include Americana: Future Rural featuring John Gerrard (IE), Brian Duggan (IE), Kim Shively (USA) and M12 Studio (USA) at The Dock, Leitrim and Amharc Fhine Gall X commissioning Ella de Búrca, Ruth Clinton and Niamh Morriarty.

She has been awarded the Arts Council of Ireland’s Visual Arts Curatorial Residency award for three consecutive years (2013 – 2016) and in that time has produced a series of events and exhibitions in County Roscommon including newly commissioned works by Maria McKinney (IE) and Sean Lynch (IE); public art projects by Sean Rafferty (AUS), Ruth E. Lyons (IE) and Deirdre O’Mahony (IE), exhibitions by Martin Parr (UK), Duncan Campbell (IE) & Eamon O’Kane (IE) and a symposium titled The Workers with contributions from Adam Sutherland of Grizedale Arts (UK) & M12 Collective (USA) among others.

Shevlin is currently curator in residence with Roscommon Arts Centre & Solstice Arts Centre.


Linda Shevlin
Tivanagh School
Co. Roscommon
+353 86 605 2571
+353  71 966 4606