Getting Into the Art!

Uillinn – the West Cork Arts Centre gallery in Skibbereen – has just opened its first exhibition of 2020. It’s a riot! I have seldom seen such enthusiasm in an art show from the lively crowd who had gathered for the launch event, billed as an indoor picnic.

We went along, and were delighted. It’s advertised as an exhibition for children: take no notice of that! Just go and join in the fray – we all have a child in us. And it is a fray, in that it’s totally participatory. You can’t avoid taking apart everything you see, and putting it all back together however you want to. How amazing, to be encouraged – no, commanded – to get involved and act out the child. I wish I could show you the expressions of delight on the faces of all the ‘real’ children who were there, but today’s privacy laws mean that we can’t publish those. Instead, through some skilful juxtaposing and a little bit of PhotoShop, we hope that we can get across the sheer exuberance of all the activity.

The ground floor gallery was full of shapes – many recognisable, some abstract – all brightly coloured, attractive and tactile. Each one could easily be a piece of ‘modern art’. The fun comes when you realise they can all be taken apart and put back together in unlimited combinations. There are no restrictions: everything has hooks, slots, sockets. This is your chance – everybody’s chance – to build sculptures, make murals, hang things on walls (or on each other!). There’s not a single Do Not Touch sign anywhere . . . Imagine the excitement!

If you wanted to, you could enter the exhibition through a tunnel – it looked invitingly organic, if not somewhat anatomical. You were disgorged into a forest of sweets hanging on strings. Towards the end of the afternoon there were lots of empty strings and very few sweets. But, surely, that’s what it’s all about: consuming the art; embracing it, encountering it, making of it what you will.

It was interesting for us to note tidy-minded adults busily untangling the hanging strings, while their offspring revelled in getting them as muddled as possible. Meanwhile, we overheard a fraught parent exclaiming “I can’t believe you just ate the art!”

Art in Action is the brainchild of a group of Polish artists, and was first curated at the Municipal Art Center, Pomorska, Gorzów in 2019, with the intention of travelling on to Skibbereen. One of those artists, Tomasz Madajczak, has been based in Ireland since 2003, and has contributed to previous exhibitions at Uillinn. He provided the liaison between the two arts centres which resulted in this collaboration. He seemed completely at home among the exhibits:

I need to persuade you all to visit this exhibition, so I won’t give away too much in this little preview. I will just mention the upstairs galleries, where some ingenious devices are available to ensure full interaction between art and spectators, including a modern take on the epidiascope (remember those? – you will if you are anywhere near my age!), pop guns for shooting down technological detritus, and over-aweing human voice amplification. Here are some further images to whet your appetites . . .

Don’t be shy about coming into this show and being part of the action! That’s exactly what it’s there for. All the better if you can bring along a group of children – or aim to be there when there are children in the gallery: the Arts Centre has a continuing programme of involving schools and other community groups. It’s the children, particularly, who will show you what being uninhibited means.

Art in Action is on at Uillinn, Skibbereen until 22 February 2020. It is curated by Bartosz Nowak, with work by Basia Bańda + Tomasz Relewicz, Ewa Bone + Ewa Kozubal, Tomasz Madajczak, Krzysztof Matuszak, Aleksandra Ska and Hubert Wińczyk. Open Monday to Saturday, 10.00am to 4.45pm daily. Special thanks must go to Uillinn’s Director, Ann Davoran, and her technical team for bringing this show to fruition, with special mention to Ballydehob’s Stephen Canty – who solves every problem! Uillinn receives financial support from the Arts Council and Cork County Council.

Magic Forest



A byway taking off to the north just after the Cross House on the Skibbereen to Ballydehob road – signposted to Corravoley – will bring you to the townlands of Ballybane West and Ballybane East. That little boreen will take you past some Rock Art, and then on to the Magic Forest. If you find your way in, keep a lookout for the Other Crowd!

Look out for the Other Crowd!

Look out for the Other Crowd!

We accepted an invitation from the creator of the Magic Forest – Thomas Wiegandt – to come and visit while the bluebells were out – and we were enchanted by the woodland walks and all the experiences which excited our senses once we were there.

art gallery

buoy tree

plain to see

It’s hard to describe Thomas – he’s a musician, an artist, a poet and – above all – he has a quirky and witty way of looking at the world… I like that way of seeing things.  He has lived for years at Ballybane and pursued his creative career as well as working on and caring for his few acres of West Cork wildness, which is based around an old sally grove – a place which hadn’t been used for around 100 years and which had been sold as ‘waste land’. As you make your way through the Magic Forest (and take care – there are some rough paths and a few stony steps to be negotiated) you will be taken through his thoughts and into his imagination.




Thomas believes we are all musicians at heart (I agree) – and invites us to have a go at the Ballydehob Gamelan – a wonderful collection of ‘rescued’ objects with which we can create rhythms and explore a whole world of sounds: you can play an array of drums, cans, goblets, makeshift xylophones, even stones… Finola had a whale of a time!

There is art and poetry set amongst the willows, often with the most unexpected juxtapositions. One of my favourite discoveries in the Magic Forest was Natural High – a little knoll looking out to Mount Kidd: there are two garden seats there where you can sit at ease and frame the view of the mountain, with two dogs as companions: one of them is real!

There were some messages here – about how we treat our world (or mistreat it), but they weren’t intrusive to the enjoyment of the whole adventure. If anything they were thought-provoking and – overall – a very good lesson in how we can all positively re-use things that seem to have transcended their original purpose.



for the record

In another life, Thomas might have been a shaman or medicine man: walking through the forest can be seen as therapeutic and refreshing in the context of our modern busy world – and it will certainly make you laugh at times. I really liked the idea of picking up a phone and talking to our ancestors!

You can discover more about the Magic Forest – and about Thomas Wiegandt – on his website: Cosmic Radio. You will find his poetry and his music there, and you can download many of his compositions for free. But do go and visit this unique piece of West Cork for yourselves: I hope you will be as delighted by the experience as we were.