The art of swim­ming

ARTIST, VANESSA DAWS TALKS TO JOHN MAN­NING ABOUT HER SWIM AROUND LAMBAY IS­LAND AND HER DIVE TO THE WRECK OF THE TAYLEUR AND THEIR PLACE IN HER WORK

Fingal Independent - - NEWS SPECIAL -

AN artist who was among the first to use a beau­ti­ful new stu­dio at the old boathouse at Lougshinny beach has quite lit­er­ally turned swim­ming into an art form. Vanessa Daws has al­ways been in­spired by wa­ter and her art has al­ways re­flected that but she chooses not to stand apart from her sub­ject mat­ter - she dives right in.

Vanessa ex­plained her work to the Fin­gal In­de­pen­dent as we chat­ted in the idyl­lic sur­round­ings of Loughshinny har­bour on a crisp, sunny au­tumn morn­ing out­side the beau­ti­fully con­verted boat house that be­came the artist’s stu­dio for three months, this sum­mer.

Vanessa ex­plained: ‘Well, I’ve al­ways been a swim­mer and my work has al­ways been in­flu­enced by swim­ming and wa­ter for many years. But then swim­ming be­came the art prac­tice. The way all my pro­jects work is I start off re­spond­ing to an area by swim­ming and nor­mally swim­ming is a very so­cial prac­tice so I would swim with the lo­cal swim­mers and from that the sto­ries come and then the ac­tual work it­self.’

A lot of that work this sum­mer has been cen­tred around two im­por­tant Fin­gal land­marks, one above the wa­ter line at Lambay Is­land and one deep be­low it, in the shape of the wreck of the ill-fated RMS Tayleur.

Talk­ing about her Lambay project, Vanessa said: ‘ With my Lambay Tril­ogy project, the first swim we did was with the sea swim­ming com­mu­nity from Malahide at Low Rock. We did a jour­ney and we swam one at a time, for 20 min­utes at a time un­til we reached Lambay Is­land and that act was the work it­self - but also from that I use pho­to­graphs and video, I use sound and make in­stal­la­tions and I make books. Stuff comes from the swim but the swim­ming is the re­search, the process and it’s also kind of the live event.

‘It’s not per­for­mance art be­cause it’s not re­ally about me swim­ming. It’s a re­sponse to the area and the wa­ter and it’s a so­cial prac­tice so I’d like to think I’m the least im­por­tant el­e­ment of the works.

‘I used to call it ex­plor­ing place by swim­ming and then I ex­plained that place could be the phys­i­cal space or push­ing our way through it with our arms or the lit­eral space be­tween the land and the wa­ter and it’s a so­cial place and for me, swim­ming is to­tally about the swim­ming com­mu­nity and the Dublin sea swim­ming com­mu­nity are amaz­ing.’

The artist hopes her work has a much broader ap­peal than those who know the pe­cu­liar joys of sea swim­ming though. She said: ‘ The swim­ming com­mu­nity have a high in­ter­est in it ob­vi­ously be­cause they are of­ten in the work but I’d like to think it would reach out be­yond that.

‘I just had a piece in the CHQ build­ing off the Dock­lands Build­ing in Dublin. I had four screen film of swim­ming the length of the Lif­fey from Heuston Bridge, all the way down. I got per­mis­sion and worked with the Har­bour-mas­ter to swim right down to Pool­beg Light­house. So I filmed the length of the Lif­fey from the point of view of the swim­mer with a Go Pro cam­era on my head. It was in th­ese win­dows, be­ing back pro­jected out to the streets so I was watch­ing it for a few nights and lots of peo­ple were stop­ping to see it - the work is for ev­ery­one, hope­fully.’

Wa­ter has al­ways been a fea­ture of her work, but it was the de­vel­op­ment of a par­tic­u­lar piece of tech­nol­ogy that al­lowed the artist to get in the wa­ter and make art. Vanessa ex­plained: ‘I’ve al­ways been mad for jump­ing in the wa­ter and rep­re­sent­ing the wa­ter in paint­ings and sculp­tures and things and us­ing bits of film. But I guess, when I was in Kilkenny as an artist in res­i­dence in 2009 and Go Pros were just com­ing out on the mar­ket, I sup­pose that changed my prac­tice a lot.

‘ The Go Pro al­lowed me to ac­tu­ally move with the cam­era and go places and jour­neys with it. I did a swim to work - an ex­per­i­ment in beat­ing the morn­ing traf­fic. When I was an artist in res­i­dence in Kilkenny they gave me ac­com­mo­da­tion about a mile down the river from where I was work­ing so I just did this piece and that was the first time I filmed a swim­ming jour­ney.’

Af­ter com­plet­ing the team re­lay swim to Lambay with the Low Rock swim­mers, Vanessa went on to swim solo from Low Rock to the is­land and in the third part of her tril­ogy of works, she recorded her circumnavigation of the is­land, the first swim­mer on record to take that chal­lenge on.

Vanessa told the Fin­gal In­de­pen­dent: ‘I was the first per­son recorded that has swum around it. And I also swam to it solo.’

She is not sure how the fa­mous Lambay wal­la­bies feel about her how­ever, as he ex­plained: ‘ The first time we did the col­lab­o­ra­tive swim to Lambay with the swim­ming com­mu­nity from Low Rock, we pre­sented the work at Low Rock Beach.

‘We had a sound piece, story-telling and a lit­tle in­stal­la­tion and in­vited the au­di­ence to swim - this is at seven in the morn­ing. I had also or­dered some wal­laby burg­ers so we had a break­fast bar­be­cue of Lambay wal­laby burg­ers as we looked out to Lambay Is­land so I’m not sure the wal­la­bies like me that much.’

The circumnavigation of the is­land was a huge chal­lenge and took three hours and 17 min­utes to com­plete. ‘I got stung by a Lion’s Mane in the first half hour. There is one side of the is­land where all the seals live and I knew that so I had a lot of com­pany for that side,’ Vanessa ex­plained.

Vanessa was one of a num­ber of artists in­volved in a pi­lot artist-in-res­i­dence scheme at the newly con­verted boathouse in Loughshinny which was of­fi­cially launched at the week­end and

is now seek­ing ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est from new artists who want to work there.

Vanessa used the beau­ti­fully lo­cated stu­dio for three months and it looked out to Lambay which had al­ready be­come a fo­cus of her work be­fore she got to Loughshinny.

She said: ‘I was do­ing the Lambay project al­ready and I am liv­ing in Sut­ton so I guess it just hap­pened quite nat­u­rally that I heard about this place, so I ap­plied. I think the fact that it was over­look­ing Lambay was why they gave it to me. I was here for three months and it was lovely.

‘I was work­ing on the Lambay Tril­ogy. The three swims are done now and I’m try­ing to get a more sub­stan­tial pub­li­ca­tion and a film work out of it so I’m still work­ing on the fi­nal re­solve of it. There were three Lambay swims. The first was the swim with the com­mu­nity at Low Rock, then there was my solo swim from Low Rock and the third one was the circumnavigation of the is­land.’

Vanessa was also work­ing on a div­ing project to the wreck of the Tayleur, some of the re­sults of which were dis­played for lo­cals at the stu­dio over the week­end.

The artist ex­plained: ‘When I was re­search­ing Lambay, some­body told me about the RMS Tayleur so I have done a project about the Tayleur as it is to­day. I was kind of think­ing of it slightly dif­fer­ently to a ship­wreck be­cause a ship­wreck wouldn’t be my nor­mal sub­ject mat­ter - my work is quite cel­e­bra­tory and joy­ful and op­ti­mistic.

‘So, I was try­ing to think of the Tayleur as it is to­day in 2017, this body of iron, this ob­ject on the bot­tom of the ocean to­day and what it’s like.’

She added: ‘ The Tayleur was a ter­ri­ble tragedy and you have to be re­spect­ful of that but I was more in­ter­ested in the ob­ject and all the na­ture and the life that has now grown in and around it.’

The artist moves on to a city cen­tre res­i­dency now but leaves with fond mem­o­ries of the Lougshinny Boath­house Artists’ Stu­dio as she ex­plained: ‘It was great be­ing here, I would go out with The Frosties (a lo­cal sea swim­ming group) quite of­ten and it was beau­ti­ful. ‘I got quite ob­sessed about the horses go­ing into the sea - they’re beau­ti­ful. And you would get seals pop­ping there head up and a cer­tain time of day they would hang around for the fish­ing boats to come in.

‘ The stu­dio is re­ally valu­able for the com­mu­nity, I would like to think. I got to talk to some of the peo­ple walk­ing along here and a lot of the artists have been chat­ting to the peo­ple of Loughshinny. And it’s great for the artists too and if you are an artist that is in­ter­ested in the ocean and the land­scape, then it is per­fect.’

THERE WERE THREE LAMBAY SWIMS. THE FIRST WAS THE SWIM WITH THE COM­MU­NITY AT LOW ROCK, THEN THERE WAS MY SOLO SWIM FROM LOW ROCK AND THE THIRD ONE WASTHE CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF THE IS­LAND.

Vanessa Daws dur­ing her swim to Lambay Is­land.

Vanessa Daws at the Loughshinny Boathouse.

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