In flux >>Watch video>>
I’m always in flux. I’m a multidisciplinary designer operating at the intersection of art, design, futures, and communities. My main aim is creating alternative narratives for our transitional times through a variety of mediums. The project, the context, and the collaboration all inform the medium.
I came from a graphic design degree and worked across a few different areas, editorial design, book design, design agencies doing infographic and data visualisation – it was all quite commercial. Very much, “Oh this has to be cool, this has to look good regardless of the content”. I found I got stressed and I didn’t appreciate the objective, I felt it was design for decoration more than communication.
My masters helped me step back, jump out and look critically at the design industry and design education. That made me a much better designer and it generally improved my practice on loads of different levels and experimental modes. You have to try things and realise it’s OK if it looks crap, you’re just trying something, whereas before I’d be like, “Oh my god this has to be perfect before anyone sees it” or “it has to be on trend”. That was stressful so my masters really changed my perspective on how I work for sure.
“Design of Experiences” was my masters course – an experimental course with the University of the Underground, hosted by the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam. Sixteen of us from all over the world got scholarships, which was an amazing opportunity. It was wild, really intense, a lot of questions, a lot of critique. It was extremely multidisciplinary. If making a film for a project is what you needed to do, you did it.
For my final piece I wrote and illustrated a kid’s book, ‘I See You’, and then built the main character El’s whole world for everyone to sit in while engaging with the book. The book and experience were based on smart home devices and hacking the system in order to provoke debate around the normalisation of the surveillance economy. CCTV cameras were placed throughout the exhibition space, which was essentially a child’s room. The atmosphere of the room fluctuated between periods of comfort and complacency to instances of discomfort as the public navigated the space directly experiencing the sense of unease with being continuously watched, while also momentarily forgetting that fact. This sparked interesting debate around the subject of surveillance, smart tech and their increasing prevalence in our everyday lives.
I’m currently trying to get the book published! https://makenice.ie/i-see-you
Freelancer >>Watch video>>
I’ve freelanced for a long time, long, long time and have found my own particular way of working. It was and still is a challenge. I do definitely over commit. I think it’s natural as a freelancer to say yes to five things because there might be zero things confirmed for next month or in two months’ time. It’s the precarity of being a freelancer. I definitely struggle with that a lot.
You do learn how to manage your time a bit better though and you learn the scope of projects a bit better with experience – that without a doubt happens. I can’t speak for all designers but I am guilty of completely underestimating how long something could take – I’m like “Yeah that’s no problem, I can do that in two days”, then you’re like, “What was I thinking?” while you’re in the middle of it.
I do work a lot of Saturdays but I try not to work Mondays because it’s my least creative day… it’s not even the least creative… Mondays are just bleugh. They’re just not my day so I try to keep Mondays free from creative work. It’s a bit of a floaty day for me, a laundry day of sorts!
You have to be kind to yourself and try to listen to yourself; feel yourself and understand if something is becoming too intense. Don’t blame yourself every single time you’ve maybe left it till the last minute. Figure out why that’s happening. I’m still working on that, but it’s just how I am. It’s important to be OK with that as well, as long as it’s not bringing you into an extremely unhealthy place.
Moved home >>Watch video>>
I moved home during COVID, back home in West Limerick. I’m back in the countryside for the first time in years. I couldn’t get out of it quick enough when I was a teenager. I was just like, “Bye bye”. I didn’t appreciate it enough.
I had finished the masters a few months before COVID. I didn’t realise it but I was very much in a post-MA burnout, so COVID – unpopular opinion I know – came at a good time for me. I realise it was horrific for a lot of people. I feel privileged to have been able to come home to the countryside, and decompress, it sort of grounded me in a way. The process of reacquainting myself with rurality made me slow down. It altered my perspective on how I work and what I choose to work on.
During COVID >>Watch video>>
I wrote a poem during COVID. I’d never written a poem before but it just happened.
My Dad’s a farmer. There’s this 200 year old building down on our farm right on the Shannon Estuary. It’s been there our whole lives. We’ve all had different childhood experiences in there. My Dad started restoring it by hand during COVID. Every single thing is recycled or upcycled or pulled in from the tide.
I walked down there everyday when taking a break from work and I ended up writing the poem and I’m quite proud of it. https://makenice.ie/we-know-you-as-the-shanty
I also started embroidering to step away from the screen and do something more tactile. In school I used to do Home Ec. and I was disgusted that I was made to embroider or sew. I was like, “Why would you make all the girls do that? That’s completely unfair.” Now I think, “Oh this is just a really nice thing to do”. It helps me shut off. Probably coming home gave me some kind of different perspective or appreciation for the everyday.
The Hunt Museum >>Watch video>>
The last project, we just launched, was very much about storytelling and story listening and story hearing through design. I use the term design very broadly. It could be storytelling through the visual, it could be through audio, it could be through script writing, it could be through animation, it could be through scenario development, there are so many different types of media through which you can tell a story.
This particular project is an audio installation in The Hunt Museum in Limerick, commissioned by the Science Gallery Dublin when they were around – it’s awful that they’re gone. COVID put a bit of a delay on that like most things with most people. It’s called the Archive of (in)Convenience. It’s a collective of stuff and things, all of the objects that we’re eventually leaving behind us on the planet. Each of those objects has a story to tell and it’s their perspective on the human condition. How has the object been used? Misused? Cherished? Forgotten? There are five objects featured and they’re voiced by people from Limerick including a piece of string and a fridge motor.
The piece of string talks about the nomadic lifestyle of a string and how the rest of the objects are gonna outlive the string by hundreds of years. The string is voiced by Dr Sindy Joyce, she’s an amazing Minceir Beoir and human rights defender. A fridge motor is another one of the objects which talks about – or hums about – the plight of female invisible labour in a man’s world. That was voiced by the wonderful singer songwriter Emma Langford.
All the pieces are in the Hunt Museum at the moment so people can sit down and listen to them tell their story. Myself and my creative partner/life partner Patrick Mulvihill worked on it and we’re partnered with a social enterprise called Amicitia. The work that we both do in Amicitia is on community development and co-creation through art and design. Patrick’s background is in community development and systems design. We always bring in other collaborators, like the artists that we have as the voices, the people from the communities we work with always have a part to play as well.
For the Hunt Museum project in particular there were an awful lot of moving parts to it. We made all the pieces from scratch physically – the full installation. We also wrote all the scripts and recorded the voices. I also did all of the graphic design work and visuals as if it was its own brand.
At one moment in time when I was working on the script it just wasn’t happening, there was no feeling in what I was writing or it was a bit stagnant. I would go down to my shed and just start sanding and painting. Doing that physical “making” helps the mental process going on in the background. Then two days later the writing could just flow. Having a bit of diversity is good if it’s possible.
Find that person >>Watch video>>
If there’s something you really need to do and you can’t figure it out, definitely find that person who really can do it and just work with them, collaborate and implement the thing, bring it to life if you can. I used to be really afraid of putting myself out there, of things being crap or failing or not working out but now I’m like, “Just try it.” It’s not going to work if you don’t try it.
Things simmer for ages with me; they’re constantly simmering. I realised recently it’s OK to let ideas simmer. The work will come out eventually. Rather than just thinking, “Oh my god, why am I not creating anything?” and panicking, now I’m like, “It’ll happen, it’s in there somewhere.” I’ve come to terms with it. A deadline also helps, some pressure is good for me.
It took me a long time to realise that I don’t fit into a nine-to-five structure or nine-to-five office or studio environment. It just doesn’t suit me. I had to do many years of nine-to-five first to work through that. Every single experience is worth something though, even if at the time it feels like the most horrible experience, you really learn from it, you learn from everything.
It took me a long time to accept that not fitting into a nine-to-five structure is not a problem, it’s just how I operate. I had to find my way of operating around that and engaging with projects and clients and people. Being quite open about my schedule and how I work helps a lot.
As a deadline looms, there’s this burst of production, manic work, work, work, work, where it’s all coming together. It’s just non-stop, it could be 10-12 hour days back to back for a few weeks. Admittedly I do end up canceling a lot of social plans which is terrible but you’re just like “Oh I didn’t foresee this, now I can’t go.” The social always suffers, you just get the work done, essentially.
Once I’m over that burst of production and the project has been released into the wild, there’s this post-creative-crash where you’ve poured your heart and soul into something and then you’re empty. You get used to cycles of that. I was just in that crash but I didn’t have too much time to reflect on it because I started a new job with Dark Matter Labs.
New job >>Watch video>>
Finding your own way and figuring out what you’re passionate about is really important, that really helped me navigate to where I needed to be or wanted to be. I’m now finding myself sticking to my guns and feeling like I really believe in what I’m doing. I’m pushing and questioning things, taking a critical approach, pushing to find my place in what I believe in – equality and a just transition, considering the futures we are facing into, what can I do as a multidisciplinary designer in these spaces.
Dark Matter Labs are a multidisciplinary design strategy, discovery, and research studio. They’re a global organsation. I’ve spoken to people this week from so many different countries and backgrounds. It’s amazing, mind blowing, and a bit overwhelming. They do really interesting work all about how society can transition. How are we gonna respond to climate change as a society? They’re looking into areas such as policy and governance, data, and cultural organisations. Systems level change is how they approach these big questions getting really deep into the complex systems we function within. So that’s my new job! The role I’ve taken is a visual designer within all of these projects that they’re strategising and experimenting with. I’m very excited about it, it’s kind of a dream job, it’s all very challenging and urgent.
The organisation are really open to everybody finding their own flow within the system. So it’s very much like you find your own way of working to suit you best and to produce the best output of course while also being mindful of how you work with others and respecting their way of working. You’re fully transparent about that so everybody is aware of everyone’s schedules and workflows; being a global organisation with multiple time zones is also a consideration.
Staying with the trouble
I look at how absurd everything is and lean into it. As the writer/philosopher Donna Haraway says “Staying with the trouble”. Check out her book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. It really resonated with me. For me, staying with the trouble is navigating our worlds and picking all of those moments that are completely absurd and working with them and twisting them and critiquing them. That’s where I lie now whether that’s on a very formal level or informal level.
That’s what Dark Matter Labs are doing also, they’re getting very deep into institutional systems and finding out areas that you can intervene or tweak that may have some sort of change or impact that might help all of us.
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish creative industry, you can talk to a counsellor free of charge at any time of the day or night. Simply call the phone number below.