Coming home to the soggy Galway air can be bittersweet. It is a city that lives with emotion in my memory as a student city on the borders of Ireland, where strangeness was abundant and tolerated with grace. Today, its heart faces the belt of multinationals that flank its periphery. Amid this tension, the annual TULCA visual arts festival returns this year, hosted by Eoin Dara. The title of the 19th edition of the festival – ‘There’s nothing here but flesh and bones, there’s nothing more’ – quotes George Michael’s 1996 hit ‘Outside’. Dara’s conservation statement frames the city-wide event in a list of familiar but poetic fragments such as “moist caresses, gentle affection, immortal loves, necessary resistance, quiet rest, cautious unity, boundless desire. , lasting loss ”. Love and desire are a common thread throughout the program, with particular emphasis on trans subjectivities and queer intimacy, touch and sensuality.
Dara asked nine artists and writers to write love letters to hang alongside numerous works of art, including a poignant reflection on Sophia Al-Maria’s ‘encroachments, entanglements and negotiations’ to grow together in love. It shares a space with the 48 minute film by Vishal Jugdeo & vqueeram Does your house have lions (2021). It intimately – sometimes voyeuristically – follows the lives of a group of gay friends as they negotiate the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and fascism in India and the intersecting conditions of gender, sexuality and caste. through conversations on the cruise, protests and the Internet. We are obtaining fleeting information about the affinities and tensions that frame these relationships, broken over time dictated by COVID-19. The words of vqueeram, a matriarch of the group, resonate: “We are not trying to get rid of the ugliness and loneliness, we are trying to make the ugliness and loneliness more livable.
In the film by Adrien Howard & K Patrick Silence (2021), the narrator, a rocker called Merlin, recites poetic words of trans wisdom, such as “to pass is old-fashioned; cruise fine ”, as the camera enviously focuses on a suggestive armpit. All this work on flirting for sex makes me wonder if anyone can live up to such utopian excess. In her love letter, Claire Biddles reflects on the same, writing: “I love the idea of homosexuality as abundance, but I can’t seem to hold on to the reality.” In the same space is Isobel Neviazsky’s playfully childish series “Two Figures” (2021). Their touching trans body design brings the centrality of the transited festival into play even more, capturing a hidden messy process of in-between – wild eyes, hair growths on the legs and chest – that usually remains invisible.
As you cross the River Corrib to the west of the city, a large Chinese ink mural by Galway-based Miriam de Búrca appears at the Galway Art Center. From Búrca Here, there and anywhere (2021) focuses on cillini – anonymous Irish graves of the unbaptized, disabled, disgraced and homosexuals – drawing our attention to a disturbing story. In a country where the last Madeleine laundry – Catholic institutions where young single mothers were systematically mistreated – closed its doors in 1996, these drawings remind us of the violence that this country inflicted on its unwanted people, dead or alive. Upstairs, the 16mm film tinged with nostalgia by Stanya Kahn No turning back (2020) follows a group of teenagers as they travel through a post-collapse Eastern Sierra, evoking the loyalty, boredom, and resilience of adolescence.
With this year’s TULCA, Dara has created a sensitive and tender moment to reflect on stories, stories and deeds that ask us to slow down and share a joke. There is nothing too spectacular here; everything is on a human scale like the daily majesty of fucking outside.
The TULCA Visual Arts Festival takes place in Galway until November 21.
Main picture: Vishal Jugdeo & vqueeram, Does your house have lions, 2021, film still. Courtesy: The Artists and TULCA Festival of Visual Arts