Rubble, rubble, toil and trouble: Cork artist Natasha Bourke on the demolition of the old FÁS building

Rubble, rubble, toil and trouble: Cork artist Natasha Bourke on the demolition of the old FÁS building
Natasha Bourke’s installation is currently on display at The Gallery in Cork.

Cork artist Natasha Bourke went on site to film the demolition of the old Fás building, writes Ellie O’Byrne

Natasha Bourke pulls a handful of tiny 3d-printed models of a familiar building out of her rucksack and puts them on the table.

“I’d love to have had time to make them edible, or to have made little FÁS building jewellery,” she says with a grin, looking at the small plastic forms, which are grey, lime green and black. Bourke was amongst 80 artists to have worked, for a time, from the former FÁS building and Tax office on Sullivan’s Quay in Cork city centre.

Permitted to rent the building as a stop-gap while developers BAM fought an appeal against planning permission for a 220-bed hotel on the site, visual artists as well as filmmakers and people working in performing arts including theatre and dance made the building their temporary home during 2016 and 2017.

The seven-storey building’s brutalist ugliness adorned with murals and graffiti, office spaces were repurposed as studios for Crawford Art College students, as well as artists from collectives Sample Studios, Film in Cork and 4th Floor Studios.

“I had my studio on the fifth floor,” Bourke says. “We had the opportunity to repurpose it away from a place of tax and unemployment: I remember going in for the first time, and it still had that aura of gloom and greyness.”

A Cobh-born artist and filmmaker with a background in dance,clowning and aerial acrobatics, she had already immersed herself in making an experimental feature-length film shot in the building when news that it was scheduled for demolition arrived.

Because eviction was imminent, I had this idea to make a film about a cult of beings left on this floor,suspended. It’s a slightly sci-fi-ish image, working on that knife-edge between the comedic and the dark. I love pathos.

For Bourke, the instinct to document grew to encapsulate the demolition process itself. In conversation with developers BAM and the contracted demolition company, O’Kelly Brothers, Bourke completed a Safe Pass to enable her to gain access to the site to film the building being torn down.

The resulting footage, interspersed with intriguing surrealist imagery — Bourke’s cats eating a scale model of the building, a cone-faced creature tottering through the deserted building’s corridors with giant keys and a clipboard — all set to a nostalgia-laden soundtrack, forms the back-bone of ‘Rubblebubble’, the artist’s installation that is a precursor to her currently unfinished feature-length film, Concrete Keys.

Rubblebubble also finds Bourke exhibiting chunks of rubble from the building, reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, with brightly coloured paints still visible on their surface.

While some of the FÁS building artists found shared space in Sample Studios’ new premises, in Churchfield Industrial Estate, many did not; Bourke herself was without a studio for months, finally finding a spot in Outlaw Studios near the Marina.

The demolition of the former Fás building on Sullivan’s Quay in the city.
The demolition of the former Fás building on Sullivan’s Quay in the city.

Although there was an atmosphere of anger amongst Cork’s artistic community regarding the FÁS building affair, which was perceived as emblematic of how a growing city with soaring land prices would treat its arts community, Bourke interviewed and filmed the demolition crew, who emerge as unwitting actors in her film, an inherently humanising move.

“I think it was my own human longing for connection,” she says. “It’s the lads on the sites that we all walk past all the time, and they have a story too. I became very fond of them. They were just doing their job; they weren’t personally responsible.”

Wasn’t she angry at being evicted? “I was. I do wall-running and a lot of harness work, and I wanted to hang off the building and paint it in protest: ‘Less artists = More donuts,’ I wanted to write. The only way I have to channel some activist message is through my art and that has its own hue. But I don’t like to be didactic: if something starts to go that way, I become very disinterested.

“This was never just about the Fás building and the artists: it was always more about the landscape changing and how we’re responding to that. Art is in uncharted waters in cities the world over.”

Rubblebubble: Prelude to Concrete Keys by Natasha Bourke runs until Oct 18 in The Gallery at 46, Grand Parade, as part of IndieCork Film Festival

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