Film poem shows energy involved in the art of ageing

Artist Collette Nolan and poet Gerry Murphy led community workshops in Cork’s Glucksman gallery that resulted in a film poem, writes Margaret Jennings.

THE positivity and energy that we can maintain as we age — despite many changes in society over a lifetime — was one of the key takeaways that both a Cork City poet and a visual installation artist took from their work with a local group of seniors recently.

Poet Gerry Murphy and artist Collette Nolan collaborated closely with members of the Ballyphehane/Togher community to produce a film and writings, woven from their interpersonal responses in workshops based on a loose theme around hospitality, home, being “hosted”, and memories.

The result is a film poem, entitled The Key Was Always In The Door, which was commissioned for the Bealtaine Festival, in partnership with UCC’s Glucksman gallery, and is due to be shown around the country during the month-long event, which celebrates creativity and the arts as we age.

“It is a collaborative piece of work that we all made together — and it’s poetic and experimental, so it’s in the nature of an artwork and not a documentary piece,” says Collette.

“It is quite layered — images of things I took from the workshops in the Glucksman, like their photos; images I filmed; recordings I took of their voices. Some of them might be reading Gerry’s poetry or speaking their own words. I compiled all these things and have woven a piece together from that.”

For the community participants, aged in their late 60s to their 80s, it was a format they hadn’t experienced before and they took to it with gusto.

Collette, 56, found them inspiring: “They were so interested in everything. They were wonderfully positive and you’re thinking ‘wow, I hope I can have that experience at that age’ — I’d love that.

“Some of the group are very active; they came with a lot of knowledge of history, from their jobs and from their lives, which for me was fascinating,” she says.

“They were very upbeat, a fun group to be with — lots of laughing and very eager to sing and tell stories and have a bit of slagging amongst each other. There was lots of spontaneity and they didn’t seem a bit fazed by the project.”

The title of the film poem, The Key Was Always In The Door, refers to former times when hospitality was more open in Ireland; the door might be left unlocked for the comings and goings of callers — and this in itself sparked lots of discussion, including how portable screens have killed conversation, says Gerry.

Aged 66, he found those discussions evoked memories of his own earlier years growing up in Cork: “I remember my grandmother’s house in Tower Street and you’d be looking forward to her neighbour coming down, who had brilliant stories from way back and we used to be fascinated as children. And we had a neighbour of our own, Mrs Lane, who was great fun around the fire — I’m talking about in the ’60s now in Blackpool.”

There is a sadness and loss for those kinds of days, says Gerry. “But the group were extremely positive, and take delight in their own company anyway, so I wouldn’t be that pessimistic about it. They do a lot of stuff together as a group — a lot of different activities;

they haven’t been pushed into the corner and been forgotten.”

The collaborative nature of the workshops and Collette’s final collation of the film poem will reflect, she says, not a “telling of stories in front of the camera” but more about the “strands of things that kind of relate to us all, but also to a wider world”.

“There are lots of different elements there, coming from my personal point of view, their personal point of view and Gerry’s. And we are making something new of that.”

Gerry admits that when he himself entered his sixth decade, it brought a deeper reflection on his past. “There is a tendency to look back over your life. I’ve heard our 60s described as the youth of old age. You start thinking of your mortality and you notice friends and acquaintances start dropping off and you’re going to a lot more funerals.”

Within this context for him, the group’s response to ageing was “inspiring and a consolation. They have a great positive attitude to life and they go out there and do it — enjoying the day”.

Aside from providing the venue and refreshments for the five days of two-hour workshops for this project, the Glucksman also held a programme of events for the senior group throughout those days, in keeping with the hosting theme of the project.

- The premiere of the film poem is at the Glucksman gallery on May 2, at 4pm. It is free but booking is required. It will also be shown at other venues countrywide. Find out more at bealtaine.ie

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