A question of taste - Eugene O’Hea

Eugene O'Hea: Engage, Bandon.

Eugene O’Hea is director of the Engage Arts Festival in Bandon, Co Cork, which takes place this weekend. 

He is also an architect: “I like exploring the linkages between various art forms and really appreciate the blurring of the edges… music, sound, dance, movement, visual, architecture… the spaces in between are always the most interesting.”

  • engageartsfestival.com

Best recent book: I am going through a biography phase; the most interesting recent one is Augusten Burroughs’ new memoir.

Best recent film: Eileen, a short film by Helen Selka, which we are showing at Engage.

Best recent show/exhibition/gig you’ve seen: An amazing multi- disciplinary exhibition at The MAC, Belfast, entitled La Perruque (Protest Song) last April by the Dublin-based artist Niamh McCann. The film installation element was incredible. I watched it loop twice and went back the next day to see it again.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately: I have recently re-listened to Histoire de Melody Nelson by Serge Gainsbourg. I like all of his work, but particularly this album which is conceptually very focused. I think I will listen to it again tonight.

First ever piece of music or art or film or gig that really moved you: The most memorable film for me is Performance (1970). I heard recently that this is now regarded as a cult film. It has amazing sets by Christopher Gibbs. Probably my most profound reaction to a work of art was to Hans Scharoun’s Berlin Philharmonic, which I visited with my friend Andrew a few years ago. At college I loved Scharoun’s work, but had never physically been in one of his buildings before. The reality surpassed all of my expectations. I remember a lecturer describing such spaces as ‘Jesus Christ’ spaces. I really ‘got it’ standing there.

The best show you’ve seen at a previous Engage fest: The art piece that stayed with me most was a mesmerising installation/performance work in 2011 by Ballingeary-based visual artist Bernadette Cotter entitled Dear Altar. Because of its precision, the installation time seemed longer than the actual exhibition period. For the performance, Bernadette stood motionless for hours at the head of a rosary of 59 levelled and glass-filled Perspex discs, which were suspended from the ceiling, wearing an incredibly heavy blue cloak stitched with 12,000 buttons. The exhibition space permeated calm for the duration of the performance.

You’re curating your dream festival. Which three artists are on the bill? Agnes Martin, Anne Truitt, and Willie McKeown. Martin and Truitt are seminal figures in 1960s American minimalism. Willie was one of Ireland’s most significant painters at the turn of this century. Their works would complement each other significantly. Willie passed away a few years ago and was a good friend. He also significantly broadened my understanding of painting.

Your favourite item of clothing: Generically, I like hats and caps. I have several, ranging from beanies through to army caps and felt hats. They are both decorative and functional, which is great. You can also pick them up cheaply, which definitely helps. Specifically, I like my collection of Kenneth Cole boots. These again are multi-functional; you can wear them going out or to building sites and they look great.

Unsung heroes: I think people involved in arts promotion generally face an uphill battle. We have found that the Arts Council and, very specifically, the Arts Office of Cork County Council are very committed to and effective in bringing the arts, in the broadest sense, to small communities throughout Co Cork, through a multitude of vehicles.

You are king for a day — what’s your first decree? Make visual understanding and awareness a critical part of the educational process. We are surrounded by buildings, urban blocks, streets, public spaces, yet so many don’t seem to understand the elements that make up our environment in any fundamental way. A heightened awareness should lead to a lack of acceptance of the mediocre.

A question of taste - Eugene O’Hea


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