‘My work is a journey into the land of shepherding’

Wexford-based artist Orla Barry sees her work as a journey into the land of “shepherding through doing”.

“At the moment my work explores the boundaries of art and life; it uses the relationship between woman/man and the animal,” she said.

“It also uses the cannibalistic, symbiotic tension between me as the artist, and me as the farmer, to reflect on the primal and poetic and unpredictable bond we have with the natural world.”

Farming 30ac of her dad’s 320ac tillage farm at Duncormick, she makes live performance and video installations, photography, text and sound works.

My work is a journey into the land of shepherding through the lens of ‘doing’ rather than ‘observing’ the job at hand.

A graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and the University of Ulster in Belfast, Orla went on to do postgraduate studies at De Ateliers art school in Amsterdam and she moved to Belgium.

“I lived in Holland and Belgium from 1991 to 2009. I was making art and I was advising researcher at the Jan Van Eyck Acadamie which as a post-academic research centre in Maastricht for art design and theory,” said Orla, who is now a part-time lecturer in Carlow IT’s Wexford Campus in the school of art and design.

She took up farming in 2011 as a way of understanding the system and integrating back into the community that she grew up in. Farming also became a supplementary income.

I quickly realised how much work it was and I thought if this is going to work it needs to become my life – that meant adapting my lifestyle and my artwork to fit.

She says she knows it was the right decision because she has learned so much from a hands-on perspective.

“I can see ecology and nature from both sides of the field, so to speak. I see the massive trap farmers are in, in this global economy,” she said.

The Home Farm

Orla breeds pedigree Lleyn sheep with a flock of 50 breeding ewes, in order to keep a closed flock.

“I find them a practical and quiet sheep, prolific and medium sized – easy for a woman to handle. I think they are the perfect replacement ewes for modern systems because of ease of management and good production traits.

“You can cross them or breed pure. There are very large flocks here and in the UK in which they will keep a nucleus flock of Lleyns to breed their own replacements and to breed replacements for other flocks.

“I think what I like most about them is that they are a very natural breed in this world of big muscular terminal breeds and they do the job and have more lambs,” she said.

As a farmer, she says the heatwave has been trying.

“Most of the land is dry which is usually a good thing; but this year it looks like the plains of Africa. It has not rained here for a month-and-a-half.

At the moment there is no grass and it’s as bad as winter regarding water, I don’t have water in all my fields so I am dragging around water, feeding lambs.

She has another 50 shearling ewes to prepare for the pedigree Lleyn sales in Blessington and Roscommon in September.

“I will have to start feeding them soon, I have never had to feed hoggets. I had to buy silage for the first time ever,” she said.

Keeping busy

Art and shepherding go hand-in-hand for Orla and she relishes the opportunity to work in her native county.

Orla Barry working with performers at Crawford Gallery in Cork. Image source: Jed Niezgoda.

“Strangely one of the highlights of my career was here in Wexford, when my performance and exhibition was on in Wexford Arts Centre.

“After an international career, I had never shown in my hometown. We played to a full house last October during Wexford Opera Festival to a very mixed and eclectic audience. This was a highlight for me,” she said.

Another highlight was showing in IMMA – the Irish Museum of Modern Art – in 2006.

“Since then, I started doing performance and moved back to Ireland my work has grown in an unusual direction with a very clearly defined theme and a more political and humorous aspect,” she said.

“I think my performance ‘The Scavenger’s Daughters’ in the Tate Modern, London, in 2009, was another highlight and my recent tour of ‘Breaking Rainbows’ has broadened the audience for my work,” said Orla.

Her next show will be in the Muzee Museum in Oostend, Belgium.

Preparing for that and dealing with the fallout from the vagaries of the Irish weather, as well as shepherding, will keep her busy in the meantime. For more information check out: www.orlabarry.be