For the next installment of the poster-watch series, I spoke to Sarah Quigley – a writer, visual artist and graphic designer based in Dublin. As well as creating fantastic pieces of art and literature, Sarah is a co-founder of the collective Milk and Cookies Stories, whose popular storytelling events combine the spinning of good ol’ yarns with the munching of chocolate chip cookies. We approve!
love like a hurricane
love like summer rain
softens brittle grass
What drew you to the UpStart project?
Well, to begin with, I was drawn to UpStart because I liked the idea of beautifying our streets with visual art and poetry. Unless you are willing to go out there to do some guerilla street art, or happen to get very lucky, there are few enough opportunities to do this, particularly on the scale of UpStart. Using election-style posters to display submissions added extra appeal. Personally I considers election poster wasteful, uninformative, vacuous and just downright ugly…. But I felt UpStart’s posters would be different – each poster would be unique, with its own content and message. Each one would give you something to think about, and add a new dimension to the context in which it was placed.
I also found the idea that the art would be placed in mysterious locations around the city exciting. The city becomes the site of a giant treasure hunt, with potential treasure on every lamp-post and street corner. Now that the posters are up, I get a real kick out of that little thrill of uncertainty when you sight a poster from behind, that moment before you discover whether it’s just another election poster or an awesome piece of art or writing as presented by UpStart. It must be even more exciting for people who were unaware of UpStart before the posters appeared… You spot your first poster and probably think “Well that’s a little odd!”… You spot another, and another, and then the revelation hits you that there’s this massive city wide display! Awesome.
How did you feel about the anonymity of the posters?
Personally, when I chose to submit, I was happy with the idea of remaining anonymous. The anonymity of artists keeps the project focused on the art itself and the message it has to offer, rather than self-promotion and personal agendas… which only adds to the contrast between Upstart’s posters and the election posters. At the same time, I don’t think it would have made such a very noticeable difference to the project if artists had been credited on the posters, as long as this had been done with subtlety. But spending too much time arguing about it seems to me to be picking at straws!
You practice both visual art and poetry - which of these mediums did you chose to submit to UpStart and why?
By day I am a freelance multimedia illustrator and designer, but I’ve always had a passion for writing, especially poetry and children’s literature. Actually, I dip and dabble in a lot of different art forms, and I have a special interest in projects which bring different art forms together in innovative ways.
My submissions to the project were all poetry. I did not submit any visual art. When I was thinking about my submissions, I decided I wanted to submit pieces that complemented the context in which UpStart placed them… pieces which I felt would both enhance and be enhanced by Dublin’s streetscape. I had several pieces of poetry that I felt fulfilled this criteria I had set myself, but since most of my recent visual art has consisted of commissions, I didn’t feel I had anything recent that fit the project. I would love to have prepared some pieces especially for UpStart, but time got away with me.
I was also drawn to submitting poetry because UpStart was specifically looking for short pieces. I happen to have a fascination with short sharp poetry – pieces that say a lot in few words – and that is what I like to write best. Also, I spent a year writing a poem every day… A crazy year – but a surprising number of good pieces came out of it. So I happen to have a lot of poems looking for homes.
What are the advantages of having art and literature on the streets rather than in galleries, libraries and museums?
I think the main advantage of using the streets is the huge audience you can reach by displaying work in such a completely public space. Galleries, libraries, museums attract a certain section of the population… for many of these people, perhaps the majority, art is already a major part of their lives. By displaying on the streets, there is the opportunity to reach people of all backgrounds, for many of whom art may not normally be a regular part of their lives – and so there is the potential to change thinking and perceptions on a much broader scale.
When you visit a museum or gallery, you have an expectation of what you are getting into – you are making a deliberate effort to seek out an artistic experience. Similarly when you visit a library, go to a reading, or even open a book. I believe that placing art in new contexts, especially those that integrate it into our everyday lives, is the best way to use art to bring about change. Art placed in everyday contexts, such as on the streets, is unexpected, surprising – arresting… and a constant presence in a way that art placed in a gallery or museum cannot be…
Plus, surely the places that it benefits us most to beautify and enrich with art and literature are those where we find ourselves everyday?
…and are there any disadvantages?
Well obviously there are limitations on the type of art and literature that are practical and socially acceptable to place on the streets. And, by displaying on the streets, you have to accept the risk that your work could be damaged, stolen, struck by lightning… that kind of thing!
I understand you’re involved with Milk and Cookies Stories. What’s your role in this project?
Milk and Cookie Stories, for anyone who doesn’t know, is a non-profit volunteer-based arts collective. We run Dublin’s only cookie-eating tea-drinking storytelling open mic night. It’s on the second Tuesday of each month in Exchange Dublin, Temple Bar. The event is free, so are the cookies, and so is all Milk and Cookies love – but you’d better arrive on time because we fill up within ten minutes of opening doors!
I am co-founder of Milk and Cookie Stories. At this stage, there’s a team of over twenty people involved. We make all decisions, as much as possible, as a collective. Everyone contributes in one way or another. Since I am still one of the principal organisers/creative people, I do a bit of everything. In particular, I am responsible for all of our funky graphic design. And I bake a damn fine white chocolate and cranberry cookie, if I don’t say so myself.
What impact do you think Milk and Cookies Stories has had on cultural life in Dublin?
Since we calculate that we’ve fed the hungry mouths of Dublin about 15,000 cookies and 70 cakes over the course of the last year and a bit, we hope our main impact hasn’t been diabetes and heart disesase!
To be serious, Milk and Cookie Stories is founded on the idea that everyone has a story to tell… and we have proven that this is the case. The warmth and friendliness of our event has encouraged dozens of people to try telling a story for the first time – for some telling a story at Milk and Cookies was their first experience of public speaking altogether. So our event has brought storytelling to whole new audience – it’s proven the power and incredible popular appeal that this artform can have. Storytelling has gone from being a distinctly niche activity to featuring regularly at arts nights around the city – a whole bunch of new storytelling projects have sprung out of our event. You might even say that storytelling has become hip as a result of our event!
Another aspect of our event is the odd mixture of food and art we’re into. When we first came up with the idea of combining cookies and storytelling, a lot of people thought we were a little crazy, but the overwhelming success of our events has proven that there’s a real appetite in this city for alternatives to the usual alcohol-centred club and pub nights… We like to think to think we’re doing our bit to make Irish society will be a richer and healthier place! (Except for the diabetes, that is.)
Perhaps the most important contribution that we have made to Dublin’s cultural life is that we have built something that has become more than a simple event. A whole new multicultural and multigenerational community has developed around our event, consisting of performers, bakers, our audience, who all contribute to make our events the warm, supportive, open-minded things that they are… and without whom our events would be impossible. To have built a new community, now that’s something magic…
Finally, what would you like people to take away from the UpStart project?
There’s a politically concious aspect to UpStart as a project. A significant proportion of the work featured promotes social or political change… placing these pieces on election style posters is obviously subversive. I think the political side of UpStart is important to a lot of people. I appreciate this aspect of UpStart, but it is not the thing I would most like people to take from UpStart. I’d like people to recognise the more subtle ways UpStart promotes change… I’d like people to take UpStart as inspiration and motivation for new projects, new projects that confront their audience by taking part in their everyday lives.