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Performance and installation at the Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick.

Artists fed by Art{-ist} was a performance that took place over an eight-hour working day and an installation by artists Augustine O’Donoghue and Ann Ryan. The work responded to a brief by curator Ellen Egan, which sought work that engaged with ideas around “the starving artists, juggling a double life and trying to find their way as an artists in Ireland”. The brief resonated on many levels with the artists as mothers, workers and activists, while acknowledging the statement as a familiar experience for artists working across all fields of cultural production. While the statistics of state funding (or lack thereof) are well documented by organisations representing artists, what is often omitted from the discussion are the actual details of the lives, difficulties and frustrations hidden within these statistics. Many artists are indeed not “fed by their art” and are subject to inferiority because of this situation.

The performance endeavoured to unpick the romanticised myth of the ‘starving artist’, exploring the precarious nature of trying to work as an artist. A range of different activities took place in the space over the day. This included constructing a ‘workspace’, where the artists undertook their performance, and the stacking of small columns of coins in the space. Ideas around ‘art as work’ were explored through the use of paraphernalia, such as wage packet envelopes, usually associated with manual work environments. Handmade signs, created with text and statistics relating to artistic work, were handed out to the audience during the performance. Copies of the artists’ unpaid household bills were also hung in the space.

Throughout the development of this piece – from proposal stage to the finished artwork – the artists recoded details of hours worked, expenses and other investments made, in order to produce the work. These were printed as time sheets and hung on the gallery wall, some of which were read out during the eight-hour performance. The artists also posed a series of questions to the audience, interrogating core ideas about the precarious nature of artist’s work, while provoking thoughts for change. The audience was invited to contribute their comments on an office board, which was left in the space, along with the remnants of the performance, for the duration of the exhibition.