Aideen Barry: an artist travelling under her own steam
Aideen Barry’s work, dotted along the Westport-Achill Greenway, is inspired by local folklore and the pioneering spirit of Lillias Campbell Davidson
Images: Stopmotion animation stills by Aideen Barry for Changing Tracks 2014
Never travel without a bathtub. This piece of vital advice is just one of many gems offered by Lillias Campbell Davidson in her marvellous Hints to Lady Travellers At Home and Abroad, published in 1889. Back then railways were opening parts of the landscape up to visitors for the first time, and ushering in an era of adventurous women. Campbell Davidson was at the forefront of urging them on.
“If, by my endeavours, I have in any ways assisted my sisters in their wanderings, or encouraged a single woman to join the path of travellers by land or sea, I shall feel I have achieved the object of my labours,” she wrote.
Fast-forward to 2014, and some of Ireland’s closed-down railway lines are being opened up again, as walking and cycling routes. The Westport-Achill line is one such, now rechristened the Greenway.
A series of art projects has just launched along the line, and one of the three participating artists, Aideen Barry, became a little obsessed with Campbell Davidson and her ingenious tips for bathing.
“You make a suitcase out of a bath,” Barry says. “That way you can unpack and bathe as you go. She also recommends you carry methylated spirits, and has instructions for greasing your wheels.”
Barry has made a series of animated videos that can be seen along the Greenway, including in an old water tower, which once provided water for the passing steam trains, and via QR codes on your mobile phone. She also made a book, Strange Terrain, copies of which are hidden, like treasure, en route.
The videos are inspired not just by Campbell Davidson’s pioneering spirit but also by local folklore, and by Barry’s interest in the extraordinary that is to be discovered in the everyday – if only we remember to look for it.
Born in Cork, but now based in Co Clare, Barry has gained an international reputation for sculpture, performance and intriguing video works, frequently featuring herself.
These include Heteratopic Glitch, in which she and fellow artist Anne Ffrench assembled a troupe of dancers, dressed in red, bobbing around the waters of the harbour in plastic bubbles to the tune of the Blue Danube at Kinsale Arts Festival. At Kilkenny in 2012, visitors to the old tea house by the river were intrigued to discover Possession, a dark exploration into obsessive compulsion and the lonely excesses of life in a Celtic Tiger housing estate.
Back in Mayo, Barry found a kindred spirit, across a century of time in Campbell Davidson. Her lively enthusiasm is infectious, as is her sense of the ridiculous.
“I am forever in awe at the ingenuity that the woman possessed,” she says. “Not only did she expound fantastic advice on healthcare, safety and comfort, she also championed the notion of a more independent and liberal society.”
In other pearls of wisdom, Campbell Davidson advised women: “Never to travel unprovided with a small flask of brandy and water.” She also cautioned against impulsive action: “In all cases of runaway carriages, tricycles, etc, the only plan is to stick to the ship, so to speak. Jumping is fatal,” she wrote.
“As a broad general principle, a woman’s place in the moment of danger is to keep still and be ready for action.”
Words to live by.
Changing Tracks continues until August 31st. The artists Aideen Barry, Noah Rose and Xevi Bayona are also exhibiting along former railway lines in Northamptonshire and Catalonia; changingtracks.eu
Hints to Lady Travellers, at Home and Abroad was first published in 1889 and reprinted in 2011. Currently out of print, copies are available via amazon.co.uk