In Conversation With … Rhona Byrne

Artist RHONA BYRNE on her MENTORS, INSPIRATION and the causes she supports …

Photograph by Galena Murray

Byrne lives and works in Dublin. She makes sculptural objects and spatial environments combining sculpture, performance and processes of participation. Her piece, Bolthole, was previously shown at the Tate Britain, The Big House Festival and Visual Centre for Contemporary Art Carlow before being acquired for the IMMA National Collection.

Who has been your mentor?

I’m lucky to have many mentors. I also come from a family of artists and designers who are a great support. Because my work is project-based, I tend to work intensely with people for periods of time, often collaborating with people from different disciplines; as an artist you can find yourself having access to different worlds and perspectives from different walks of life. One long term mentor would be UK based environmental and investigative psychologist David Canter. 

What inspired your recent works?

My work is usually inspired by the site or situation and I work with many different mediums that usually follow an idea. My most recent project Huddlehood commissioned by John Hansard Gallery, Southhampton “Summer in the square” programme is currently showing in the public space at Guildhall Square. It’s an immersive interactive artwork that invites people to wear group social clothing “Huddlewear”. The work addresses the physical and emotional aspects of our increasing engagement with technology and disengagement with each other in real-time. The idea came from thinking about vulnerability, intimacy, loneliness, longing and the precarious structures we create to support a feeling of comfort, shelter, connection and belonging whether that’s psychological, social, physical or architectural. A lot of my projects explore interactions between people and also their habitat, inviting people to participate with the work and become part of it.


What have you learned about finding your voice?

It’s important to know yourself and trust in your process as an artist and do what feels good and authentic. I have learned that it’s ok to let ideas sit and surface, to be playful and to trust and listen to my instincts on things. I love experimenting with materials and their qualities; they also have a voice to listen to.

Proudest moment?

One of my proudest moments was when I first got accepted into the artist residency at the Fire Station Artist’s Studios back in 2002. After graduating from sculpture in 1994, I had taken a bit of a detour and getting into the Fire Station was how I got the support and resources to return to my art practice full-time. Other proud moments were my first award from the Irish Arts Council in 2003 and when The Hennessy Art Fund for IMMA Collection 2016 purchased Bolthole for IMMA’s national art collection. It felt like a real achievement to be in the Irish national collection. It’s a fantastic recognition and endorsement and I love the idea that the work is in good hands and will be cared for for a very long time.

Favourite fictional heroine?

The Dazzler – Alison Blaire: a fictional super heroine, she’s a roller-skating disco dancer who becomes an artist against all odds and fights off evil with her powers of dazzling light.

An artist’s duty is to … To borrow a quote from Nina Simone, it “is to affect our times” as artists we reflect back on the world we live in. I feel as artists we can try to invite other ways of seeing, being in and approaching the world we live in. Art has a way of connecting you to all of your senses, body and mind, and possibly inspiring a new way of thinking and engagement with the society and world that we all have a duty to take part in.

Your motto?

I have a few, I borrow my dad’s “remember to have a sense of humour”, his mum’s “better to wear out than rust out”, my uncle’s “look back but don’t stare” and my own “keep rolling”. 

Do you have any causes you actively support?

When I’ve had time, I have adopted puppies from DSPCA they often need a temporary home before being adopted. I’m also a supporter of the Repeal the 8th campaign.


The role of art in your life so far …

Art is the glue in my life; my constant companion, my greatest resource; I couldn’t imagine life without making art. It has supported me through some tough times. Art allows me to stay curious, open and passionate, to travel, explore new cultures, meet new people, find out how things work, I love the freedom that it offers and I enjoy the continuous adaptive way of living.

What are some of your fashion indulgences?

I’m a rummager; I like to find treasures in second-hand shops, markets, charity shops and I try not to support fast fashion but then I’m known to find great bargains in TK Maxx. My favourite item of clothing is “the-everything’s-OK-jacket” a silk bomber jacket by my good friend Eva Buitenhuis. I find the eclectic Gypsy sport brand on Instagram very inspiring and I do like sports looks, especially for when I’m roller skating.

Penny McCormick

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