X-PO started life as a public art project that sought to actively engage individuals and communities in Kilnaboy in County Clare, by giving time and space to re-viewing and re-imagining the social and cultural priorities in what is a rapidly changing rural landscape and an area of outstanding natural beauty, the Burren. Kilnaboy is a scattered parish of a few hundred households. A national school and a church are all that it possesses in the way of civic amenities. Once there were a couple of shops, a blacksmith, and a Post Office. But, like much in rural Ireland today, that was once upon a time. The changing face of farming and the necessity for many of a long daily commute to and from work in nearby towns and cities have presented a challenge to rural communities like Kilnaboy.
X-PO Kilnaboy. Photograph by Peter Rees 2008.
In order to openly reflect upon these challenges Deirdre O’Mahony re-opened the former post office in order to activate a public discussion on space, place and ideas of ‘community’ in the locality. The building is a familiar, non-institutional space, the former home of post master Mattie Rynne for the best part of seventy years. Re-opening it enabled different ‘publics’ and individuals to come together and give time and space to re-viewing, recalling and reimagining social and cultural priorities and possibilities. The creation of archives related to the personal and collective history of the site was fundamental to the activation process.
X-PO Short Film by Fergus Tighe/Galavanting Media
Four separate archives covering different aspects of local knowledge have been created and are kept on site. The Mattie Rynne archive of the former postmaster, the Rinnamona Research Group archive of new research on an authoritative anthropological study by Arnesberg and Kimball, much of which was based on a townland in Kilnaboy, Family and Community in Ireland. A Mapping Group archive naming and tracing the occupancy of every house and ruin in the parish of Kilnaboy and Peter Rees’ archive of over 27,000 photographs taken over 25 years which was curated and represented in an exhibition of community history.
Walk revisiting houses traced by the X-PO Mapping Group for the burren Spring Conference. March 2013. Photograph Conor McGrady.
X-PO was directed by O’Mahony during the first year, who activated the space through a programme of events, curated exhibitions and working with groups and individuals to make new exhibitions within the space. The creation of archives related to the personal and collective history of the site was fundamental to the activation process. The teams using the space then took on the project and have developed, funded and managed X-PO since 2008. Drawing participants from a broad constituency, X-PO lays no claim to be representative - it is rather the act of participation that is at the core of the project. Clubs use the space on a weekly basis and these groups have come to a provisional understanding, formed, articulated and made visible through connections made within the space.
X-PO is now in its eighth year running from mid-September to 30th May. It closes for the summer - the busiest time in the farming year. Initially funded by the Arts Council and SuperValu, now, like other local activities, X-PO is dependent on the generosity of those using the space. To date, donations and local fundraisers have cover annual costs of rent, heating and insurance . Approximately 60% of costs is met by participants, 20% from Clare County Arts Office and 20% from the Burren GeoPark.
X-PO lays no claim to be representative. It is, rather, the act of participation that is at the core of the project. Written in to the organisational structure is a requirement that different members step up and take on the role of running it every two years, a model of open, democratic decision making that has been a challenged for some. To participate at X-PO means accepting difference - it performs a kind of coming together that is based on the here and now, not on a priori relations or inherited standing in the community.
Conversations at X-PO often revolve around ways of growing food, particularly potatoes. This extended into the particular uses of tools, and skills, how to “read” the soil in order to plant and harvest at the correct time. The extent and depth of knowledge led to the idea of making a pamphlet on growing potatoes. As increasing numbers of GIY rural and urban gardeners turn to smallholding, the potential was clear for this kind of specific, tacit farming knowledge to be made visible. The depth of tacit cultivation knowledge shared by some at X-PO led to the genesis of the SPUD project.
“New Ecologies between Art and Rural Life:Towards a Collaborative Re-Imaging of Place and Community in Rural Ireland” and further Texts on X-PO, click here for links to Deirdre O'Mahony's writing.