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The Absolute State Of Us: How Array Collective Works

As they head into 2024, Belfast’s Turner-prize winning art group Array Collective throw some light on how collaboration, humility and converging passions work for them

How does Array work? Whenever we are asked to talk to students or audiences, the questions we are asked most often are along the lines of, “How do 11 artists make one artwork? What does it mean to be a collective?”. It seems mind-boggling to many people that there is no one in charge (us too sometimes, to be fair).

During a press interview not so long ago, a journalist wondered, “How can anyone make art as a collective?!” This has been a common response to our work and the work of other collectives, so we have to keep demonstrating the powerful idea that coming together in community is the best chance we have. As an art collective, Array shares resources, energy, time, caring, craic, support for causes, Christmas Dinner in July, buildings, Google Drives, Slack channels, residency rooms, hashtags and of course – our communities. We have to build our own worlds!

Someone has grown our food, sewn our clothes, made the paints we use, packaged our tinsel; our global networks of production render our interdependence invisible and yet we grow more dependent on invisible labour as unwieldy multinational corporations extract even our data.

Artists have always been part of grassroots activist communities because we are in every community. Amongst activists, we can broaden the scope for resistance. Array construct ‘pocket utopias’ towards new and more hopeful futures amongst peers holding out the same dreams of another world.

However, Array wasn’t always a collective. We were a bunch of artists sharing a space, and friendship, getting on with their individual practices whilst collectively getting frustrated with the (s)tate of things (and getting a reputation for being a bit of a naughty corner). Rather than coalescing around an art form or a genre, we bonded over the issues that affected us directly, like Equal Marriage rights and Abortion access, which meant we were all on the streets, protesting a lot from 2016 onwards, as the campaigns North and South grew in urgency.

When we were asked to be part of a show of new art collectives in London in 2019 for the Jerwood Arts exhibition Collaborate! was when we began honing our collective logistics and finessing all the shared invisible labour that goes into keeping a busy collective running. We make sure we have everyone present for big decisions, and we run smaller ones past each other at our weekly meet-ups. We separate creative and admin get-togethers so we get the most out of both, and we have a voting system ‘Votes and Thumbs’ for quick decisions with a minimum of 8 for a quorum. 

For the themes of our work, it’s amazing how often we go off into our little caves and come back with overlapping ideas. We are clearly a big influence on each other, but also we are a group because of our converging passions.

Array are ​​Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Sinéad Bhreathnach-Cashell, Jane Butler, Emma Campbell, Alessia Cargnelli, Mitch Conlon, Clodagh Lavelle, Grace McMurray, Stephen Millar, Laura O’Connor, and Thomas Wells.

We hail from across the island of Ireland, from Manchester and from Italy and converge in a small studio space in Belfast. We frequently collaborate for actions and interventions in response to the sociopolitical issues affecting Northern Ireland. Our Turner Prize-winning installation, “The Druthaib’s Ball”, was first shown in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, Nun’s Island Theatre, Galway and Ulster Museum, Belfast. Our practice and programming is frequently focused on the art/activist axis and explores often difficult subjects with humour and warmth. 

We love collaborating with people outside of the collective and recently had a night of performances in Belfast. We’re often acting the maggot on Instagram as @arraystudios and are currently working on a series of interventions and an installation for IMMA in Dublin. We achieved our true dreams when the mayor of Belfast organised an open-top bus tour through the city to celebrate our Turner win, and someday, you never know, we might end up producing “Stormont, The Musical” – high on drama, low on action.

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