Web manifold

Manifold's 'Phantom' taps into Irish esthetic

By Peter McDermott

It's hard to resist a good ghost story.

Galway artist Louise Manifold certainly found that the people of Askeaton, Co. Limerick, really liked her 5-minute video "Phantom."

"It wasn't a regular art audience," she said of those who gathered in the community center in 2009. "But the piece was quite accessible."

Manifold also got a good response in Brooklyn more recently, where she has just completed a six-month residency at the International Studio Curatorial Program.

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At the beginning of her two-week residency with Askeaton Contemporary Arts, she researched a local angle for her piece and came across a Dec. 7, 1913 New York Times report headlined "Many Hauntings in Ireland Told Of," with the sub heading "Clergyman Who Asked for Ghost Stories Gets More Than He Can Use."

The Rev. St. John D. Seymour, rector of Cappawaite, Co. Tipperary, was compiling a collection about "psychical phenomena" and he advertised looking for people who'd had "experiences."

He was told several stories about phantom coaches. "For instance, quite lately Michael Fitzgerald, coachman to Miss Cooke, of Ballingrave, County Limerick, related to me that on a bright, moonlight night he was driving along a lonely road near Askeaton when he heard, directly behind him, the roll of wheels, the jingle of harness, and the clatter of hoofs," the clergyman told the Times' correspondent.

"He took to the side of the road to let the carriage pass, but no carriage came, the noise suddenly ceased, and on looking behind he could see nothing. He resumed his journey, and there was a recurrence of the same strange sounds till, at the cross roads, a phantom coach dashed wildly passed him."

Sculptor and filmmaker Manifold spent 10 days asking people in Askeaton about this story but none had ever heard of it almost a full century later. However, one man told her of "spirit tales" associated with that same lonely road, the "old road" between Askeaton and Limerick City. They were often about particular families being followed prior to a bereavement.

A coachman from nearby Pallas Green took her on a series of trips, but he couldn't commit to bringing her round to film at night. However, she got the eerie effect she wanted using an inversion process. The artist used her living source as a voiceover and the 1913 Times text for subtitles.

She has been told that "Phantom," with its wild trees, is particularly evocative of rural Ireland. "There's an Irish esthetic that's not recognized," said Manifold, who did a postgraduate degree at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London.

More recently, she made work in Los Angeles, and she traveled several times to Patterson, N.J., to photograph and film the demolition of a theater.

"It's a great opportunity," said the artist about the International Studio Curatorial Program. "Some residencies are relaxing and are more like a holiday. This didn't feel like a holiday. They do make an effort to introduce you to curators.

"In Galway, it's difficult trying to get people to come to view your work," said Manifold, who is based at Artspace Studios, a complex with more than 40 artists. "But I love making work in Ireland."

It's a generally supportive environment both locally and nationally. Arts funding hasn't been cut to the same extent as in the U.K, partly because the community is organized and partly, she believes, because of the legacy of Galway politician Michael D. Higgins, who was the minister of arts, culture and Gaeltacht in the 1993-97 government.

The Arts Council of Ireland underwrote most of the cost of the Brooklyn residency, and she got additional support from Galway County Council. "It's finally being recognized that the arts are important. It's not just two hippies dancing around," she said. "It can enrich someone's life and arouse curiosity."

The artist also has the support of her family. Her mother pursued her own painting career despite being a full-time teacher and the mother of four children. "When she started, the whole notion of being an artist and not doing anything else was alien," said Manifold, whose father is driving license-tester with the Department of the Environment.

Louise Manifold has a part-time job in Galway teaching art to people with mental illness. "I love it," she said.

In common with most artists, she regularly reviews the choices she has made. "It's a temperamental way to make a living, even when the economy is booming," she said. "You see your friends with more solid jobs."

But those in the mainstream world of work are supportive, and also envious of her lifestyle.

Recently she encountered a former classmate from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, where she did her primary degree, sitting behind a desk in a local government office. The classmate didn't think there was anything wrong with being a cash-strapped artist.

"Listen, you could be here," she said.

To view "Phantom," go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=62ksrUvQcfE