Minnie Meets… Joe Caslin

Joe Caslin

Joe Caslin is an artist and a secondary school teacher. He is the creator of the powerful mural that of two men embracing on George’s Street, Dublin. His iconic monochrome work narrates themes of identity, patriotism, masculinity, discrimination and mental health. His art is powerful in its subtlety and permits an audience to cultivate their own meaning and rationale.

In the early hours of April 11th, Joe Caslin placed a mural of two young men embracing on the crossroads of Dame Street and George’s Street in Dublin’s city centre. The artwork has been a focal point of conversation in the run up to the referendum on marriage equality.

I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak with Joe Caslin – an individual who is unapologetic in his drive to make change through art. Although his work may only be stationery for a limited period of time, the cognitive, emotional and societal impact which he instigates is immeasurable.

Joe Caslin

How would you describe yourself, both personally and professionally?

Dedicated, empathetic and a bit mad.

Was it a conscious decision to have a dual-pronged career of being a teacher and an artist?

I consider myself an artist first and unlike if you are a maths teacher, it’s unlikely that you’ll also be a mathematician. As an art teacher, you have practiced art for a substantial amount of time. In my first seven years of teaching, I lost five kids to suicide – it happened very quickly and very early on in my career. That had a huge impact on how I was as a person. I then left teaching to undertake a Masters and prior to the course, you had to present a proposal of what you wanted to do and I thought I wanted to make role models for young men. I thought I could solve all problems by drawing! I quickly figured out that I couldn’t but what I could do was to create a conversation.

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Extraordinary Women: Lisa Dwan

Lisa Dwan FB

I was recently asked to define my greatest attribute and without much contemplation, I announced it to be listening. It’s a skill which I’ve consciously honed and developed over the past number of years – it is essential for my role as a teacher, a researcher, an interviewer, a friend, a sibling and occasionally, as a daughter. However, is it my greatest attribute? I’m not so sure.

Without sounding overtly egotistical, my reasoning for the amendment is not because of a sudden realisation of how great I am but due to this blog. ‘Minnie Mélange’ has developed from an online portal for my personal fashion commentary to become an outlet for me to converse with those who inspire and interest me most. The common thread between these two dimensions is curiosity. In the cacophony of voice and spectrum of content which is available online, my insatiable curiosity has been the vehicle to decipher that noise and to find the people and ‘things’ which interest me most.

The most authentic representation of that curiosity can be found within the ‘Extraordinary Women’ series. Over the past year, I have been fortunate to speak with the most amazing individuals who have denoted their ambitions, failures, successes, dreams, personal characteristics and professional drive. The fourteenth interviewee is Lisa Dwan; a warm, engaging, talented, disciplined, ambitious and vivacious individual who is difficult to define by one or any label.

At the beginning of the Summer, Athlone-born Lisa will take to the stage at The Barbican Theatre in London to perform a trio of Samuel Beckett’s work but the pieces, ‘Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby’, have already received mass positive acclaim across continental boundaries. Meeting Lisa whilst she was in Ireland was one of the most philosophical and educational experiences I’ve had to date. It was a privilege to co-question the representation of women in theatre/television, the hunger for perfection and the liberation in being oneself whilst simultaneously sipping hot chocolate.

Lisa Dwan

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Professionally, I do a number of different things. I’m an actor, I’m a producer, I suppose in a sense, I’m multi-faceted but I also have a media company – I’m a journalist, I’m a writer, I’m a presenter – I do a whole heap of things and what I try to do to afford me that freedom is that I try to not allow anyone to give me a label. The question that I most dread is ‘what do you do?’ I try to define myself by my work.

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Competition: The Moth Comes to Dublin

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Almost 20 years ago, a story-telling club first began in the heart of New York. The inaugural show took place without any advertising but still sold out. This insatiable appetite for narratives, truth and personal experience is fundamental to The Moth’s success and cult-like following.

Since that first event, The Moth has cultivated a story-telling community which includes Ethan Hawke and Salmon Rushdie, to name but a few. It has also ebbed from the stage and uses the live material to create a podcast which is downloaded by approximately 25 million people, per annum.

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Minnie Meets… Mary Ann O’Brien

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According to Repak, Irish people receive an average of eight Easter eggs today. That culminates in the population scoffing approximately 17.5 million chocolate shells, with a cost amassing €36.6 million.

Thus, it feels quite apt that today’s ‘Minnie Meets…’ interviewee is Mary Ann O’Brien. Almost twenty three years ago, Mary Ann sat at her kitchen table in Kildare exploring her insatiable hunger for chocolate. Beginning with just two saucepans, a wooden spoon and her toddler Lily as a sous-chef, Mary Ann never imagined how her business would develop. mary-ann-obrien-founder-of-lily-obriens-chocolatesSince those humble beginnings, Lily O’Brien’s has over 130 employees and in 2013, attained a €22 million turnover.

Simultaneously to Lily O’Brien’s, Mary Ann is the co-founder of The Jack and Jill Foundation and currently divides her time between the chocolate factory in Kildare and the Dáil for her role as an independent Senator in Seanad Éireann.

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally? 

I like to think of myself and someone who doesn’t take themselves seriously but takes their work incredibly seriously. I love to laugh, I love life, I love nature and a sense of humour is necessary to get through this funny old world that we have found ourselves in. Professionally, I am the over-achiever, the crazy focused one that is both competitive and hugely enthusiastic about chocolate. That’s a quick rendition of Mary Ann O’Brien!

The way in which you don’t take yourself overly seriously, is there ever a conflict between other people realising that your sense of humour doesn’t or impede upon your professionalism?

Yes, that’s a very good question and it happens particularly in the US where a cultural difference occurs – although we both speak English, they really are not the same languages. For example, when I start speaking in California, I need to be very careful because I can see it in their eyes, they’re thinking ‘Is this girl for real, or what?’ I remember when I was first presenting to British Airways in London, I spoke infectiously about the products and I was laughing gaily along but I had to say, ‘Apologies for my sense of humour but we are deadly serious about our product, quality and customer service’. I try to mix humour with seriousness.

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Extraordinary Women: Ana Matronic

Extraordinary Women: Ana Matronic

On October 1st 2012, I did something which previously, I never had the confidence to do. I attended a concert on my own. Looking back now, it seems such a trivial piece of information to admit, but I was quite nervous about it at the time. The act were the Scissor Sisters and they were at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, in-sync with their latest album ‘Shady Love’. Little did I know but that would be their final concert in Ireland prior to disbanding.

It was an incredible performance, the audience were vigorously involved and a unique atmosphere was cultivated – one which even seems to defy words but the energy and enthusiasm was palpable. I was in awe of lead singer, Ana Matronic’s confidence, the ways in which she engaged with the crowd, her powerful strides across the stage, the choice in costume, her generosity and kindness and of course, vocal ability. I was in awe and that moment alone epitomised Ana as an Extraordinary Woman.

I was incredibly honoured to speak to Ana for this interview series and made every attempt not to fan-girl. We spoke about drag culture, the importance of authenticity, marriage equality and staying true to oneself.

Extraordinary Women: Ana Matronic

How would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

The most succinct way of describing myself would be a witch. Personally and professionally, I’m a witch!

How would define your coven?

My coven is one of a transforming chimeric characters; people who can change form and keep me entertained.                

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First Look – ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’

As you enter the ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ exhibition, the first sense which is engaged is not sight but hearing. The deep cackle of Lee Alexander McQueen echoes over the entrance. The sound is harmonious but tinges of darkness can be aurally discriminated. Alexander McQueen was no ordinary designer and Savage Beauty is no ordinary exhibition.

There is no way back for me now. I’m going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible. – Alexander McQueen

From my first few steps into the Victoria & Albert Museum yesterday, signs which read ‘Press Preview: Savage Beauty’ dotted the corridors. Much like Hansel and Gretel, I followed the proverbial breadcrumbs to the opening address by Martin Roth, Director of the V&A. He began to narrate a story of homecoming and celebration which appears to be not only an intrinsic and unifying thread throughout the entire exhibition but also for the staff who worked on Savage Beauty. Alexander McQueen was almost family to the museum.

The collections of the V&A never fail to intrigue and inspire me. The nation is privileged to have access to such a resource… it’s the sort of place I’d like to be shut in overnight. – Alexander McQueen

McQueen

Alexander McQueen was driven by the world’s juxtaposing beauty and savagery. He was vigorously anti-establishment and his designs oft provoked terror, fear, curiosity and awe. Even more disconcerting is that much of his work was autobiographical. Choosing to exhibit such a vastly diverse spectrum of work is daunting but to do so at ‘home’ can appear insurmountable.

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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A

Jellyfish emsemble and Armadillo shoes from Platos Atlantis SS2010. Model: Polina Kasina

UPDATE: A review of ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ is now online here

Lee Alexander McQueen often narrated a desire to reach an audience larger than the few who sit front row at fashion week. In 2009, his Plato’s Atlantis collection was the first to be streamed online but Lee died just four months later, without seeing his desire wholly realised.

In 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York exhibited, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty'; a post-humous display of McQueen’s most note-worthy pieces that captured the designer’s struggle with his outsider/insider identity and his brand’s amalgamation of fashion and art. The exhibition was frequented by 661,409 visitors in just three months.

At the time, there was heated discussion about the location of the exhibition. Lee McQueen was innately proud of his working class East-end London roots and whilst the Metropolitan Museum of Art didn’t initially feel like ‘home’, it was an immeasurable commercial success. However, in just over a week’s time, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ opens to a European audience at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Already, 58,000 advance tickets have been sold and pre-bookable tickets for the first five weekends of the exhibition are completely sold out. The exhibition has also had to be extended by two weeks due to public demand. The show’s creative director, Sam Gainsbury has said that the emphasis on home and London will ‘make the show feel more raw’ whilst at the V&A, “It’s more about those early years, when McQueen wasn’t famous, when there was no money, no celebrity, just this incredible creativity.”

I am really fortunate to be attending the preview of the exhibition on March 12th and like most with an interest in fashion, I consider myself Alexander McQueen’s biggest fan. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Kate Bethune, Senior Research Assistant for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.

Jellyfish emsemble and Armadillo shoes from Platos Atlantis SS2010. Model: Polina Kasina

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

1. What does your role entail, regarding ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’?

I am the Senior Research Assistant for the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. I am part of the curatorial team and support Senior Curator Claire Wilcox.

2. What process or discussion was involved in bringing the collection to the Victoria & Albert Museum?

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ISPCC Shield Campaign

Sinéad Burke - ISPCC Shield Campaign

I have some news.

The ISPCC Shield Campaign has been in circulation for the past four years. It was launched to help protect children from bullying, to cultivate awareness of the issue and to begin a conversation about the topic. Simultaneously, the organisation designated March as the ISPCC Anti-Bullying Month.

Since it’s inauguration, the campaign has grown immensley. An array of celebrities have volunteered as ambassadors for the campaign. These include: Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, One Direction, Louis Walsh, Little Mix, Brian O’Driscoll, The Script, Ellie Goulding, Olly Murs and Mrs. Brown.

Penneys ISPCC Shield Bangle €2.50 available in stores during the month o...The campaign has resulted in an incredible number of funds being donated either online, via text or through purchasing the shield for €2 in your local Penneys.

However this year, it is not just the ISPCC shield which is on offer, but you can also purchase a ISPCC bangle which a simple but beautiful shield charm. These will be on sale in every Penneys store in Ireland today for €2.50 each. Penneys are huge supporters of the ISPCC, they independently sourced these bangles and will give 100% of the monies back to the ISPCC.

Now, for the news…

I am honoured and slightly awestruck to be an ISPCC Shield Ambassador. The work which the ISPCC undertake is something which I have supported for as long as I can remember. The time, care and space which the organisation gives children to talk and to be heard is invaluable. I feel extremely lucky and privileged to be part of such an incredible campaign.

Sinéad Burke - ISPCC Shield Campaign

Furthermore, I also received news this week that Penneys have highlighted four ISPCC Shield Ambassadors for their window displays in this month of March. These are Laura Whitmore, The Script, Colin Farrell and me. From today, you will be able to see my face in the window of 38 Penneys stores. Daunting but so incredibly exciting.

UPDATE: I’ve just heard that Marks & Spencers have also chosen me as one of their ISPCC Shield Ambassadors for March. You will be able to see my photo in all of their stores nationwide. Whilst the ISPCC bangle is unique to Penneys, you will be able to purchase an ISPCC Shield pin in your local M&S for €2. All money is being donated to the ISPCC.

Thank you so much to Caroline Downey, Penny Dix and Eimear Larkin. A huge thank you to Barry McCall for taking the wonderful photo, to Gill & Katie in Penneys and Carmel in Marks & Spencers.

If you can, please support the ISPCC, perhaps you could donate online or purchase a shield / bangle. The work that they do is essential but the ISPCC continues to need our support.

In the Fold with Curator Gemma A. Williams

Michael Stewart by Andrew Nuding

At last year’s British Fashion Awards, the New Establishment Designer Award was presented to Simone Rocha and the Menswear Designer Award to J.W. Anderson. This was not the first time that London’s fashion domain awarded either of the aforementioned designers but it solidifies the argument that the industry is besotted by and has embraced upcoming Irish designers. For many, London is the perfect location to proliferate their career and nurture their unique talent.

Photo by James Hazlett-Beard

Photo by James Hazlett-Beard

In collaboration with Kildare Village, Irish Design 2015 sought to use London Fashion Week as a vehicle for spotlighting less established Irish designers. Thus, ‘In The Fold’ was born; an exhibition spanning February 20th – 24th which highlights the creativity and talent of eight promising fashion designers.

Gemma A. Williams is the curator tasked with achieving such a gargantuan project but her selection of Caoimhe MacNeice, Richard Malone, Jocelyn Murray Boyne, Michael Stewart, Naoise Farrell, Rory Parnell Mooney, Oliver Doherty Duncan and Laura Kinsella alone, has her captive audience salivating already.

Prior to the opening of the exhibition, I had the opportunity interview Gemma about her insights into the marketability of Irish design and the lack of society and commercial appreciation of Irish design that exists at home.

Rory Parnell Mooney by Panico

Rory Parnell Mooney by Panico

1. How did this project first come about and what drew you in?

The project was really driven by Aisling Farinella, who is the Fashion and Textiles advisor to the Irish Design 2015 initiative. Aisling was aware of my previous work for the British Council at the International Fashion Showcase and my passion to include and profile Ireland in this platform for emerging fashion. My practice is basically all about creating fashion narratives and promoting designers who are starting out on their journey so the opportunity to showcase young Irish fashion designers during London Fashion Week is a massive draw. Also, the fact that I am a strong supporter of Irish design gernerally, having worked with the Embassy of Ireland in London on two occasions, meant that I instinctively felt attracted to the project.

2. The profession of a curator is rarely one which is explicitly described within a public forum but what did your role in ‘Into the Fold’ entail?

Where do I begin? Being a curator outside of a museum, and not caring for a collection, actually means you have to wear many and every hat. It has no real set of rules and is incredibly hands-on and varied. I was involved in all areas of the show from designer selection and requesting imagery to creating the narrative thread. Luckily, an exhibition designer was commissioned, ABGC, so they worked on this narrative and concept to produce the spatial perimeters of the show. But it’s really never ending in terms of logistics and production. I’m also required to install the garments, devise the text and then promote the show. I’ve also been encouraging designers to engage with social media to make sure they get the most they can from this opportunity. It is hoped the show will be installed and displayed in another venue, so it would be really great if as many spectators as possible could see the exhibition.

Laura Kinsella by Johnny McMillan

Laura Kinsella by Johnny McMillan

3. What is unique about each of the designers highlighted in the exhibition?

I think what sets them apart from other international graduates is their understanding and respect for design. There is definitely a thought process there, and an intellectual approach to what they are designing and then making. I think their reference points and what is influencing them is different and also in practical terms fabric sourcing is different, we don’t have big fairs in Ireland so a lot of these young graduates are making and embellishing their own, so material is really vital here. I saw the appliqué of Michael Stewart’s dresses up close and it is just staggering. The colour is so powerful and I got a really strong wave of emotion when I saw it. For me, if a work of art touches you, it is very special and unique.

I think Richard Malone has the making of a really exciting and inspiring fashion thinker. He won the Deutsche Prize which is a worldwide competition and this is funding his first collection. I know that a lot of platforms even outside of the United Kingdom approached him to show with them yet he is choosing to present his collection on his own terms, here in London. This is so refreshing and shows that he will take the industry on his own terms, and not get lost in the system. I think this sense of self is very unique.

Michael Stewart by Andrew Nuding

Michael Stewart by Andrew Nuding

4. Why are Irish design and Irish designers so attractive to an international audience?

I think it’s a really exciting time now for Irish designers but this is due to the name they are making in London. London is arguably the best city for a young designer to be based as there’s support and the daring audeince. Experimentation is really valued and feted over here, in fact it’s actively encouraged. Of course, fashion brands need to be comercially viable as well as it’s about how designers make that shift from press favourite to a functional label and I think Irish designers have this ‘double ability’. They possess the creativity but also the logical business mind to see what they will attract, but what will sell as well. In terms of curation, for me, it’s great to be able to commission and display pieces which don’t necessarily need to be worn or can exist at the edges of the fashion spectacle. This exhibition features work which is all very wearable and illustrates that the Irish aesthetic is at it’s very heart, highly practical.

Jocelyn Murray Boyne by Sean Jackson

Jocelyn Murray Boyne by Sean Jackson

5. Brewer Street Car Park has previously been home to House of Holland at Fashion Week but was the fusion of design and the mechanical instrustry a conscious decision?

This venue was actually chosen by the British Council and the British Fashion Council but they do tend to favour a raw, industrial aesthetic. This is a popular fashion venue in London and it’s funny some of the reactions the venue provokes. It’s just typical London, which I like.

Olivia Doherty by Khara Pringle

Olivia Doherty by Khara Pringle

6. What do you want the main talking point of the exhibition to be?

I really hope the main talking point is to bring Irish fashion into the spotlight in Ireland and see how Government bodies and institutions, retail, museological etc. can help the sector grow exponentially. From what I hear, designers are really struggling in Ireland. Initiatives like CREATE at Brown Thomas are fantastics but we need more of this. Not Fashion Weeks because there is no point in Ireland trying to compete on this level, but definitely looking to other countries which aren’t fashion capitals like Norway, Germany of Spain to see how they are supporting their newcomers.

Worldwide, Irish fashion designers are definitely recognised so it’s now time for people in Ireland to take fashion seriously at both a commercial and cultural level. It would be great to see some form of serious mentoring set up to help or investigate how young Irish creatives can tap into the fashion system to say, London for example, but keep the production in Ireland. It’s a really exciting time for us and I can’t wait to see how it evolves.

Thank you very much to Gemma for her time, experience and insights. If you would like to know more about ‘In The Fold’, you can find Gemma on Twitter and Instagram.

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