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Be there at the start: Ailís Ní Ríain talks about her fascinating BSL, film, live music, new writing and live drawing project 'The Drawing Rooms' / 4 September 2014

portrait photo of composer Ailís Ní Ríain against a concrete wall. She looks away from the camera towards a leafy bush

Composer / writer Ailís Ní Ríain

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By Colin Hambrook

It became clear this morning during the presentations of Unlimited projects in research & development that the clear thing that Unlimited is doing, is to allow the voices of individual disabled artists to come through; to experiment in new and exciting ways; and to allow something fresh to happen, outside of the often limiting constraints of companies within the disability arts sector who work to specific impairment-related agendas.

I was entranced by the imagination of classical composer and theatre writer Ailís Ní Ríain. Her R&D project The Drawing Rooms will be a place where strange stories are told through BSL, film, live contemporary classical music, new writing and live drawing.

Ailís talked about her love of the paintings of 15th century painter Hieronymous Bosch and  the similarities in terms of  the concept of ‘difference’ similar to the stories told through the Unlimited programme.

His paintings are crammed full of colourful characters who find themselves in unusual predicaments. The question the images pose is one all of us are familiar with, as disabled people: namely how do we make situations work for us when they are extremely difficult to navigate? 

These are often very individual pieces of problem-solving and, as such, often difficult to deal with or communicate the need for some consideration from a world that doesn’t meet our expectations. To put it into a personal context Ailís told us that her hearing aids often presented her with a world where there was too much sound. 

Going back to Bosch, there is a character in The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1501) who has found himself inside the body of a duck. He has limited mobility and motor functions. So what can he do? He can sing about his challenges, so that’s what he does.

Another, particular favourite of Ailís’ is a character from the same painting she’s named Mr Rollercoaster who rolls and strolls on four wheels “flying the flag for a no mans nation.”

Bosch included a lot of strange musical instruments in the his paintings. Ailís told us that all the musicians come to a terrible end through playing the instruments. So she’s set herself the task of writing a score for replica’s of these instruments and she’s planning to work out a way of looking at how the sound produced can be gestured in a way that works in British Sign Language.

It sounds a wonderful experiment. But that’s only part of it. As well as the live musicians she is collaborating with an artist who draws exremely fast and detailed drawings. We rarely see drawing as performance, but it is a magical thing. She intends to give her audience a birds eye view on the drawing as it happens. 

A showcase for The Drawings Rooms happens in December. Watch this space for further details.

Keywords: unlimited