The 3 ‘Founding Fathers’ of Offaly County Council funded Man-I-Pulate bring themselves down to your level, by writing about what they do.
Nick Bryson, Dancer
Unique to Offaly, Man-I-Pulate is a performative interface, emerging in a curiously spontaneous manner from the bog before returning to it. The group consists of a highly incongruous jazz outfit ‘’Miles ‘O Bog Ensemble’, a rather unlikely farmer’s son from Cloghan, and myself an out of joint contemporary dancer who loaths being described as ‘from a community’ in Northern Ireland, yet who secretly permits himself to be described as an ‘interpretive dancer’ (even though the term lurks in the back pages of some Irish-American philanthropists rejected ideas notebook, who thinks he is covering every base by considering even for a second that I am deserving of his filthy lucre). In any case Ronan can call me anything he wants, I don’t care. The only question we are concerned with is “who is manipulating who?” – as ever. And it does all come down to language and vocabulary, powerful people are powerful because they occupy the vocabulary of power, like a pair of 80’s shoulder pads.
As well as us founding fathers, Man-I-pulate consists of the highly skilled and motivated musicians Anne Mcghee (flute), Connor Hein (guitar) and Dave Cashen (drums). Us crowd of Sunday Miscellanies has performed equally bizarrely to a crowd of dance aficionados at last year’s Absolut Dublin Fringe. In what was a rather argumentative pub Sweeney’s on Dublin’s Dame Street, I can still remember my angst-filled stomach turning as I envisioned my dance funding being cut instantly as Ronan Coughlan launched into his next tirade against the arts establishment and the wisdom of Tullamore building its own community arts centre. Meanwhile I juxtaposed him with some dredged-up arabesque from my distant ballet training, desperately trying to placate myself, before reassuring the bewildered audience with some deliberately meaningless bar room chair manipulations.
This is us then… a lot of manifestos and bluster, counter culture and countering counter culture, posturing and provoking plumped-up city folk to think we are rustic no-hopers. …until they actually write as much in the Irish Times. At that moment we can whiz back down the M6 to reconvene with the heartlands and yodel with some Offaly gum–plodders, who are lurking on a Friday night in some end-of-the-world Midlands drinking den.
For sure we are involved in a strange thrashing about for an identity. I have realised my fantasy of switching between post-modern ballet poses and a continuous battle of one-upmanship with Ronan, fighting and rudely denying that we are deserving of any funding as we outwit any council instruction manual, by mocking our obscene gestures as we make them. So if you think my writing is pretentious, that is on purpose. You get the picture, this is an ongoing aim to outwit you simply because you are the reader and I am the writer …but also...something else. The sound of the band is in the background as I write this. But how might this translate to dance? I regularly shout these days in my performance work “I am not scared to live in Offaly!”
Ronan Coughlan, Loud Mouth
I worked with Man-I-Pulate for one year so far. What brought me on this course? Two fine gentlemen from different countries to me. One is a Nordie and the other is a Kraut. Now don't be so easily offended they do not play up to their stereotypes, these two men are of International mind.
Pablo Picasso stated that 'A great artist has no nationality'. I am a firm believer that a great artist has no borders or boundaries and can see national identity as a farce in itself. Every artist knows that, right? Maybe not. So the two bucks decided that they wanted to have a sit down with me to potentially milk a few bob out of the County Council in order to try and put on a touring show of what its like being a male artist in Offaly. It was a simple plan and we began in January, talking that is. We all understand that half of any piece of art work that is produced must develop over many coffees, cigarettes and certainly waffle. I f**king love waffling,, but I also like being incisive and cutting the bullshit. Any time we were veering off course I tried to lasso the idea and bring it back to what we were considering at the start.
Over the next two months we met in Maureen Kelly's house and discussed tactics. We knew our basic premise and sent in a funding application. I made sure to lay it home that if we did not get the funding, we would do it anyway, by hook or by crook. My two counterparts agreed and we decided to call ourselves Man-I-Pulate. We were three men of different generations trying to make pulate a verb. Our shtick was that of the rural avengers, I wanted to let people know that we are HERE! LISTEN UP, we are artists from Offaly and we want people to realise that its ok to be an artfag from the countryside. I have put up with years of stick over being an artist from my contemporaries but I don't give a shit what anyone thinks of me, I would prefer if they had an opinion, position or angle, but ultimately begrudgery does not keep me awake at night. Plus at this stage people have accepted that I am an artist and do things they wouldn't dream of doing. My skin is almost like granite, any abuse or potential violation of my character is much obliged.
Our first gig was in the Daghdha Dance Space, for their closing down shin dig in Limerick. Nick told me to go to town on dance on the way down in the car, which was our briefing. So I started to go to town, Joachim played his lonesome bass, throbs and wabbles flitted through the air and Nick started to prance around. I made the audience stand up and interact, with me at least. They didn't know what to think of us. Like so many shows after, I think people find it hard to talk or approach me because they think I am some sort of manic arsehole who has more time than sense and chip on my shoulder that you could deem 'considerable'. I suppose I am these things but for the performance not on my leisure time. Our first gig was a huge success for me, I got to slag dancers and officianados into thinking they didn't know what was happening because, lets face it, they didn't. People act like they know what is happening because they are so clever or learn-ed, but they are just normal people like everyone else and sometimes what happens in an art space makes no sense at all. To act like you have figured it out when you haven't is called pretending.
Now I have pretended for long enough that I could be part of something such as the art system but I cant. I have too big a mouth and I don't give a shit if people don't like what I say. Edmund Burke, the Irish philosopher stated that 'evil prevails when good men do nothing'. Or in this case bullshit prevails when Great men do nothing. Man-I-too-great, but not only me, the other members of the group also. Joachim, Nick, Dave, Connor and Anne are all brilliant at what they do and I got plenty of praise along the way also. We did a good job with the limited resources that were on offer. We worked together to try and challenge the status quo. The arse-licking, the shmoozing and the body politic were not part of our agenda other than to break it down or demolish it.
We performed for a group of artists in Tullamore at an artists meeting regarding the Tullamore Community Arts Centre. We performed our piece for 40 minutes or so, maybe a little less. Our work is about working together as artists, fusing different approaches and views. We slag ourselves and question our motives and the motives of others. After we performed a bitching session ensued about the lack of visual arts representation in Offaly. All artists seemed to stick by their art form and verify all the tripe that had been spilling out of me for two thirds of an hour. None of our performers engaged, none of us cared. What we had being performing panned out right in front of us committee style.
Artists would rather bitch and complain and try and get on committees rather than make challenging art with people from different disciplines. The division is astounding and over what, a few bob that wont really sustain you anyway, just that of a project. Is it really worth it? I can assure you there are other ways of doing things and other ways of acquiring money or materials if needs be. Not falling out with half the f**king County over your solipsism. Artists need to get over themselves, stop talking shite, drinking coffee and start doing. Things are abysmal in Ireland at the minute so people need to band together in these tough times, work with lean budgets or no fodder at all. Challenge the machine and be heard.
We wanted to get the word out about being artists in Offaly, most time antagonised by our own existence as creative whoors. We do it because we have to do it. That's her in a nutshell.
Joachim Hein, Bassist/Composer
As a musician who grew up with Miles Davis, Coltrane, Mingus, Monk and all the other groundbreaking people, the prospect of working with Man-I-pulate as the musical " Founding Father" was and remains beyond my wildest dreams.
It is about creating, through free form improvisation, the soundtrack to the spoken word and dance performance, responding to subtle changes in dynamics or mood, sometimes prodding the guys on to reach even further, dig deeper, search more intensely etc. It is such a challenge every time and in so many different ways, that I do not think a creative musician could ask for much more.
With this amount of complete creative freedom comes a bundle of responsibilities, such as NEVER overpower the performance of the front men, nor let them down when they are reaching for their respective heights or, worst offence, just comp away and bore the socks off everybody. Like a binding circle that is permanently challenged until it bursts and then you hurry back to create a new, perhaps bigger but certainly different form, to avoid flying off completely. Give yourself plenty of stuff to keep you on your toes, trying to tame a subtle chaos only to unleash it again until the performance eventually comes to its end.
As a player in a collective of like minds, yet individually inclined to bring their very own creative juices to the pot, I believe this is as close as you can get to heaven this side of the coffin and I would not want to miss it for the world. Long may it continue!