Orla Barry

Language shapes our structured world, but in fact every sentence we utter is an improvisation. That is the starting point for Orla Barry’s new performance & sound installation. She has used 57 words, an actor, a dancer and a musician to devise a work in which chance, fate, and a little witchcraft play equal roles in a performance that is never the same on any night. It is a show of shows, set in a décor of language objects. These objects are used to generate the script for the performance.

The performers spin the wheel; with each word a scene is constructed. The order is random and the performers are at the mercy of the wheel and therefore of fate. Preparation and rehearsal can only go so far. There can be no dramaturgy. There is no possibility of building tension or controlling the narrative and the performance could extend endlessly. It is a particular work that plays with different forms of text production such as speech, monologue, interview, poem and song to create a series of intentionally unplanned crossovers between text, object, meaning and performance.

The stage set is made not of props but of art works. The felt text pieces that appear at the end of the performance are handmade from the wool of her own black rare breed Zwartbles sheep and all the other elements are hand painted.

The performers jump from one character to another, from one atmosphere to another in arbitary sucession. In this collaborative work performance becomes a kind of mimesis. It arouses and purges each association nearly as soon as it has been constructed, leaving an ellipsis.

Ludwig Wittgenstein calls it "the inner visual room" in his philosophical investigations: "399-400: one could say: surely the owner of the visual room has to be the same nature as it; but he isn’t inside it and there is no outside. The visual room seemed like a discovery as it were; but what its discoverer really found was a new way of speaking, a new comparison, and, one could say, a new experience."

For the installation version what is left is a like a scene without figures. Only the memory of their presence & actions exist through sound. Like the floating the voice-overs of her early video works the performance transforms itself into a tableau made of words. Ghost voices on an unplanned loop like broken language in space.

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Commissioned and produced as part of Corpus, international network for performance practice. Corpus is co-founded by If I Can’t Dance, Amsterdam, Playground (STUK & Museum M), Leuven and Tate Modern, London, and is supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union and Culture Ireland.

Concept & text: Orla Barry
Performed by Derrick Devine, Marcus Lamb, and Einat Tuchman
Commissioner: Eva Wittocx


Playground, STUK Kunstencentrum and Museum M, 8/9-11-12


If I cant dance. Veem theatre, Amsterdam, 25/26-01-2013
Bozar, Installation, 28-02-2013-05-05-2013
Bozar, Performatiek, Kaaitheatre, performance, 27-02- 2013
South London Gallery, performance,18-05-2013
Project Arts Center, Dublin, performance, 20/21-06-2014


Production: Ilse Van Essche, Ellen Decoodt


90 minutes to 6 hour performances are possible in theatre, gallery or festival contexts. The work can also exist as a gallery installation with sound.


All of the selections bring about memorable performances. A creepy voiceover recording played over loudspeaker is invoked by “hypnotist”, a dance number with canes is what “restrict” invokes, and the word “hovel” causes Tuchman to deliver a monologue about a girl meeting a guy at a bar that takes an unpredictable turn.
Each of the three performers deserves great praise. The nature of the show requires them to switch between characters and personalities, and deliver a range of emotional responses in short, controlled moments.
The Upcoming, UK
Drie spelers, een verzameling woorden en negentig minuten speeltijd. Veel meer legt de Ierse kunstenares Orla Barry in Mountain niet vast. Het maakt de performance tot een spannende ervaring.
Theaterkrant, NL


Orla Barry’s work focuses on language, both written and spoken, as well as on visual deconstruction and displacement of language; via frequently associative techniques, she researches the semantics of her mother tongue and its cultural imbedding and implications. Her work is strongly poetic and lyrical, crossing a wide variety of media, evoking non-linear narratives, undercurrents of emotion and dealing with themes as linguistic intoxication, sexual identity, proximity and distance, melancholy and frivolity, chance and fate. She works in many forms, including performance, video, text, sound, and photographic installations.

Orla Barry lived in Belgium for sixteen years and now lives and works in Wexford, Ireland, where she also runs a flock of 80 pedigree Lleyn and Zwartbles sheep. She has recently had performances at The Project Arts Centre, Dublin, The South London Gallery & Tate Modern, London, If I cant dance, Amsterdam. The Playground Festival, STUK, Leuven and De Appel in Amsterdam. She has also had solo shows at Mothers Tankstation, Dublin, CCB, Museu Bernardo, Lisbon (2011, with Rui Chafes), Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin (2006), SMAK Ghent (2005), Camden Arts Centre London (2005), and W139 Amsterdam (2005), Argos, Brussels (2002). She has taken part in Manifesta 2 and in group shows such as Sense and Sensibility in Sao Paulo, Some Parts of this World in Helsinki. She has been awarded the prize of the Palais de Beaux Arts in the ‘Prix de la Jeune Peinture Belge’ in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Glen Dimplex Prize in 1999.

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