Des Kenny Visits Incubate Artist Studio – Ella Bertilsson and Ulla Juske

January 4, 2018

The Incubation studio residency is an initiative by Draíocht, offering recent art graduates studio space and support while creating new work. After graduation the sustaining assistance college offered disappears and the next step towards an art world career can prove daunting. The provision of studio and auxiliary services by Draíocht help alleviate the loss of the college support base while allowing young artists time to formulate new strategies that counter this disadvantage.

Ella Bertilsson and Ulla Juske are recent recipients of the Incubation residency. The two artists met while completing their masters degree in NCAD. In that hothouse atmosphere of inquiry and research they discovered a common outlook and decided upon leaving college to collaborate in making art. It was a cold wet morning in December when I made a studio visit in Draíocht and the beckoning warmth of the studio was welcome. Casting a casual eye around the unadorned space, that showed little evidence of artistic output except for the residual marks on floors and walls of previous occupants.  I apprehensively wondered where a conversation on their art would lead. My pressing sense of anxiety dissipated as it soon became apparent that their work and art practice was stored on a laptop. I was invited to sit and watch videos of completed projects that demonstrated a broad range of subject matter and artistic presentation.

Their work explores ideas surrounding identity, community and social history and creating narratives which combine these themes to a site specific installation. The discovery of a large chest on a Dublin street containing dispossessed belongings of an unidentified individual led to creating a work that reflected upon the connection between a hidden personal biography and  objects that contain the complex history of a personality. The contents of the chest were displayed like museum artefacts in a transit van situated in the Tree Line Project installed in a park beside Foley Street. They called the exhibition “The Museum of The Unknown Person” and they hoped visitors from the locality would recognise the owner of the chest and unveil the mystery of a forgotten life. A disenfranchised history of the unknown person is reconfigured, when what is lost is found to have a relevance to the viewer’s life.

While in Reykjavik on a three month residency with the Association of Icelandic Visual Artists the two artists developed audio work around the theme of time as understood by amateur astronomers and professional astrophysicists. The recorded conversations do not display a hieratical distinction between professional and amateur but blend their points of view into a unified meditation on how humanity finds a place in a universe governed by time which appears unending. These interviews were situated in a large glass enclosure called the Nordic house near a lake. Visitors listened to the recordings on the immensity of the universe while observing the snow filled stark landscape of Iceland. The audience feels momentarily anchored in a motionless landscape yet understanding they are moving through space and time in an unstoppable indifferent universe. Driven by wonder our imagination expands to comprehend our place in this infinite cosmic journey.

During their residency in Draíocht they worked with various groups that have an affinity with the locality. They were invited to talk about themselves and their community. The local youth theatre was asked to respond to questions and their answers were superimposed over veiled curtains found in houses in the immediate area. This is an ongoing project and may be included in a group event scheduled in Draíocht for 2018. 

After the Draíocht residency the artists are participating in similar opportunities in Norway and Estonia. These two artists not only collaborate but wander this floating earth together and quietly allow each destination inform their art.


Ella Bertilsson and Ulla Juske - Studio Incubation Award 31 October – 22 December 2017

Ella Bertilsson and Ulla Juske are a Swedish-Estonian visual artist collective based in Dublin. They produce site-specific audio-installations about the relationship between time and memory; place and identity. They are interested in gathering narratives which explore the boundary of fact and fiction in relation to specific communities or places. During their Incubate Residency, Ella and Ulla invited people who live and work in Blanchardstown into their studio to share stories of their profession/job, their place of work and the memories that it triggers.


Desmond Kenny is an artist based in Hartstown, Dublin 15. He is a self taught painter, since he began making art in 1986 he has since exhibited widely in Ireland and abroad, solo shows include Draíocht in 2001, The Lab in 2006 and Pallas Contemporary Projects in 2008. His work is included in many collections including the Office of Public Works, SIPTU, and Fingal County Council. Kenny's practice also incorporates print making and he has been a member of Graphic Studio Dublin since 2004.

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