Leah Hilliard: KATHLEEN
KATHLEEN celebrates the remarkable story of Kathleen Napoli McKenna (1897-1988), born in Oldcastle, Co. Meath, witness and contributor to one of the most significant times in Ireland’s history. In her work producing the Irish Bulletin for the Propaganda Department of the first Dáil, she showed bravery, resourcefulness and dexterity. During the War of Independence, the London treaty negotiations, and the Civil War, she had confidential and volatile information at her fingertips. She was twenty-two.
This bespoke textile work, realised in a billboard located at the roundabout on Railway Street, uses a QR code to link to a video spoken word piece. Digitisation of the original textile work draws attention to the evidence of the human hand; KATHLEEN is an individual act of making, just as the Irish Bulletin was. Hilliard was particularly struck by the references to the skill and dexterity of Kathleen McKenna in laying out type. So much of the labour and success of campaigning involves intense and repetitive tasks that not only reinforce the bonds of the cause but also foster the comradeship needed to sustain commitment. KATHLEEN explores how the back of a piece of embroidery can be as revealing as the front, symbolising the way in which history often doesn’t give the full story of a campaign.
Leah Hilliard is an award-winning artist and educator whose work is based in performance, engaging with public space, and involves spoken word, fabric and installation. With a background in event management and public art commissioning, her practice explores her long-standing interests in technology and society, particularly in relation to the lives of women and the ways in which women create formal and informal networks for the transfer of information.
Hilliard has exhibited extensively in Ireland, the UK (including Digital Show at the Liverpool Biennale), France, and Australia. Selected recent projects include: Knowledge Flow 2019 (solo show, Ballina Arts Centre, 2019, funded by Digital Transformations bursary, 2018); Room Autumn (Arbour Hill Dublin, 2016); Homework performance at the Glitch Festival (Rua Red Tallaght, Dublin, 2016). Recent research projects include the Mothership Satellite project (2019; funded by the Arts Council, 2017 project award); Close Captioning Technology & Performance research (grant-aided by NCAD, 2016); In Public, In Particular, an international project using participatory art methods to create situation specific art (2014 – 2019)
Recent awards include the Kathleen McKenna Award 2021, Solstice Arts Centre and Meath County Council Cultural Services; Arts Council Agility award, Arts Council Professional Development Award 2020; DRLCOCO Creative Ireland Mentorship award, 2020; Cowhouse residency, 2020; DRLCOCO grant, 2019; the inaugural digital society bursary, Digital Transformations, 2018.
The Meath County Council ‘Kathleen McKenna Award’ is supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media under the Decade of Centenaries 2012 – 2023 initiative.
Navan, Co. Meath