In Cara Holmes’ documentary Notes from Sheepland, artist Orla Barry shows how the professions of a contemporary artist and a shepherd can be combined. Barry, having spent years in the Brussels art scene, has had to return to her native Ireland. To make a living, she has started raising sheep.
In the documentary, Barry is followed at work on the farm: in the fields, in the sheep barn and at the agricultural market. Turquoise stone rings sparkle as the artist feeds her flock. The reality of the trade is shown as it is. Though Barry feels a deep connection to her sheep, they are also livestock that are evaluated, sold and bought.
Visually, the film is dominated by the nature of the farm, rugged yet beautiful. Alongside a dreamy soundscape, a poetic voiceover accompanies these pictures, as Barry reflects on the relationship between work and art. For Barry, raising sheep provides not only a livelihood, but also material for poetry, installations and video art. For the artist, there is something performative in the profession of a shepherd, too.
The hypnotic film teases out connections and contradictions between the art world, small scale farming, and the textile and meat industry. From the lamb farm, a view opens up to the unsustainability of a lifestyle alienated from its roots. However, it may be possible to restore the connection to the earth and mud, as the film seems to suggest – and it doesn’t have to mean giving up art or beauty.
Director Cara Holmes is present in the screening of her film Notes from Sheepland on Thu, Feb 1.