Project Description

Ringfenced- a performance and exhibition of new paintings held at The Old Schoolhouse, Scarriff, on Satrday 25th May, to open Mountshannon Arts festival. Ringfenced was an audience participatory performance: a circular enclosure was created within which the audience was invited to place themselves, resulting in the viewer becoming the viewed. Using Sisyphean actions to construct and deconstruct- the performance addressed how it feels to stay present in a space, and how we barricade ourselves into enclosures of our own making.

The performance and paintings were reviewed by the writer Helen Blackhurst. See below:

“In Ringfenced, Rachel Macmanus invites her audience into a circular enclosure of stacked breezeblocks, highlighting that we are free to move, to talk, to leave, to lie down at will.  When the performance starts, Rachel, wearing protective gloves, rubs her hands vigorously as she circles the enclosure.  Then, while opening and closing sections of the ring fence, she talks in a constant stream, at times breathless with the physical exertion of shifting blocks.

I was instantly drawn in, and intrigued by the setup.  Being an enclosed/encircled viewer swung me between feelings of comfort and constriction, highlighting one of the dualities at play.  The audience becomes both witnesses to the performer and witnessed by those beyond the ring fence, silent partners in a conversation that veers from weather to waiting, list-making to dreams.  Our response is an internal one, channeled through thought and feeling, and yet I had a sense that Rachel was listening, even while her thoughts rolled on.

Her monologue draws us into a restless mind, both domestic and deeply personal, which has the effect of spotlighting our internal ramblings.  We are plunged into a river of thought, and encouraged to climb onto the banks, to observe the flow from a distance, to be present to the changes as they occur.  To maintain and stimulate this sense of presence, Rachel asks us to breathe, to let our shoulders sink, to engage our core, prompting us both physically and mentally to stay alert, to experience what she describes as an ‘intentional action.’ This physical prompt encouraged the audience to stay embodied in what might otherwise have been a cerebral experience.  The fact that Rachel reveals to us her previous incarnation as a fitness instructor serves to make this unusual intervention into a fitting tribute, and helps us build an image of the performer as a person, a character we feel we come to know.

Initially, I found myself caught up in attempts to conceptualize the flow of words, which made me yearn for silence.  But as the performance progressed, the persistent drone-like tone allowed me to feel an increasing sense of freedom, a letting go, a widening of the ring-fence around the words.  The wandering and at times mundane script and the repetitive shifting of blocks served to generate a hypnotic rhythm, nudging me towards a liminal space where anything felt possible, where holes in the blocks became watching eyes, magnified by the gaze of the observers and the backdrop of Rachel’s portraits.

Displayed in a block on the back wall, the series of self-portraits, depicting swollen limbs and distorted perspectives, mirrored the dreamscape described during Rachel’s telling, offering another portal into the performer’s mind, and by extension, our own.  I was prompted to question the ring fences of my own making, reminded that shifting blocks can be repetitive, tiring, and challenging, but possible.  Openings as gateways to freedom.

The generosity and conviction of this performance left me feeling I had met someone, shared something, and connected to my core in more ways than one.

It is a brave act to share the workings of your mind, and I felt Rachel brought her whole self to the performance.  Though her eyes were mostly trained on the ground and the blocks she was moving, it was apparent that she was fully present to the slightest changes in the room.  The performance ended with the same brisk rubbing of gloved hands, bringing us full circle.”

Forms 1 to 12- the paintings exhibited as part of Ringfenced.