Swim Piece – 
Joan Somers Donnelly

Swim Piece is just that; a vocal piece for four swimmers. It is a celebration of Dubliners’ relationship with our bay, and of those spontaneous sounds we make when we climb into the cold embrace of the Irish sea.

There is a sense of collectivity in sea swimming. Even when you go to a swimming spot on your own, you feel part of something. A low-key ritual. The small huts for changing, the steps and rails, the words exchanged with strangers about how the water is today. All of us who swim in the sea in Ireland understand why we do it, without having to explain it.

When I think about the outdoors in Dublin, I can’t not think of the sea. When we think about how we live in cities today, we often conceive of ourselves as living disconnected from “the natural environment.” I think Dubliners’ relationship to the sea contains a wordless depth that represents an attitude towards the landscape around us that might be important in reshaping how we behave toward it. In reshaping what we mean when we say “the environment.” It is not simply a resource to exploit or to manage. Not just a nice view, or a swimming facility. Not a segment of nature to be conserved. We don’t just go there for exercise, or to wash. We go simply because we want to be in it. Animals in water. Heads bobbing like seals.

In Swim Piece four performers get into the sea at a favourite Dublin swimming spot, alongside other swimmers. One by one they begin to vocalise, creating sounds as individuals and as a collective, playing with how the sounds change according to their proximity to the rockface, to other swimmers, and to each other.

( Watch video here )

Physical sites in cities have long been a source of inspiration (read: obsession) for me. I see performance-making as a kind of transient place-making. It is all the more challenging, but also much more interesting, to try to do that in a place that already has a life of its own; a life which interacts with your piece and which will continue afterwards.

I also find that getting out of institutional contexts helps to dispel a lot of the elitism associated with art and performance, which might be a silver lining of 2020 for the arts.