Jessica Dylan Foley : Can you tell me a little about the work that you undertook with the Dublin Deaf Drama Group, and why you were interested in creating a piece with them?
Amanda Coogan : We translated the words to Queen’s song Bohemian Rhapsody into Irish Sign Language (ISL) and followed the bathos of the song, which lends itself to Sign Language. ISL is a language full of passion, and I had been excited about working with a group of sign-language users for years. The language embodies the emotion of a situation, and with Bohemian Rhapsody I wanted to use the full emotional force of the language.
JDF : How do you feel about the word ‘disability’ in relation to art, for instance the label ‘Disability Art’, etc?
AC : I have worked with a linguistic minority, the deaf community, and it is that aspect, rather than their disability, that has attracted me to work with them. I was brought up by two members of the community and therefore the deaf community is the norm for me, not a disabled group.
JDF : You grew up communicating through ISL. How has this influenced your work as an artist?
AC : Irish Sigh Language is a manual visual language and this has profoundly influenced my practice as a performance-based visual artist. In my upbringing I had to communicate firstly through my body, and my practice is deeply informed by this.
JDF : Disabiltity, discrimination and the minority – would you say that these are themes in your work?
AC : Not overtly, but certainly I cannot deny that these themes seep into the work. Some pieces, Revolution for example, overtly examine discrimination in the Irish Deaf community, while questions of the ‘other’ are implicit in many of my pieces.
JDF : When you collaborate with a group, what is the motivation to do so, and do you have an expectation of the outcome and how the audience will respond?
AC : Working with a group brings in new dynamism to a piece. It is the multiplying of energies that excites me in making group performances and also the slight loss of control; in comparison to solo studio work, that can be exciting and also liberating. The opportunity for collaboration in these aspects is the real driving force behind my interest in group pieces.
JDF : Engagement with the body and the self seems to be a very large part of your work. Do you consciously tackle issues surrounding feminism, the image of woman and the societal expectations of women?
AC : I feel very strongly about coming from a known in my practice and striving to make a universal. My basic tool is my body, a female body so the image of a woman is central to the work. I think with regard to otherness or societal norms, I do play around with some of these issues.
JDF : Would you consider women to be ‘disabled’ by certain societal expectations?
AC : The term ‘disabled’ or ‘disability’ is such a loaded one, I would never claim it for able-bodied women. People with disabilities have fought so hard for some kind of recognition of their lives that that feels like robbing their clothes. I think women certainly have equality issues to tackle, but I couldn’t condone using the term ‘disabled’.
JDF : What issues and interests are currently driving your work? Can you tell me a little bit about any of the work that you are doing now or planning for the future?
AC : A supreme and continued fascination with Beethoven is still around and I am working on tackling the full Seventh Symphony . And I’m currently back looking at my Madonna series and working on Madonna-and-child photographs.
Jessica Foley is a freelance writer, artist and educator currently working in Dublin.