Laggard – Text by Lily O’Shea taken from a passive house (2020) – research and publication initiated by Cork-based curator Ali O’Shea.

Text by Lily O’Shea taken from a passive house (2020) – research and publication initiated by Cork-based curator Ali O’Shea.

a passive house

Fiona Kelly, Dori O’Connell, Mary O’Leary and Lily O’Shea, research and publication initiated by Ali O’Shea, Cork, Ireland, 2020.

This publication is the first iteration from a passive house. A passive house is a house which is truly energy efficient, a sustainable and comfortable structure. This publication presents a series of archival material from within a house – a house which is striving to become a passive house – the goal of energy efficiency is still present but for the occupants rather than the structure. This visual research stemmed from the early months of the Covid19 pandemic lockdown and retreat indoors. The house became the centre of many practitioner’s view, the pressures to create during so-called downtime emerged. The At Home Artist Residency programme mentioned in the beginning of this piece was created as a response to these pressures. The lockdown here is reimagined as a continuous artist-in-residence programme and as a result all activity within the passive house became inherently creative, whether this be watching endless television, cooking, gardening or cleaning. The production of this research has simultaneously been a search for a sustainable practice but also an ever-present pressure to create an output to validate the pursuit of a practice. Each occupant has generously responded to these thoughts, utilising materials such as time, dust and food.”

(Taken from


The world stops being so insistent.1

I lied about reading a book yesterday. It was the first day since graduating where I felt under pressure to appear actively creative. I suppose I lied to make myself look cultured or productive, maybe both. While the arrogance of this lie makes me want to crawl out of my own skin, it also makes me want to delve further into my urge to react this way. 

I was already late – I underestimated the length of time it would take me to get to where I needed to be. I spent the night before watching a never-ending string of YouTube clips which chronicled the Top 10 Great British Bake Off Scandals. I dreamt of reaching my breaking point during biscuit week and being caught up in an iced bun disaster. It was the beginning of my first artist residency – a day I had anticipated since the beginning of my final year of college. However, since the pandemic, this day had become a constant source of unease for me. During quarantine, I failed to meet the criteria of pandemic productivity. I haven’t acquired any new talents or personality quirks. My ability to reskill or upskill were skewed by the instant gratification I would receive from binge watching Real Housewives. I found myself drifting in and out of college work. I could no longer relate to the academia and reference artists which I was admittedly so caught up with before this pandemic. Every phone call made me anxious and every Microsoft Teams call made my blood boil. I resented the expectation of production or creativity within this period of isolation. It felt intrusive. I also disliked the fact that I felt this way given my privileged position of being able to self-isolate while pursuing a third-level education. I found it important to acknowledge that this pandemic affects some individuals far more than others. Secure housing, a garden, and the ability to afford a weekly food shop put me in a fortunate position and made me consider my quarantine privilege. The cross contamination of feeling resentful towards the anti-climax of my college experience and the guilt I felt for feeling this way led me to a four-month cycle in which I produced nothing creative. This period of time was consumed by a variety of banana bread recipes, aimless walks, and intermittent can-drinking. It was infused with bouts of apprehension, indigestion, and laughter. Needless to say, once the day of my first residency arrived, I became aware of my estranged relationship with any sort of creative pursuit. I began to doubt the purpose of my practice and became increasingly insecure. I gracelessly did a half-run half-jog to the meeting while simultaneously questioning the integrity and viability of my practice. Do the issues I wish to address deserve a platform? Does my practice productively address political questions, or does it aestheticize and dismiss real-life experiences?  

All I could think of was what I was going to say next. I feared my shyness would appear impolite. I haven’t spoken about my practice for a considerable amount of time and couldn’t help but experience moments of dissociation. Out of sheer discomfort and a general lack of confidence in my own practice, I decided to lie about having read a book. At the time I was desperately racking my brain for something that would make my time in isolation appear productive – something that wouldn’t make them regret choosing me as one of the artist-in-residence. I was familiar with the framing of the book, so I just about managed to get by. As the conversation progressed, I began to think about a recent article I read about tsundoku – a Japanese term which is used to describe a person who collects a large amount of reading material but never actually reads them. While questioning the integrity of my practice, I began to simultaneously examine my intelligence and motives. Was I someone who used their bookshelf as a mere form of virtue signalling? Did I have books on my shelf just to make people aware of my productivity? It made me think of studio spaces in college and how students, myself included, would position a specific assemblage of books on their desks to make tutors aware of their intentions. From Whitechapel Documents to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing – these books began to collect dust while library fines inevitably escalated. I suppose it could be considered one of the many mini-PR stunts students inadvertently engage with during third level education. In my experience at least, this reflection symbolizes an unspoken obligation in everyday life – the appearance of activity and progression. This barrage of inquiries made me uneasy and I began to fall behind the pace of the meeting. Eventually, things began to flow, and awkward silences turned into moments of deliberation.

  1. Smith, Zadie, Intimations, Penguin Books, 2020, p 53

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: