Carrying the Songs

A story is told and recorded on Inis Oirr, a small island off the West coast of Ireland. That story is retold, from person to person, travelling across Ireland and Europe, through Scandinavia to Istanbul. Along the way, it is translated, processed by peoples’ own memories, experiences and cultures. Layers are added and other layers are forgotten and let go. In parallel with the metamorphosis of this story, a drawing undergoes the same process. It starts on the Western edge of Europe and is passed from from artist to artist, participant to participant, all the way to the Eastern edge of Europe. Each participant makes changes to the drawing, so it also undergoes a gradual metamorphosis.


Images from Pilot project, 2016, in collaboration with Ewert Ekros


The game is called Chinese Whispers in English, Stille Post in German, Gluchy Telefon in Polish, Rikkinäinen Puhelin in Finnish, Kitkine Telefon in Lithuanian.

On this scale, it is a powerful project which explores notions of memory, sense of place, language, communication and rumour, landscape and migration.

It is a project which engages people from twenty different European countries in an exploration of both our commonalities and our differences while creating a collective artwork.


How will this happen?

This giant game of Chinese whispers will start with a story and the drawing in Aras Eanna, Inis Oirr, the most Western Arts centre in Europe, and will travel across Europe, making many stops along the way.

Once on the mainland, the action will take place in a caravan, towed in relay fashion behind different cars. The caravan will contain a mobile recording studio, workspace for drawing, documentation and a living/sleeping area for the driver

There are thirty two stop-overs planned as part of this journey. At each stop-over, people will be invited to interact with the story and the drawing. After listening once to the latest rendition of the story, they will retell it to the next person in their own language. Each telling will be recorded and saved. As language is characterised by landscape and culture, it is anticipated that changes will occur in the story, and that elements will be lost or altered in translation.

Each artist or public participant who engages with the drawing will make small changes to the drawing. Each time a change is made, the drawing is photographed. One artist could potentially make a series of small changes, or a large change, by erasing elements or by adding more drawn lines.

Both the original drawing and story will disappear, being replaced by transformed versions of themselves.


The story will be a universal, archetypal story, with the ability to hold meaning through travel and alternative locations, but with local detail which will be subject to change and influences. A good story teller in every stop over will ensure that the story is kept living and full of detail.


The drawing will be charcoal on a paper chosen for its durability and ability to withstand multiple ‘erasings’ and re-drawings.  An artist will be identified to start the drawing, which will bear a relation to the story, taking its inspiration from that story, but not necessarily being narrative in nature or explicitly representational. It may happen that over the course of the journey, artists and people will add collage or other elements. There will be room for creative expression within a process which is curated over time ensuring dynamic change and development in the drawing. There is every risk that the paper will wear out, in which case, the artists will need to resort to adding materials.


From Ireland to Scandinavia has the potential to trace in reverse the Viking routes southwards. From Scandinavia to Istanbul in turn traces in reverse the recent floods of migrants from Syria to seek refuge in Northern Europe.


How can this work be viewed?

A website will document the development of the journey. Using a camera and a voice recorder, the progress of the changing story and drawing will be regularly recorded and updated.

Every time an artist or participant makes a small change to the drawing, that change is photographed and the image uploaded on to the timeline of a gradually evolving stop-motion animated film. At the end of each day this too is uploaded to the website and can be watched online. The film will grow with the journey, and at the end, 4800 changes by 960 people will result in a film approximately 8 minutes long.

Each new telling of the story will take place between two people in the mobile recording studio and will be recorded on a separate sound file. At the end of each day these sound files will be uploaded to the website and the public will be able to access the sound files from any part of the journey which has already taken place. In this way, they can trace the changes. The sound files will also contribute to the making of a collective art work.

Three musicians will be engaged to make three musical works from the sound recordings. These will layer up snatches of phrases in the different languages with a musical form.

301 days

14962 km

43 weeks

1664 participants

20 countries

20 languages

Inis Oirr, Clifden, Dublin, Chesterfield, London, Lille, Arnhem, Berlin, Aarhus, Malmö, Göteborg, Örebro, Stockholm, Gävle, Umeå, Jakobstad, Vaasa, Helsinki, Tallinn, Aizpute, Vilnius, Warsaw, Sokolowsko, Brno, Graz, Ameno, Ljubljiana, Rijeka, Sarajevo, Belgrade, Sofia, Istanbul.