We can fly

Artist Name(s) Anne Cleary & Denis Connolly
Artwork title We can fly
Context/Background We can fly is a participative art project that took place in St Dymphna's and St. Nicolas' special schools in Ballina, County Mayo. This new shared education centre, built in 2009, is the result of a long struggle by Western Health to provide a comfortable and stimulating environment for children with special needs. The schools cater for children with a wide range of conditions ranging from mild learning difficulties to severe motor problems, and include children from all over the region, who come by bus every day to school. The inauguration of the two schools and art project by the Taoiseach in April 2010 was a very significant event for many of the older local people, who had been involved for up to 50 years in volunteer activities to help children with special needs in the area.

I myself grew up in County Mayo, and as a child was diagnosed as mildly dyslexic at 6. There were no facilities for children with learning difficulties then, but my parents did everything they could to help me overcome this problem. As well as extra reading classes, they drove me all over the county to attend art classes, play guitar, and do pottery. By the time I was ten I could read, and had developed a passion for art that would stay with me for the rest of my life.

Based on my own experience I have made education a central concern of our practice, and when I came across the announcement for the project it seemed inevitable to apply. It was a great honour to have the opportunity to go back to Mayo to work with the children of St. Dymphna’s and St. Nicolas' schools, and an extraordinary learning experience for everybody involved. - Anne Cleary, 2010


The project invited children of St. Dymphna's and St. Nicolas' Schools in Ballina, Co Mayo, to play with and explore immersive interactive video environments under the guidance of a choreographer. The sessions took place in February and March 2010 with choreographer Cindy Cummings, who worked on the theme of flight.

The theme of flight for this project was a multifaceted one; Ballina, in my minds eye will always be those birds' wings outstretched over the Moy, and as a metaphor flight is used so frequently to represent human endeavour. The human figure with outstretched arms appears and reappears throughout art history, and as a choreographic theme flight was simple and adaptable to the abilities of all the children. We had to adapt of course, some of the children had very limited capacity for movement, but Cindy managed in each instance to bring out the potential in each child, leading to a very different experience each time. - Anne Cleary, 2010


Publication to appear in Autumn 2010 entitled In the Works, Gandon Editions.

Watch Publicart.ie interview with the artists about this commission and their collaborative practice

The project is documented on their website


Award-winning artists Anne Cleary and Denis Connolly live and work in Paris, where they moved in 1990 following architectural studies in Dublin during the 1980s. After a lengthy collaboration with the esteemed French urban theorist Bernard Huet in the early 90’s they developed a long lasting interest in the filmed city. Patterns of behaviour, both in cities and within our institutions, are a central preoccupation of their work; and these they examine through narrative and interactive video, installation, photography, and text. Anne and Denis see their work as an ongoing engagement with the world.

In 2006 they created their first interactive exhibition, HereThereNowThen, at LCGA in Limerick, based on the principles of observer participation. These installations travelled widely over the next two years before regrouping at the Pompidou Centre for an exhibition entitled Pourquoi pas Toi? in winter 2008, visited by over 40,000 people during its 3 month run. Their work has been exhibited worldwide; at the Yokohama Triennial in Japan, the Czech National Gallery in Prague, the Museum of Modern Art in Marseille, Sesc Pompéia in Sao Paulo. Recent publications include Moving Dublin, a book of writings and photographs on urban mobility in Dublin city, and Past and Presence, a collection of essays on their work. They are the recipients of the 2009 AIB Prize for emerging Irish artists of outstanding potential.

Selected Solo Exhibitions
2009   Moving Dublin. Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris.
2008   Pourquoi pas toi? Centre Pompidou, Paris.
2006   Here There Now Then. LCGA, Ireland.
2005   Yokohama House Guests. Yokohama Triennial, Japan.

Commission Type Schools/Colleges
Commissioner Name St. Dymphna's and St. Nicolas' Schools, Ballina
Commissioning process Open competition
Project commission dates September 30, 2009 - March 31, 2010
Artform Visual Arts
Art Practice Arts and health
Funded By Dept. Education and Science
Percent for art Yes
Budget Range 10000 - 30000 euro
Project commission start date 30/09/2009
Project commission end date 31/03/2010
Location St. Dymphna’s and St. Nicolas’ Schools, Ballina

County Mayo
Town Ballina
Website www.connolly-cleary.com/Home/we_can_fly.html
Content contributor(s) Anne Cleary
Relationship to project Artist 
Public engagement

Children and teachers of both schools

Associated professionals / Specialists involved

Choreographer Cindy Cummings



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