Their Achill Island outpost on a headland in Dugort is dense with the crosscurrents of European visual culture. But this is no escapist enterprise divorced from its surroundings, Red Fox have produced eye-catching books drawing on vernacular elements of the world around them in Mayo and while also commissioning a wide variety of artists from the world over.
Working in the creative vein established by Kurt Schwitters and Tristan Tzara in the early 20th century. The result is an array of posters, prints and books that in terms of innovation and creativity are the equal of any single collection in a major city. Each book is hand-bound and saddle-stitched in Dugort in a room with a giant picture window facing out over the vastness of the Atlantic. A typical find might be a programmatic series of exposures taken of the same headland on different days, focusing on the weather as a variable: the result is a very interesting illustration of the variety of moods on the coastal Connacht landscape. However, perhaps unlike other such esoteric high art shrines, the welcome is warm and the attitude generous: when we visited, Francis was kind enough to give us an extended tour and show us his process in detail. A fascinating proof of how the spirit of Dada is not an historical relic but a living tonic to the clapped out messages of mass media and marketing.
Seekers of the avant-garde will also find much to slake their thirst at the Time Traveller’s Bookshop on James’ Street in Westport. Clumsy visitors to this newly opened establishment could run the risk of having a cloth-bound and duly massive edition of Finnegan’s Wake in German fall upon their head when walking in the door. Luckily, order reigns in Holger TKs literary emporium with rare books of all traditions including the most arcane presented in impeccable condition: this is no higgledy piggledy dusty emporium of forgotten books. To the sounds of jazz from the ACT label in Germany, casual browsers will find themselves picking up books by Roberto Bolano, Guillaume Apollinaire or Allen Ginsberg, as well as choice books on philosophy, Irish poetry and drama.
Prices of the first editions may not lend themselves to impulse purchasing, but the second-hand paperbacks found on the carousels are of such high quality that a curious reader will always find something to pique their interest. The back of the shop has an equally eclectic collection of vinyl together with audiophile turntables and attendant accoutrements as well as books on music.
The owner acquired the personal library of renowned Irish photographer John Minihan: hence the presence of unique, (some stunning) black and white photos of famous literary artists, particularly Samuel Beckett.
Lovers of contemporary music may have to forage somewhat to find their taste assuaged, but it is worth keeping an eye on the schedule of simulcasts at Castlebar cinema, Mayo Movie World and the LInenhall Arts Centre which have shown live projections of operas by John Adams (Nixon in China) and Thomas Adès (The Tempest, his eerie version of Shakespeare’s late play). Live performance of contemporary composers, such as Raymond Deane and Roger Doyle show up at chamber performances in Westport and other towns.
Mayo has some claim to forming a new luminary of the avant-garde with the recent prize-winning exploits of writer Eimear McBride whose “experimental” novel, ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ became a surprise sensation in literary circles in 2014. Written in the stream-of-consciousness form championed by James Joyce and WIlliam Faulkner, her book tells the story of a family with dark secrets. McBride spent some of her formative years in the Mayo town of Castlebar.