Formed in 2013, in Cork City by Samantha Conlon, this feminist art collective began as a platform to showcase the work of young emerging female artists from Ireland, UK, South Korea and The United Arab Emirates.
Primarily found online, Bunny Collective - in their own words - "takes advantage of the internet as a democratic alternative to the hierarchies of the art world." Ahead of Saturday's Pankhurst in the Park event, which will formally introduce Bunny, Amy Clancy catches up with Samantha Conlon and Aoife O'Dwyer (2/18 of Bunny Collective) to find out what happens when their online collective meets in the physical world, what it is to be a Bunny, and what people can expect from their residency over their next month in Manchester.
AC: So, let's start at the beginning. Samantha, what was it that inspired you to start Bunny Collective?
Samantha: I started Bunny because there weren’t many platforms in Ireland for young emerging female artists and I wanted a place where we could all come together and work collaboratively on shows, zines etc. A lot of the collectives at the time were US based, so it felt like it was needed.
AC: Who, or what, are the main influences on your work?
Aoife: A lot of my work is influenced by design, science, psychology and perception in particular. I find myself drawn to ideas about how we perceive ourselves and our environment, how these ideas affect identity, how technology plays a part in this process, how we interact with each other and with space both in real life and online etc. A large part of that questioning is very personal and unavoidably subjective so it comes back to trying to relate my experiences and perspectives while either in dialogue with or in contrast with the experiences of others.
Samantha: My family are my main influence. I’ve been photographing my little sister since I was 12 so it’s very natural for me to turn to them for inspiration. I am also finding that my hometown in the Midlands of Ireland is a big influence on my work, in particular the housing estates there. I like the uniformity of the houses and how each family tries to personalize their own, there’s a strange feeling of wanting to fit in but also wanting to be a bit different.
AC: How did you find out about Pankhurst in the Park, and what attracted you to the initiative?
Samantha: Lotte Karlsen, the Director, reached out to us via email and invited us to be the artists in residence. We were immediately interested and sent back an email of acceptance within minutes, I think. The freedom within the programme is excellent, we have been reaching out to the local community surrounding the park and have been able to work with so many groups only a few weeks in. The residency has an amazing team that makes working like we do so easy and enjoyable.
AC: What opportunities and challenges does the size and geographical distribution of Bunny Collective present when undertaking projects, residencies in particular?
Samantha: Getting everyone together at the same time is nearly impossible, so with the residency we’ve been working in shifts. I think each show with Bunny has always been a huge collaboration, everyone pitches in what they can. Many of the shows are set up by the main Irish members as we have had ease of access to the locations but the secret to maintaining a cohesive project is lots and lots of emails.
AC: There are now 18 members of Bunny Collective, in several countries around the world. How has Bunny Collective changed as it has grown?
Samantha: I think Bunny has changed in our approach to the ideas of feminism and gender identity. When we first started it was very pink and very “girl”, even though we were seeking to subvert ideas of girlhood I think we are now moving away from these ideas and looking to ask more important questions. The popularity of feminism in the mainstream makes each move you make as a group very important, as the essential ideas of collectives are being capitalized on without any gain for artists. I think it’s important to go slower than the media does and really think about what moves you make and with who. We’re learning that, slowly.
AC: What can we expect from your residency with Pankhurst in the Park?
Aoife: We have several events planned for the next few weeks including workshops and talks. Our final show in the woodland of Alexandra Park in collaboration with the Manchester School of Architecture will hopefully offer a new way to consider how we exist and interact with each other and society at large. Expect interactivity and collaboration and hopefully something that ignites thought and discussion. We’ve taken over the Alexandra Arts instagram account @alexartsmcr so if you’re curious about our goings on that’s a good place to keep an eye on.
AC: As part of your residency you have already started to run workshops with local girls and school children. Do you envisage any challenges to engaging with these groups?
Samantha: So far it has been very smooth sailing. We’ve been working with Hideaway Youth, as well as having public workshops, and the response has been really enthusiastic. The main challenge when working with groups is to be respectful of everyone involved and make sure everyone is comfortable with what is happening. Manchester is such a friendly place so we really have been lucky with how warmly we’ve been welcomed.
AC: Within your proposal there were references to sisterhood. Can you define ‘Sisterhood’ in Bunny Collective’s terms?
Aoife: The definition of ‘sisterhood’ I most closely relate to is in terms of the solidarity of women. For me the actual term ‘sisterhood’ itself can be problematic in that despite the intended inclusivity of it’s definition it can be quite alienating for the non-binary or non-cis women amongst us and so I try to focus more on the core concepts of support, connection and community. Bunny is a collective of women with a diverse set of experiences, identities and backgrounds from various locations and so it’s vital that this definition is inclusive, open and relates in some way to the ongoing discussion, support and continuous learning that we as individuals and a society must be open to if we ever hope to create a more equal and inclusive society.
AC: Who are the women role models and female artists that you admire?
Samantha: I’m inspired by artists working at the moment like Fannie Sosa, Lauren Cook, bfgf, Audrey Wollen, lots of others!
AC: What are you most looking forward to?
Aoife: Besides the obvious delight in seeing the final show come together on May 7th, one of the most exciting things about this residency is that it is getting several Bunny members together in one place at the same time. It’s so lovely to get to the meet the wonderful people behind the creative online personas I feel so familiar with. Having the opportunity to meet bunnies living in the UK and also other Manchester based art babes is a particular joy for me and speaks perfectly to the overarching theme of the residency by connecting with and supporting other women, particularly those involved in the majestic and creative community in and around Manchester.
To meet Bunny Collective in person, don't miss our second Pankhurst in the Park event this Saturday, 9 April.
You can also follow their Instagram takeover @AlexArtsMCR...