On Bloomsday, we celebrate 'Ulysses' and female creativity

The Mayor of Derry gave a speech. The Prime Minister and Deputy Ministers of Northern Ireland took to the stage. They were all women, and all were in the city on Thursday to celebrate the opening of the Yes festival, a hymn to female artists and creativity which also closes the celebration of the two-year anniversary of the publication of “Ulysses”, the work of James Joyce. Vast and encyclopedic novel.

“Ulysses,” which Joyce modeled on Homer's “Odyssey,” is devoted primarily to the reflections and actions of men – the protagonist Leopold Bloom, his friend Stephen Dedalus and a variety of Dublin characters – as Leopold travels through the city in just one day, June 16th.

But it is Leopold's wife, Molly Bloom, who says the novel's last word in the final episode, “Penelope.” Or rather, the last 22 thousand words, which end with the phrase “yes, I said yes, I will do it Yes”.

This year, that monologue – a stream-of-consciousness meditation on love, sex, marriage, bodies, men and more – is the inspiration for the Yes festival and its final bloom, Molly Bloomsday, which reinvents Bloomsday, the annual re-enactment of Leopold's wanderings by devotees of “Ulysses”.

Starting at 8am on Sunday and continuing until the early hours of Monday morning, the public will cross the border between Derry and Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, for a day of shows, parades, dances, poetic digressions and meals that recall the 18 episodes of novel.

“This is an accessible introduction to Joyce,” Sophie Muzychenko, a Ukrainian filmmaker, said Thursday as she introduced the first segment of her project “The Molly Films.” It featured Fiona Shaw performing the opening line of the monologue, which lasts 23 minutes. (Harriet Walter, Siobhan McSweeney, Eve Hewson and Adjoa Andoh stage other sections.) “Every woman can find herself in this character,” Muzychenko added.

Later, during the mayor's reception at City Hall, three of the festival's curators discussed the event on stage. “This is the first all-female festival in Ireland,” said Martina Devlin. “It's one of those ideas that makes you wonder, why has this never happened?”

The idea arose when Sean Doran and Liam Browne, who have produced a series of imaginative and ambitious festivals focusing on Irish writers, first conceived a pan-European celebration of Joyce's novel, which became Ulysses' European Odyssey . The project included public works in 18 cities (to correspond to Joyce's 18 episodes in “Ulysses”) including Athens, Zurich and Paris, inspired by the novel.

“We knew from the beginning that the Molly episode was the one we had to adapt to in an extraordinary way,” Doran said in an interview at a hotel overlooking Ebrington Square, a former British military barracks that currently houses “The Molly Bed,” an installation by Tracey Lindsay featuring a voluptuous, reclining female form.

“It is the episode in which Joyce's language reaches an intensity, a fluidity and an extremity that goes beyond even the extraordinary technique of the previous chapters,” he said.

Browne and Doran decided that the final installment of the Ulysses project would be a Molly-inspired festival. And instead of taking place in Dublin, it would take place in Derry and Donegal, across the border, to emphasize the idea of ​​community. “The monologue is a dazzling inspiration to sprinkle the town and its natural hinterland, which is the northern part of Donegal, with magic dust and bring together people who might never normally mix,” Doran said.

There was only one obstacle to holding a festival about female creativity, he added: “Unfortunately we are men.”

They commissioned Muzychenko to create “The Molly Films” and hired female curators to create a robust program, including speeches and discussions on female leadership, climate and media; exhibitions of artists from the 16 countries involved in Ulysses' European Odyssey; and Sirenscircus, an interpretation of John Cage's “Musicircus,” performed by 200 musicians in Ebrington Square. Almost all events are free.

“I want girls and women in this part of the world to be exposed to the breadth and scope of the work that women artists do,” said Shauna Kelpie, one of the curators, in a conversation at the opening reception. On one side were T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “Chips chips chips” and “Things Have Changed,” created by Irish artists gethan&myles.

The shirts reference the factory workers, the generations of women who worked in Derry's shirting industry and kept the local economy alive during the first half of the 20th century. “There is a history of strong women here,” Kelpie said. “But the arts are not really promoted as a career opportunity in the school system.”

This history made Derry a natural choice for the festival, Doran said, acknowledging that some Joyce purists might be shocked by the move away from Dublin. But Molly, she said, “is characterized by Joyce as Gibraltar-born, pro-British, while her husband is loyal to republican Sinn Fein”. This, she said, “opens up the possibility of appealing to both the Catholic and Protestant traditions.”

At a William King Memorial Flute Band rehearsal on Thursday, a group of men and boys practiced flutes, drums and drums ahead of Sunday's parade on Derry's 17th-century walls, a tribute to Molly's reflections on her love of the military bands.

More than 25 years after the Good Friday Agreement ended the violent period known as the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Derry's ongoing sectarian tensions were still evident. There were Union Jack flags adorning the rehearsal hall, wire fences protecting neighborhoods from Molotov cocktails, numerous murals depicting activists and the dead. (Also, one of the biggest characters in the popular TV show “Derry Girls.”)

But in Sunday's parade of eight bands, one Catholic and one Protestant will join together to march as one, said Jonathan Burgess, the producer of the Yes festival.

“It's an unprecedented event,” Doran said, adding that, like Cage's Sirenscircus, the parade allows for “joyous, mellifluous, chaotic fun.”

“This is the least artistic program I have ever been involved in,” he added. “It responds to place and space.”

Molly Films will be available to stream on yesderry.com for eight days following the festival.

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