Culture and Technology collide at the Carlow Arts Festival 2021

As we head into the summer, the enriching experiences of various arts and cultural festivals and events increasingly arrive on our radar. Hosting events online offers new possibilities, while many of us all also gumming for something in person, film or otherwise. The Carlow Arts Festival returns this June 2021, currently offering a combination of live, digital and virtual experiences.

Cutting edge technology collides with culture as Carlow Arts Festival announce an ambitious hybrid programme of live, digital and virtual experiences taking place over 10 days from the 4th to the 13th June – featuring works by international, national and local artists: Ireland, Latin America, Europe, Canada, Asia, and Carlow.

In their efforts to create unique Arts experiences for their audiences, this year organisers of the festival have found ways to connect in both the public and digital realm. Using tech that will be in place for the very first time in Ireland, the festival will be opening its Virtual Festival Campus next month to deliver a range of artistic experiences, with plenty for film fans including VR Cinema, the latest work from Paul Mescal and more.

The programme for the public realm includes live events and experiences (with limited capacity) with highlights including: Woman In The Machine, co-created with VISUAL – an exciting large scale film, digital and live project emanating from Carlow’s landmark former Braun building where a myriad of artists from music, visual arts, performance and dance will take over this giant, abandoned landmark to create a 72 hour lost weekend event as part of Brightening Air | Coiscéim Coiligh; Invisible Opera created by Michael Trainor with Carlow Arts Festival and Irish National Opera, which allows the audience interact with a sound and light installation using the individual instruments and voices from La bohème housed in individual tent structures; a continued focus on outdoor work will see SPRAOÍ create stunning installations around the town; Tumble Circus bring their brand new Traveling Cycle Circus to Residential and Care Homes around Carlow and Fidget Feet present an aerial explosion of dance and Irish music called A Handful Of Dreams; Carlovian Cian Kinsella (of Lords of Strut fame), has been commissioned to create Grow a site-specific show on his own farmland and throughout the festival, a large scale, high-profile visual art commission from Maser will be created.

The programme for the digital realm will be screened online and at Carlow Arts Festival’s VIRTUAL FESTIVAL CAMPUS (access via Altspace VR) with virtual venues set to host live events, talks and screened content. The expanded Digital strand includes innovative and immersive digitally native events, a VR Cinema series of curated 360 films including Chalkroom by Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang and Rosario Dawson in the stunningly animated punk adventure Battlescar. Saolré – an Irish short film programme, features 6 films including Drifting, starring Paul Mescal.  Architecture On Film  is a programme of architecture led short films including The Women Of The Bauhaus, A homage to the forgotten Bauhauswomen. The Latin American Dance Films programme features documentary and fiction representing a slice of the expansive creativity of that land: America (Latina) – (Latin) America.

Woman In The Machine, the filmed experience and the programmed artist’s digital content from over 50 artists will be accessible at as well as in the Virtual space from 11 June 2021.

Highlights for Live Digital Events include Prometheus a live interactive online show for children from Catalonia, that retells the Greek myth with scale models with an unexpected spin; The House Never Wins is an award-winning interactive game theatre piece that you can play from the comfort of your own home; Swan Lake The Game is a remix of the famous Russian ballet from the Netherlands, but torn apart and put back together again in the form of an online event, hosted in a unique virtual theatre environment.

A limited number of tickets for all of the live events and digital experiences go on sale today from A number of the family friendly shows from Fidget Feet will have an allocation of tickets available to frontline workers and their families. And the Tumble Circus shows are only being performed in Care Home settings.

Announcing details of Carlow Arts Festival 2021, Festival Director Jo Mangan said:

“Our digitally native, online, virtual and live programme is Carlow Arts Festival continuing to carve out new territory. We have been building significant expertise and leadership in the digital realm over the last number of years with our Virtual Reality film programming alongside other digitally native work. As well as creating an entirely immersive 360 Virtual Festival Campus to house events this year, we are platforming the best boundary-leaping work in the digital realm from overseas as well as Ireland.

As always we are making the Arts accessible to all, and have worked hard to ensure accessibility is woven into the entirety of the programme. This accessibility focus is also seen in the continuation of Free and Pick Your Price programming and events created specifically for front line workers and Care Homes.

In addition to commissioning numerous projects this year, we have found ourselves becoming producers and makers ourselves. Bringing artists together from different backgrounds, planning, readjusting, reimagining together – this became the main order of business. This has proved both necessary as well as rewarding as we wrestled this year’s festival into shape. Thank you to all the artists and the amazing Carlow Arts Festival team who have held faith, and worked way above ‘the above and beyond’ with me towards creating our incredibly ambitious programme this year.”

Read more from the organisers of the Carlow Arts Festival about some of the events on offer below:


Not satisfied with just small scale in-person and online options, Festival Director Jo Mangan approached Artist/Designer/Coder Ciara del Grosso to imagine the festival in the virtual world. The result is epic. You imagine it, and it can happen. Want to fly high above the site and get a birds eye view? You can. Want your avatar to dance beside others in close proximity while shouting in each other’s ear over the music? You can.


Carlow Arts Festival and VISUAL have co-created Woman in the Machine, which will unfold through film, exhibitions, sound works, light installations, digital native events, a 360 virtual exhibition space, performances, talks and community engagement projects created in response to Carlow’s landmark former Braun site and inspired by women working at the intersections of art, science and digital media. The series of significant projects from over 50 artists replicates the idea of a 72 hour lost weekend where a myriad of artists from music, visual arts, performance and dance take over this giant, abandoned landmark.

The filmed experience, Digital content and Virtual Space will be available at from 11 June 2021. There will also be a significant lighting installation, and on-site sharing of work across the second weekend of the festival 11/12/13 June.

Woman in the Machine is presented as part of Brightening Air | Coiscéim Coiligh, a nationwide, ten day season of arts experiences brought to you by the Arts Council.

Aspects of Woman in the Machine, including a learning programme, and documentation of the 72 hours at Braun, will continue over the summer months in the galleries at VISUAL.


The Invisible Orchestra is created by Carlow Arts Festival and Michael Trainor in association with Irish National Opera.  A world première installation – experience an opera from the centre of the performance. Wander through the deconstructed instruments and voices of Irish National Opera’s specially made live recording of La bohème. You can’t see the performers, but you will feel every moment

Returning to Carlow Arts Festival after their spectacular show Firebirds that wowed audiences in 2016, we are delighted to welcome Fidget Feet,  Ireland’s premier Aerial Dance Company,  back to Carlow Arts Festival. Their performance A Handful of Dreams is an awe-inspiring and heart-warming outdoor spectacle show that combines aerial and circus arts with live Irish traditional music and dance.

Alan James Burns, a Digital visual artist is working in the Virtual Reality and 360 Ambisonic Sound realm. Open Mind, Closed System explores what it means to be an individual person living within the complex everyday systems we inhabit. A Brain-Computer Interface connects on-screen audio-visuals to the rhythms of the user’s mind. The audience and artwork become interdependent – it’s art made with brainwaves.


Bringing joy and light to the most in need Tumble Circus bring their brand new Traveling Cycle Circus to Carlow. Five of Ireland’s most talented circus performers are getting on their bikes to bring their world-famous circus divilment to Residential and Care homes around Carlow.

Jazz hands, tantrums and taking on the system, Carlow native and festival favourite Cian Kinsella returns with a live version of his online gardening/circus show GROW.


Swan Lake The Game is a remix of the famous Russian ballet from the Netherlands, but torn apart and put back together again in the form of an online event, hosted in a unique virtual theatre environment (the NITE hotel) – its virtual doors open to host the digital version of the performance. This immersive experience brings you into the story as never before. Together yet apart from other spectators, you move through the digital theatre space, from act to act, as a damselfly.

Featuring Lego, a storyteller, action figures, live video cameras and online resources, Prometheus, is an interactive online show from Catalonia for children. It retells the Greek myth of the original fire-starter. In defiance of Zeus, Prometheus gives human beings the gift of fire. For his disobedience, he gets tied to a rock for eternity, while an eagle nibbles his liver.

Malaprop, one of Ireland’s leading new theatre companies are presenting their new work Where Sat The Lovers: Epistles at CAF 2021.The work will be serialised and distributed using WhatsApp, audio notes and videos to create a story that runs across both Cork Midsummer and Carlow Arts Festivals.

The House Never Wins is an award-winning interactive game theatre piece that you can play from the comfort of your own home. Exploring the climate crisis, self-isolation and gambling with the planet’s future. This award-winning interactive theatre experience invites you to play what seems to be a simple game of blackjack in the casino called “The House”. However, there’s a catch. Whilst trying to pit your luck against the dealer, you also must keep The House alive.

Kilkenny composer Patrick McGlynn has been commissioned to create a serialised audio work designed to be written to fall asleep to. Join The Reverie Engine on a surreal daily audio trip. Part podcast, part game, part daydream – take a personal journey through a serene, surreal world.



Virtual Reality Cinema (at Home) will continue in 2021 with content sourced from some of the most exciting and forward looking festivals internationally such as SXSW, Raindance Immersive and Tribeca. Audiences can fall through an enormous structure made from words, drawings and stories in Chalkroom by Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang, experience teenage feistiness with Lupe, played by Rosario Dawson (Men in Black, Sin City) in the stunningly animated punk adventure Battlescar, Kowloon Forest brings us to Hong Kong where we get up close and personal with 5 strangers. Your Spiritual Temple Sucks brings us to the Afterworld. For fine arts lovers, in (Hi)Story of a Painting, brings you on a  journey into the story behind La Grande Jatte, an iconic painting by Georges Seurat. Common Ground is a documentary that explores the notorious Aylesbury Estate, home to thousands of South Londoners, and a concrete monument to the history and legacy of social housing in the UK. And for children, they will travel to lands fantastical In the Land of the Flabby Schnook where a sister brings her brother into a succession of dreamlike tableaux where everything comes alive and through which her little brother learns to confront his fears.

Beginnings, endings, and all life in between feature in the Saolré programme of short Irish films screening this year. Films include Ballast (Winner: Award for Debut Fiction Short at Film Fleadh 2020. A man struggles with loss),  Paddy (Winner – Best Irish Short – Catalyst International Film Festival 2021. London, late 70s: Patrick discovers Punk!), Armour Off (A dancer with a disability shows us her kitchen as her stage), Cailín Álainn (Tender bi-lingual drama about a trans teen), Drifting (Starring Paul Mescal and Dafhyd Flynn – Friends find themselves at a crossroads), Imprints(An exploration of time through cine reels.)  Ruby (A short film about love, death and crap anniversary gifts), The Ferry (short mystery and a heart-felt drama exploring the themes of secrecy, family loss, and regeneration, set against the backdrop of mother and baby homes in small town Ireland), To All My Darlings (Powerful short film drama on contemporary Ireland).

Connected to the festival focus on Architecture with the brief opening up of the former Braun site to artists, Carlow Arts Festival will screen Architecture on Film –  a programme of architecture led short films featuring theatrical, urban, poetic and historical themes. Films include Lionheart – thoughts, poems, architecture, (Poetry, architecture and mental wellbeing), Topiaskop (Demolition follows construction follows demolition), Troiane (In one single night, in October 2018, rain and wind tore down 14 million trees, transforming a lush mountain landscape in northern Italy into an apocalyptic landscape, The Women Of The Bauhaus (A homage to the forgotten Bauhauswomen).

The Latin American Dance Film programme features documentary and fiction, and represents a slice of the expansive creativity that condenses a colonised, mestizx, globally ascendant, migrant, contradictory, corrupt and extremely happy land: America (Latina) – (Latin) America. Films include Un Día Caza (by Moguillansky and the Krapp Group), La Fuerza (dance in spite of the body’s challenges), Dancehall Weather (collaboration between the acclaimed artist Cecilia Bengolea and the creative power of Jamaican Dancehall dancers), September Days (dance as a life remembering game by Jazmin Chiodi and Alexandre Iseli), SETE (a work of Gentleman da rua discussing masculinity and kindness), Desnudamento Público das Paixões (mini-choreographies of passions behind the screen), About Questions, Shames and Scars (reflects on how questioning about racism can be harsh, and sometimes as oppressive as racism itself when you demand someone to speak) and Diablitas, Diablitos y Almitas. Danzando la vida y la muerte (a group of children learn their ancestral dances and reflect on their complex and diverse current society).

In 2018 Carlow Arts Festival brought the award winning Canadian play Mouthpiece to Carlow, this year organisers are delighted to present the critically acclaimed film adaptation. A powerful, funny and highly original look into the conflicted psyche of a fiercely independent millennial woman – played by two actresses simultaneously.


ARTWORKS, Carlow Arts Festival and VISUAL Carlow’s annual Open Submission exhibition and Art Awards, is titled Woman in the Machine and works from 22 artists have been chosen as part of the exhibition, which will be presented in the galleries at VISUAL, online and at the former Braun Factory site in Carlow. This year’s ARTWORKS open call exhibition invited submissions by artists working at the intersections between art, science, technology and new media. This rich selection of artists’ work captures our current technological moment through electronic music, photography, film, painting and sculpture.

With the overarching theme of ‘native botanicals’, renowned graphic artist Maser will design and hand paint an original mural for Carlow during this year’s Carlow Arts Festival. The mural will be a meeting point for the community that encourages positive engagement and open discourse, while Spraoi will be creating installations through the town centre

A beautiful Postal Project from Sophie Béhal, Maeve Lynch, Cliodhna O’ Riordan & Rosie O’Reilly will see members of the public receiving a piece of post. 100 sets of posted artworks – a material connection to an outside world during a time that for so many of us has meant no outside world will be distributed.


As well as being the venue for 2d films, sound installations, VR films and art works, we will be hosting numerous events in the Virtual Festival Campus over the course of the festival, including a guided tour of the festival campus in Alt Space. Other events will take the form of Campfire conversations: including artists featured in this year’s festival and a conversation on NFT’s (aka non fundable tokens). Discover how they are impacting the art world.


Carlow Arts Festival is partnering with ISACS, Dublin Dance Festival, National Circus Festival, The Performance Corporation and Emma Martin’s United Fall to deliver a year-long residency for performing artists. This project is in partnership with 8 County Councils (Carlow, Kilkenny, Dublin City, South Dublin, Kildare, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow). This will be a focused time for artists to develop their practice through mentoring, training, international collaborative sessions, travel, and showcasing opportunities at Carlow Arts Festival, Dublin Dance Festival, National Circus Festival and Danseu Festival (Catalonia). It will be supported by a bursary and will be a deeply re-energising time for our most precious resource – our artists.

Information on the festival’s Covid safety compliance at live events is available from the festival HERE.

About Luke Dunne

Luke is a writer, film addict and Dublin native who loves how much there is for film fans in his home county. A former writer for FilmFixx and the Freakin' Awesome Network, he founded Film In Dublin to pursue his dual dreams of writing about film and never sleeping ever again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *