Panchaea, new socially engaged artwork by Denis Roche in collaboration with Emma Finucane, Brian Maguire and mental health service users in Carlow, is currently on show at the VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art, Carlow. 

Using the metaphor of a search for the utopian island of Panchaea, this major commission by Carlow Local Authority Arts Office as part of the Per Cent for Art Scheme addresses the loss of sense of self, social stigma and isolation that can occur for a person living with a mental illness. Through a number of initiatives, the artists and participants embarked on a journey to illuminate the ways in which people with a mental illness experience life in their community.

In a two-year engagement with the local community and the HSE, the artists explored themes of identity, location and visibility for people using the mental health service in Carlow. Emma Finucane attended a day clinic in Leighlinbridge for six months, where she worked with clients making prints of locations that held personal significance to each individual. Brian Maguire set up a painting studio in one of the disused wards in St. Dymphna’s Psychiatric Hospital in Carlow. Here people attended weekly painting workshops and painted together with the artist. The results of these engagements will form part of the exhibition.

During a residency in VISUAL, Roche positioned the gallery as a site of production for a boat, exploring through this process the potential to reach alternate or imagined territories. Together with Master Shipwrights from the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross and clients from the Dolmen Studios, a river boat has been built and will be launched as part of this exhibition in the water feature at VISUAL on 26 April.

Denis Roche studied at NCAD where he received an MA in Fine Art, and Goldsmiths College, London where he received an MSc in Cognitive Computing. He makes socially engaged art that has its basis in the dialogical and the relational. He was the curating artist on the OpenWindow Project, an art installation that was the subject of a clinical trial in the National Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, St. James Hospital, Dublin. His work has been presented at MoMA, IMMA, the Smithsonian Institute and the National Naval Medical Hospital, USA.

Panchaea: Residency & Exhibition Dates

Venue: VISUAL Centre for Contemporary Art & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre, Old Dublin Road, Carlow.

Residency in Studio Gallery: 1 February – 21 April: Members of the public are invited to participate in the construction of the river boat, and to visit the studio during its construction.

Exhibition in Studio and Link Galleries: 26 April – 24 May

Panchaea: Lecture and Panel Discussion, 26 April at 2.30 pm in the galleries at VISUAL

Lecture: Mind, psychosis and creation: Erik Thys, KU Leuven, Division of Psychiatry

Followed by a panel discussion with Professor Declan McGonagle, NCAD (Chair); Erik Thys, KU Leuven, Division of Psychiatry; Denis Roche, Artist; Brian Maguire, Artist; Emma Finucane, Artist; Sinead Dowling, Arts Office & Emma Lucy O’Brien, VISUAL Carlow.

For more information please tel: 059-9172400 or email:


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