In advance of Bloomsday, the ULYSSES European Odyssey 2022-2024 project brought its fifth and final Partners' Gathering to Dublin this week. The Dublin GASS (Grand Arts & Society Symposium), was hosted by the Trinity Long Room Hub with the British Council Ireland as its symposium partner. 

For the past two years, this large-scale European collaboration led by Brave New World Producties with lead artistic partner ARTS OVER BORDERS has taken place across 18 cities in 16 countries, producing artistic responses in public spaces to social and cultural themes identified in the 18 episodes of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Seán Doran and Liam Browne are the Artistic Directors of Arts Over Borders. Commenting on the project’s inspiration, Liam pointed to the centenary of the publication of Ulysses in 2022 and the associated celebrations in Ireland but said “what interested us more than anything was that Joyce was a European.”

“The fact that he wrote Trieste, Paris and Zurich at the end of the novel itself was almost a statement of saying that these places were so important to him.”

From there, the project directors started identifying a contemporary theme from each episode of the literary masterpiece to prompt new ways of engaging with it.

Finding appropriate partners was the next step, explained Liam, who highlighted the hesitation among partners because they hadn’t actually read Ulysses. “The only requirement we had for partners was that their public event should be in some way related to a public space in their city because Joyce had always argued that the city was a great civilising influence.” He also noted the importance of coming back to the public space post-Covid and engaging citizens outside the arts.  

The project, co-funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Ireland, includes 18 public symposia in each city with the goal of creating a new arts and society charter for Europe.  

Contemporary arts and society themes from socio-ecological challenges to urban renewal have been explored in each city’s mini-symposium and will result in a published creative statement, structured in the form of 309 questions (as inspired by Episode 17 of Ulysses) regarding the role the Arts could play in society for a better future Europe. The creative statement, chARTer 309, will be published on the UEO website in the Autumn of 2024.

In Dublin, artistic partner Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) held a multidisciplinary festival on the theme of home from June 7-9 with a series of events featuring prominent Irish writers and musicians (HOMESWEETHOME).

The last of the public events as part of the UEO Project will take place across Derry and Donegal from the 13-16 June. The ‘YES Festival’ —Ireland’s inaugural all women artists festival-- is a cross border and cross community programme of events inspired by the final Episode 18 (Penelope) of Ulysses, more familiarly known as Molly’s Soliloquy.

The project will culminate in the publication of a book, ULYSSES European Odyssey, in which 18 innovative writers (one from each city/region) will be commissioned to write a response to their city and theme.

ULYSSES European Odyssey 2022-2024 project partners on front steps

Liam said the journey through the project has been “transformative” and has reaffirmed the importance of pan-European collaborations. Coming back to Ireland for the final stages of the project, including to his and Seán’s hometown of Derry, also has a special significance. After capturing diverse voices across Europe, “coming back to Ireland, to Dublin then crossing the border to Derry, that feels like a fitting finale.”

Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, welcomed the international partners to  this week’s GASS symposium. Speaking about the significance of the project, she said: 

“The culmination of the Ulysses European Odyssey in Dublin and Derry will bring to a close a vivid and dynamic engagement with European democracy at a time when that democracy is increasingly under threat. The shaping of a new charter for art, culture, and society-- brilliantly imagined by the project’s European partners in response to Joyce’s 1922 epic -- takes literature right to the heart of the challenges currently facing this continent and its citizens.”