My name is Éireann Lorsung. I am a writer and an artist. I live in a place that is called Maine, on the east coast of what is called North America, in a small rented apartment from which I can sometimes smell the ocean. For a long time I lived on the other side of that ocean, mostly in a small country not many people think about, that goes by many names even from the inside.
Artist’s statement: migration
Living as an immigrant in France, the UK, and Belgium formed my artistic practice as well as providing subject matter for it. My practice became a way of caring for, attending to, and documenting everyday life—external and internal. This close attention to very circumscribed landscapes became a way of pushing back against the flattening expectation of assimilation. I could record the facts of my legally stipulated boredom and isolation (while waiting for papers, I was not permitted to work or go to school) and the facts of the beauty and dailiness I perceived while waiting. In the garden and at my desk, I never had to show my papers. These places were a respite from the intense visibility of borders and governmental buildings. Making art reaffirmed my ways of seeing as real against a background of others’ different, dominant seeing. Now that I once again live in the US (2020), I continue to make work about migration. This new work is an attempt to come to terms with what it has meant to lose my right to remain in places I once lived and traveled through with some freedom, and with what it means to have lost places—a garden, a house, a country, a language—I made my own.
I am interested in the landscapes, relations, and objects that are encountered by ordinary people in ordinary moments, and that shape and transform us in ways we could not predict, giving rise to questions and understandings continually in revision.
I have been brought to understand the centrality of the ordinary not only by artmaking and writing (both of which require small, daily labors to accrue meaning) but by the practice of my own everyday life. Walking, gardening, sewing, teaching, preparing food, and doing household work all require ongoing attentiveness. They reward this, too.
In my walking and looking practices, I consider how daily life both provides material for and suggest forms of—or creates—art and thought. There is nothing beneath notice, and nothing that cannot teach me to think. Care for daily life as source and object of thought underlies my work.
Locality for me has to do with the ways I travel—foot and bicycle—and with the value I place on ordinary sites: kitchen, yard, sidewalk, neighborhood. My work engages with locality as an ethical and aesthetic guide; staying close to home reminds me that art can be and is made in very ordinary locations, and that familiar places can and do continue to teach me how to see.
PhD, Critical Theory, University of Nottingham (UK), 2013
Experimental Drawing, Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery, 2012
MFA, Creative Writing, University of Minnesota (US), 2006
Graduate Minor: Studio Arts (printmaking, art theory, book arts)
Summer printmaking intensive, Scuola Internazionale di Grafica (IT), 2005
BA English (hons.), BA Japanese language/literature, University of Minnesota, 2003 Summa cum laude
Left: Dull and incapable (Euphorbia), from the series I’m feeling…,
watercolor on Stonehenge paper, 2016
Emery Community Arts Center, Farmington, ME (US), Voyager (2020)
Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, Passion2Print, Rugby, UK (2010)
Gallery 12A, with Liza Lee, Doncaster, UK (2010)
Rufford Craft Centre/Leicester City Gallery, Passion2Print, UK (2009)
Leicester Print Workshop Printmaker of the Season, Leicester, UK (2009)
View from the Top Gallery, S I X, Nottingham, UK (2009)
Rufford Craft Centre/Leicester City Gallery, Passion2Print, UK (2008)
View from the Top Gallery, Fresh Art + Design, Nottingham, UK (2008)
View from the Top Gallery, Green Art, Nottingham, UK (2008)
Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop and Gallery, Oh, my England (installation), Nottingham, UK (2008)
Regis Center for Art, Language/history (installation), Minneapolis, MN (US) (2005)
Right: I am still my child self floating in my grown-up self (foxes),
etching with chine collée on Rives BFK, 2009
In 2006 I left the US for a job in rural France. That began my migration.
Like other immigrants, when my first visa elapsed I found ways to remain. Like other immigrants, I loved some things about the places I lived, disliked others. Like other immigrants, I encountered systems interpersonal, structural, educational, informal, formal, and legal that required me to compromise my senses of difference and of self in response to interpersonal and institutional demands for assimilation.
Unlike immigrants of color, Black immigrants, immigrants from the Global South, and Muslim immigrants, I generally did not suffer for my immigrant status unless I chose to—chose to speak the language in my own voice (however badly or well!), asserted solidarity with other immigrants, refused certain kinds of work, refused certain kinds of assimilation. Perceptions of my ‘goodness’ were often bound up with what others assumed about my whiteness, my fluency, and my family connections, benefits of the doubt I rarely saw extended to immigrants as a category.
In a ground-floor administrative office in eastern France in 2006, I waited to find out whether my salary disqualified me from receiving state housing benefits. Looking around, I realized that I was one of the only white people there; most were women of North African descent. I had observed how the white French teachers at the school where I worked spoke about Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan students; I had seen the way shopkeepers treated old women wearing headscarves. I also saw very quickly that most people around me assumed that, because I was white, I would share these attitudes and behaviors.
The benefits office was a long bus ride out of town, in a suburban housing project whose concrete towers couldn’t have been more different from the eighteenth-century buildings in the town itself. As I waited, I realized that the location of this office was not accidental; its geography was an expression of deliberate exclusion and differentiation that had social, political, and personal effects on the people who lived nearby, as well as on those who lived in the beautiful limestone and timber buildings in town. And I realized that the office, its location, the people around me, and what these things meant implicated me, too.
Living as a white immigrant in the EU, I experienced the ways that immigration disenfranchises, disempowers, and segregates immigrants legally and socially. But I also came to see how my own racedness gave me access and power that immigrants of color did not have. This was a lesson in solidarity: I could either be content that at least in some ways I was not penalized for being an immigrant because of my race, or I could refuse that contentment and align myself with people who, in any given situation, did not have the access I did. The lesson was not instant: I am still learning to perceive where my power is and what other people require of me (rather than what I assume they need from me).
Becoming an immigrant began my education; living for years outside the US deepened it; belief in a universal right to a meaningful education has become what drives it. My lived education has been enriched by the work of bell hooks, Christina Sharpe, Dorothy Wang, Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, Ntozake Shange, Sara Ahmed, Eula Biss, and Claudia Rankine. These thinkers have been foundational in my education in power, shaping my thinking about inclusion and equity in and out of the classroom. Their work stimulated the inquisitive habits of thought I developed during my PhD in Critical Theory, but it exploded the very white, very male field I had spent years immersed in. This explosion didn’t feel like loss. It felt like I was being offered a way toward a very different kind of world. I hope to work alongside others in and toward that world.