Things We Throw Away: reinventing urban spaces through street art opera (70’)

Brian Irvine (Composer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition



7 street art operas for orchestra, soloists, chorus, projected animation and puppetry. Commissioned by Dublin County Council, Wide-Open Opera and Waterford Walls, premiered 4/5 July 2014 various locations throughout Dublin. He Did What? (Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, 2018) Two Angels Play I Spy (Waterford Walls Festival, 2019)

Aims and Context

Things We Throw Away aims to illuminate and interrogate hidden social details of human existence by reimagining the format of contemporary opera and the manner in which it connects with audiences. The works occur in public spaces or are projected on the sides of commercial buildings, reinventing urban spaces as artistic arenas whilst eroding the distinction between place and non-place. This allows a dialogue to emerge between the implied function of a place and the works’ content: He Did What? (2019) addresses age and poverty and has been projected/performed on the walls of social security buildings, banks and hospitals across Europe, and in New York.

Methodology and Findings

The works builds upon the composer’s established methodologies for combining musical, visual and theatrical elements: the superimposition of large orchestral scores, voice, animation, objects and puppetry e.g. a discarded singing ironing board (Ironing Board Blues). The audiovisual language combines elements of contemporary culture and media to reflect the tension between the shared and disparate identities of an accidental audience (Banana Woman). A triadic relationship combining this musical language, the social/political content, and place, forms the model for interrogation.

With over 525 performances on streets, walls and buildings throughout Europe, and in New York, the format of the work has subsequently provided a broadly-applicable solution to the need for artistic experience which is participatory, in the broader sense of reimagining urban space and its social function, whilst also effectively addressing the social and artistic restrictions imposed by the Covid19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDublin
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 4 Jul 2014


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