The best cocktail is composed of artfully blended high quality elements; a principle spirit with supportive modifying agents giving character to the mix and enhanced by judicious inclusion of bitters, cordials, or some such special ingredient. Voila! A riot of flavor designed to whet the appetite. This description could well describe the experience of ACIS 2015, held from Wednesday March 25th to Saturday March 28th in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The conference, with 255 participants, 9 sessions, 70 panels, 8 roundtables, 2 keynote addresses, a showcase of poets, book launches and sumptuous catering—along with luxury accommodations and the added bonus of that special ingredient, the beach—provided a rich compendium of flavors for the conference connoisseur.
It is peculiar that liberation from sexual enslavement has recently inspired a situation comedy T.V. series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which is located in New York City and based on a young woman’s adjustment to life after rescue (created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Netflix 2015). The first keynote, with Moynagh Sullivan (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), explored the experience of motherhood, confinement, and recurrent birth in Emma Donoghue’s Room (2010). The compression of time and space in Room (Room is also a character in the novel), creates a gestation period for Jack lasting over five years, since he was born to his mother, Ma, who was kidnapped while only a teenager and incarcerated in sexual slavery ever since by old Nick. Ma’s resilience and creativity feed his growing body and soul, while her own eventually begin to falter due to mental anguish and lack of nourishment. Jack’s second birth by escaping from Room marks the beginning of the slow but necessary separation of Jack from Ma. Sullivan explained how Ma must not only ensure his safe passage into the world outside, which until now he has encountered only through T.V., but she must also guarantee his subsequent successful negotiation with it. It is clearly a more dangerous place than that encountered remotely from the safety of Room/Womb. Only then can Ma truly survive and even triumph, damaged but bizarrely intact, after so many years of abuse. Bed, wardrobe, remote, rocker, tooth, and even old Nick were presented as supporting characters in Jack’s world as the drama unfolds. When he breaks out from the comfort of this one complete, albeit very small world into another, much larger and perhaps less dependable milieu, Jack longs for the security of Room—where everything he knew was useful and beautiful—one last time. Sullivan’s interrogation of the challenges of motherhood and its relationship to creativity and safety, and her assessment of the relationship between the characters, both living and inanimate in Room, was thorough, intriguing, and undoubtedly will lead many to pick up the book for a second or third time.
Although enslavement and defilement were subjects in a number of panels and one keynote, the theme of home, comfort, and beauty was also represented. The saying “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” is attributed to William Morris and could perhaps be implicitly applied to his room from Jack’s point of view. Morris, an English textile designer, was associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement that flourished between 1880 and 1910. The movement also made its way to Ireland and is the subject of an exhibition being organized by members of Boston College’s Irish Studies faculty and the McMullen Museum of Art. In this panel, it was explained that the movement in Ireland took place at the same time as the Irish Literary Revival, and one of the goals of the exhibition is to identify links between the two. Developments in crafts, particularly textiles, art glass, and printing led to a revitalized visual arts movement in Ireland between 1890 and 1930, a period of great political change in the country. Vera Kreilkamp (Boston College) outlined the exhibition, which will display domestic and ecclesiastical works from private and public collections. Kelly Sullivan (New York University) gave an illuminating talk on the contribution of Harry Clarke’s stained glass and book-illustrations to this movement, along with commentary on the development of his unique style and his penchant for self-portraiture. Incidentally, Clarke’s masterpiece, “The Geneva Window,” commissioned by the Irish Freestate Government for the International Labour Building at the League of Nations, Geneva in 1930, was subsequently rejected as being unsuitable by the government. After leading a peripatetic life, it was finally purchased by Florida International University and may be viewed in all its magnificence at The Wolfsonian in Miami Beach, and online. Virginia Teehan (University College Cork) introduced the holdings of the Honan Chapel, completed in 1916 and located at University College Cork. The holdings include all furniture, windows, floor mosaics, beautiful vestments, wall hangings, liturgical textiles, and silver vessels are all intact. These are representative of the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland, many of which will be included in the exhibition. The commissioning of the chapel lent needed support to the Cork community of craft workers during the First World War. Until relatively recently, the experience of visiting an exhibition could be remembered and relived primarily by visiting its catalogue. How many catalogues sit on high or low shelves, or are in boxes, kept for some nostalgic motive as testaments of cultural endeavor? Joe Nugent (Boston College) explained how the Arts and Crafts exhibition of 2016 will also be produced as an interactive digital showcase. Visitors will be able to wander through this virtual exhibition via the Internet, and access text, audio, and 3D renderings related to each of the contextualized objects in the exhibition.
Time, at conferences such as this—with as many as nine panels running concurrently—permits limited experience as one considers the choices on the program. The flow of participants convening briefly in the central communal space for commentary and sustenance between panels, then moving on to the next choice, meant that each of us created our own unique conference. The theme, “Irish Speculations: Space, Time, History,” did not really impose any parameters, and although the word speculation appeared in some titles, it wasn’t clear that conjecture, suppositions, assumptions or even gossip played particularly important roles (though they may well have emerged as important elements in those unscheduled but most important spaces on the program, the down-time.). The repeated posing of the question “What do you think is the best thing about this conference anyway?” drew similar responses time after time and referred invariably to how those blank spaces on our programs were filled. “Time to meet up with everyone again” and “Its great to meet new people.”
Each day in Fort Lauderdale provided the ingredients for a loaded concoction. The report above represents just a quick taste of my flavorful potion. Mixing it all up with a splash of whateveryourhavingyourself, culminated in a delightful feeling of wellbeing. "My mind is possessed by a glorious disorder for this last while as a result of the rushing wonders of culture..."
Oh, and by the way, Cocktail Flow is a really handy app for your smartphone or tablet. Get it.
 William Morris, Britishmuseum.org. The British Museum. Accessed March 4, 2015.
 Harryclarke.net, The Wolfsonian Museum. Florida International University. Accessed March 4, 2015.
 Alan Titley, The Dirty Dust . Trans. of Cré na Cille. Máirtín Ó Cadhain. (Yale University Press, 2015), 22.