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VAN September/October 2013: Critique Supplement | Helen O’Leary at Catherine Hammond Gallery


Helen O’Leary A small place to do nothing, 2013, wood construction and egg oil, 32 x 32 x 5 cm

Helen O’Leary
‘Irregular Activity’
Catherine Hammond Gallery, Glengarriff, West Cork
July 19 – 15 August 15


I suspect that the economy of picturesque Glengarriff is driven by tourism; one might say the town’s ‘regular activity’ is the business of souvenir and craft shops, for the summer months at least. From street side flowerboxes to spinning postcard stands, it’s a flamboyant town. The Catherine Hammond Gallery is a shaft of white amongst the colour, a space of refuge from the bustle.

Helen O’Leary’s solo show marks the gallery’s 10th season. ‘Irregular Activity’ begins and ends with an enormous abstract painting, but almost every exhibit in between is described on the price list as ‘wood construction.’ These pieces are smaller, shaky rectangles, three-dimensional yet wall-mounted. Many remind me of looking out the window of an aeroplane at the height at which the landscape’s details become indistinct, just before the patchwork of fields is swallowed by cloud. The lines are soft; the shades are washy. There are fitful ruptures of brightness, like the sun peeping through and lighting up a swatch of earth, just for a second.

O’Leary’s bright ruptures are accidental daubs of paint from pictures past; their appearance is as arbitrary as the breeze because the constructions are made from the recycled wood of old paintings, frameworks already collaterally damaged by the splatters, spills and stains of the artist’s process. They are off-cuts, shards, corners and rims rescued from the studio scrapheap and revivified in a commendable spirit of thrift. Instead of putting more stuff in the world, O’Leary has managed to make precious that which was once discarded.

Despite the rejects they rose from, there is nothing haphazard or slipshod about the exhibited artworks. O’Leary’s patient effort is evident from her finished forms. She has sawed little joints into the ends of flittered panels before carefully fitting them together. It looks like a process as frustrating as solving a puzzle without any clues, or building a jigsaw with no picture on the box, no box, no beginning or end. Each scrap becomes a tiny scaffold for the scrap which comes after; they grip together and hold one another up. As structures, they are uncertain; as artworks, they are spirited, assured. I imagine this is how Calder’s mobiles might look if struck down from their strings and fused together.

The pieces of the series entitled Armour are distinct amongst wood constructions; they are darker than their fellows, and more mysterious. Each network of scaffolding is partially obscured by a painted façade; each façade is built from abutting bits of panel. O’Leary’s paint of choice is tinted egg oil, a substance better known for its treatment of skin and hair conditions. Armour’s shades are bold but solemn: stone grey, purple brown, olive and brilliant white. The fissures between bits create a false perspective; the angles seem to sneakily shift themselves each time I move my head.

The two sparest of the series bear resemblance to sheets of paper with a corner folded, as though someone had tried to mark their place in a wordless book the length of a single page. Many other of the series have tiny gaps in the façade, like peepholes. A peep reveals their timber bones.

While I find O’Leary’s titles generally a little too grandiose, the choice of Armour is perfect; if the aforementioned constructions are holding each other up, these pieces are simply holding themselves, hugging their knees, shielding their spindly innards from passing peepers.

In the case of Where things settle and Refusal, the mixed media paintings on linen, the view from my aeroplane window becomes that of a colourful crash. The brushstrokes are reckless, the surfaces peppered with debris. The two paintings chosen to bookend the exhibition are contrary in spirit to the placid landscapes of the wood constructions; they are striking, yet familiar.

In the Catherine Hammond Gallery, all but the piece for which the show is named are wall-mounted. Irregular Activity – the story of some stands on a lonely pedestal, looking unexpectedly solid. It makes me imagine how, if every wood construction stood side by side and close together, they’d coalesce into the framework of a tiny shanty town, each dwelling imperfectly armoured against the elements.

Even though no one can shelter in O‘Leary‘s artworks, and the world is already so crammed with stuff, there’ll always be a snatch of extra space for small edifices of such resourcefulness, such quiet strength.

Sara Baume is a writer based in East Cork 

VAN September/October 2013: Critique Supplement: ‘New Irish Works’, PhotoIreland 2013


Eithne O’regan, Plane, from the series ‘Any moment Now’, 2012, all images courtesy of PhotoIreland

‘New Irish Works’
PhotoIreland 2013 
Published July 2013 
ISBN 978-0-9576849-0-4


PhotoIreland 2013 spanned Dublin, Limerick and Cork, occupying multiple venues throughout these cities. The festival was ambitious in its scope and the variety of lens-based media, which included the work of established international artists such as Gerard Byrne at Temple Bar Gallery and Willie Doherty at IMMA, Earlsfort Terrace. The exhibition ‘New Irish Works’ was a key element of PhotoIreland 2013, presenting photographic projects by 25 emerging artists, selected from an open submission by a panel of curators. The show was split across venues in each of the three cities, giving each artist the opportunity to present substantial bodies of work. *

New Irish Works, the stand-alone publication of the same name, offers an overview, bringing together all the works on show. Whilst documentary photography features strongly in the selection, themes such as estrangement, displacement and the sublime are explored in more fragmented, esoteric ways.


Barry W Hughes, Untitled, from the series ‘metastatic’, 2012

There’s also a strong interest in narrative, memory and representation of place. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.** Recollections of past atrocities are symbolically alluded to in the work of Yugoslavian-born Drangna Jurisic. Her strange, disconnected images evoke recollections and memories of Yugoslavia and explore the histories of the representation and the politics of place. Linda Brownlee also explores place, but through a series of intimate portraits of teenagers on Achill. Brownlee’s subjects are placed as mainly solitary figures and, while alluding to issues of isolation and how little there might be to do in this wildly remote area for teenagers today, the work also seems to conjure up a generic sense of angst that forms part of the teenage experience. Another and quite different series of portraits is presented by Grainne Quinlan. The Strawboys examines a dying Irish tradition that reflects the changes in Irish society; the Strawboys have passed from being a symbol of festivity and celebration to something strange and sinister.

The work of Barry W Hughes melds rumour and fiction in his exploration of events surrounding the cast and crew of the 1956 film The Conquerer, who were thought to have been affected by radiation emanating from a US government atomic testing site nearby to the film set. Through a series of pixellated TV images, Hughes’ images ‘re-narrate’ the film, which was directed by Dick Powell and starred John Wayne and Susan Hayward. The eeriness of the images is like a strange echo of Chris Marker’s La Jetee. The title of the work, Metatastic, alludes to cancerous growths and the static electrical charges from TV screens. The overall impact of this work is mysterious and unsettling.

Film Deaths is another series of images plucked from TV screens. In this series, Maureen Brady presents a compendium of 117 deaths from different films. Media analysts have long argued about the increase in ‘compassion fatigue’ through a media saturated with violent imagery of tragedy and suffering. Although Films Deaths might seem a macabre exercise, it highlights the prevalence and relentlessness of violent media imagery and the desensitisation this engenders.


Dragana Jurisic, The Lost Country, 2013, from ‘Yu’

Photography fills frozen moments with a multitude of possibilities, and there is a palpable tension in the work of Eithne O Regan. In Any Moment Now, she seems to seek out strangeness; her images are on the threshold, waiting for something to happen. In one image an aircraft caught mid-descent over a house could be moments before disaster or just another plane landing and the imagination, through the image, can take you to either place.

Photography, unlike other art forms, never seems to lose much in reproduction – perhaps because of its inherent ‘publishability’. The ‘New Irish Works’ catalogue proves an effective way to encounter the works of photographers working in series. In this regard I was drawn back to the pages presenting Roseanne Lynch’s Place. The silence of these enigmatic and elusive images – minimal, geometric tonal studies – leaves space for contemplation. It’s compelling and sublime work – repeated viewing of which is rewarding. I was reminded of what Ansel Adams once wrote about his take on language and the image: “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” ***


Alison Pilkington is an artist based in Dublin. She is currently undertaking a practice based PhD at NCAD Dublin. 


* The full list of ‘New Irish Works’ venues and exhibiting photographers is as follows: Dublin – National Photographic Archive (21 June – 3 August), Barry W Hughes, Dorje de Burgh, Dragana Jurisic, Kevin Griffin, Linda Brownlee, Robert Ellis, Shannon Guerrico; Istituto Italiano di Cultura (25 June – 24 July), Stefania Sapio; Alliance Française (2 July –30 August), Shane Lynam. Goethe Institut (28 June – 26 July), Ethna O’Regan. Instituto Cervantes (11 – 30 July), Paul Gaffney; Limerick – Ormston House (4 – 27 July), Claudi Nir, Cáit Fahey, Caroline Mc Nally, Grainne Quinlan, Ieva Baltaduonyte, Miriam O’ Connor, Roseanne Lynch; Cork – TACTIC (5 – 27 July), David Thomas Smith, Martin Cregg, Maurice Gunning, Muireann Brady, Yvette Monahan, Patrick Hogan, Mandy O’Neill.

** George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1906

***The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, 1981


VAN September/October 2013: Critique Supplement: ‘The Drawing Box’, Ranelagh Arts Centre


Yashwant Deshmuhk, work from ‘The Drawing Box’, pencil on card

‘The Drawing Box’
Ranelagh Arts Centre, Dublin 
18 July – 17 August


‘The Drawing Box’ is the brainchild of Outland Arts member Diane Henshaw (www.outlandarts.org). This collective places an emphasis on sharing skills and ideas with members and non-member artists and the community at large. So it seemed like a natural extension to come up with The Drawing Box, a project that transcends local and national boundaries to connect with artists across the globe.


Kshitish Das, work from ‘The Drawing Box’, pen and ink on card

The form of the project is unusual. It is based on an invite only Facebook group that provides a forum for discussion on contemporary drawing. The group initially comprised Diane Henshaw, Patil Rajendra, Andrew Crane and John Crabtree, but since its inception in December 2012, it has grown to accommodate over 100 artists. Behind the ‘closed doors’ of its Facebook page, members can upload their work, sparking discussion around drawing, and inviting feedback on each contribution. In a social media driven society often saturated with trivial chatter, here is an example of how Facebook can be put to productive use.

The exhibition recently on show at Ranelagh Arts Centre served as tangible evidence of these ongoing discussions and includes artists from many countries. Not only has membership of the group grown, but Ranelagh was only one stop on the show’s global trail, which began in Mumbai, then landed in Enniskillen, stopping in Belfast and Ranelagh before continuing to Kuala Lumpur, the Philippines and a number of other countries, hosted by members along the way.

Five A5 drawings per participating artist are featured in Drawing Box shows, utilising any mode of drawing they wish. This scale of work not only lends itself well to an exhibition constantly on the go, but its lightness and mobility is reflective of the organic flow achieved when works develop in a live forum. The full title of the show is in fact ‘The Drawing Box: An Experimental Socionomic Art Project’ – socionomic relating to the study of how social ‘mood’ regulates social behaviour and, in this case, how these artists influence each other. The essence of this project is fluctuation and evolution.

drawingbox1In the Ranelagh exhibition space, groups of five works by each artist – 38 individuals are represented – were arranged across the walls. It’s evident that there is no theme joining the various clusters together, other than a celebration of drawing*. But confining the works to the same number and size per artist creates a sense of boundaries within which individual styles can flourish. It’s also clear that visitors expecting to be met by a room of classic pencil / charcoal drawings, a forgivable preconception, are in for a – hopefully, pleasant surprise.

While artists such as Yashwant Deshmukh (India) do offer slightly more conventional approaches to drawing in pencil on card, Helen Sharp (Ireland) offers us mixed-media print-like collages made on vintage postcards. Reinhard Stammer (Germany) offers us an explosion of coloured paint and mixed media. Kshitish Das (India) creates surreal almost Alice Maher-like figures, with additional limbs or perhaps in some strange state of metamorphosis, using pen and ink with a free hand. The interest in line and contour, and in the latent potential within mark making, is as predominant in one as it is in the others.

A text written for the exhibition by Slavka Sverakova, titled Meditation on drawing a drawing, thrashes out the concepts surrounding the word drawing, and considers its application to both a durational process imbued with ideas and the tangible object / outcome: a drawing. The text invites us to consider the idea of drawing on a broad scale. On my visit to the show I shared a word with Drawing Box member and Dublin liaison Jean Doyle. Doyle hoped the show would help viewers to think outside the (drawing) box, remarking, “What about drawing with scissors?”

This considerable and varied collection of works all declare the pleasure taken by each artist in mark-making in all its multitude of forms and possibilities. The works certainly encourage viewers to lean in close and engage with each individual work. But one can also take a step back and consider the concept as a whole – the strengths of this ever expanding, internationally diverse group connecting artists, showcasing ideas and technical approaches from across the world. ‘The Drawing Box’ exhibition is evidence of a secret conversation between artists, inviting us to imagine how this dialogue influenced the final works as we see them. We’re prompted to consider all the thoughts and actions behind the marks on paper, to look beyond the immediately visible to the underlying source processes.

Roisin Russell is a writer based in Dublin. Her writing has featured in Paper Visual Art Journal and Circa online. 


*Reinhard Stammer, Lorna Crane, Medhukar Munde, Abigail Stern, Patil Rajendra, Konii C. Burns, Kshittish Das, Andrew Crane, Diane Henshaw, Adrian Deva, John McKie, Revital Lessick, Shintal Gattam, Valerie Jacques Belair, John Crabtree, Carl Heyward, Anna Macleod, Vishakha Apte, Laine Stewart, Mae Estrellita Aguinaldo, Satish Wavere, Jan Valik, Jean Doyle, Stephen Croeser, Rebecca Steelman, Mira Cedar, Alison B. Cooke, Chris Maule, Fiona Robinson,Christine Mackey, Helen Sharp, Yashmunt Deshmukh, Ausra Kezaie, Adrienne M. Finnerty, Andy Parsons, Bernard Bieling, Barbara O’Meara, Licia Battara

VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement – Cora Cummins ‘The Black Rose, The Green Pool and The Blue Sky at VISUAL


Cora Cummins, Pool, HD video, 2013

Cora Cummins
‘The Black Rose, The Green Pool and The Blue Sky’
Visual, Carlow
05 October – 05 January

In her book ‘The Artificial Kingdom’, the writer Celeste Olaquiaga borrows the metaphor of dust to describe the rundown state of dreams in modernity. This exhibition by Cora Cummins, ‘The Black Rose, The Green Pool and The Blue Sky’, employs the imagery of the remnants of private leisure spaces. Like Olaquiaga, she is drawn towards the striations in our minds and the landscape that this accumulation of ‘dust’ can effect.

Pastoral sounds are emitted in waves from two video works in this show, enhancing the sense that these key artworks are quietly reveling in the insistent and potentially overpowering effects of unhindered nature. The camera work in both video pieces is patient and observant. The central focus in the larger of the two video projections, Pool, concerns a geometrically shaped, aging, outdoor swimming pool.


Cora Cummins, Walled Garden 2013, etching and aquatint

In fixed-camera positions, the video piece very slowly circumnavigates this formerly grand space. The cut-stone paving surrounding the pool has been forced upwards by the swelling ground beneath; moss and lichen have long established themselves along the inside wall of the pool. Objects designed to aid human use, such as handrails and a diving board, are encroached upon by nature and seem increasingly stranded and obsolete.

The Fold is an occasional and experimental publication that Cora Cummins co-founded. Issue 8 has been published to form a part of this exhibition. In this sensitively designed issue, we are introduced to eight tangentially connected stories, which relate back to the environs depicted in the works on display. The selection of stories contain an energetic fluidity, moving from a personal family anecdote to macrocosmic and lyrical descriptions by the writer Rebecca Solnit of the colour blue in the earth’s atmosphere. In a story entitled The Green Pool, we learn that Cummins’ grandfather told her as a child about a bed of rare black roses which were removed from an area in this local estate to make way for a swimming pool. While Issue 8 of The Fold stands alone as a beguiling and idiosyncratic art object, it also functions by vectoring potential ‘meanings’ towards other works on display.

The video piece Rose is projected onto a wall adjacent to the Pool projection. Much like Pool, Rose displays an intense and steady concentration, concerning itself entirely with the exploration of a single rose plant. The fixed-camera angles in Pool mirror the geometric human-made forms which populate the work and contrast with the more intimate, hand-held approach at work in Rose. Here the camera weaves and winds in amongst the gnarling tendrils of the rose bush, the angle of the camera mostly positioned upwards, as though mirroring the heliotropic growth-instinct of the plant.

The content and form of these two video works play in subtle and intelligent ways with each other. Aside from the easily identifiable connection between the story of the artist’s grandfather and the pool and rose at the centre of the video works, the other contributions to The Fold criss-cross the videos in oblique ways, drawing attention to the stratified layers of dust which both enrich and challenge our understanding of the landscape and human interventions into it.

Four of the eleven etchings on display in this exhibition depict various types of private gardens. Unlike other works in the show, these images appear entirely removed from their wider landscape. In the print The Walled Garden, for example, the space outside the garden is represented by blankness. Such images lack the tension, or untidiness that this breach brings to bear upon the works. This series of prints seems more cautious than others and as a result they lack a sense of urgency.

The highly personalised and intimate potential of printmaking techniques are used effectively in four different etched interpretations of the swimming pool – present as a subject in both The Fold and Pool. Here, multiple depictions of the same subject underline the sense that our understanding of a place or state of being is ever-shifting, depending on the stories that accumulate around it, or the level of sensitivity we may have to more enigmatic forces such as the changing light reflected in still water.

This exhibition weaves a quiet spell, in which slow but powerful forces have prised open and found fissures in the walls of these private spaces. The dust settling around these particular aging modernist dreams is nuanced and worth sifting through. Ruins can illicit a sublime and melancholic outlook, yet the title of this show suggests that they can also trigger a visionary perspective, whereby stories have the potential to eclipse their concrete sources and spin out in all sorts of wild and independent ways.

Sarah Lincoln is an artist based in Waterford

VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement: Sculpture in Context at National Botanic Gardens


Evelina Wojtowicz, Nothing Softer Than Water, Ceramic

‘Sculpture in Context’
National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin 
5 September – 18 October 2013

Stationed in the verdant surroundings of the National Botanic Gardens, ‘Sculpture in Context’ is an annual open submission exhibition drawing entrants from Ireland and abroad, with some Irish graduate artists also invited to participate. This year there are over 150 artists taking part, the majority working in traditional media including stone, plaster, glass, metal and wood, and drawn from a large pool of both established and less well- known artists.

Installed throughout the 50 acres of gardens, greenhouses and the Visitor Centre Gallery, this is the largest outdoor sculpture exhibition in the country, though there is little in the way of a uniting thread to this sprawling array of works. Many pieces draw on the natural world, with the female form garnering predictable focus, and many offer visual puns relating to their placement.


Claire Halpin and Madeline Hellier, Fordlândia, 2013, mixed media

Nevertheless, throughout the gardens one can experience the anticipation of discovery, unearthing works that are enhanced by and enhance their context. Pieces like the metal blooms of Lynda Christian’s Untitled clamber gloriously over sun-warmed walls. While Celia Moore’s The What-Not’s Dream, a single (found object) drawer, reveals itself between branches, inviting the curious to open it if they dare.

The works displayed outdoors and in the greenhouses are most successful in addressing the idea of context; there is a relationship between the works and the habitat in which they are installed. For example, the delicate porcelain feathers of Karolina Grudniewska’s A Thousand Feathers drift from beneath the branches of its host tree like falling blossom, while Con Gent’s Revealing, a block of cedar wood formed into vertical curves, echoes the same undulating form as the Caucasian Zelkova tree it is positioned next to.

Another tree provides the installation space for Mag O’Dea’s Tree Dressings, where her blown glass balloons bubble lazily out of the cracks and fissures of the ancient gnarled yew like escaping sap, part of the tree itself.

The celebrated Victorian Great Palm House offers an opportune setting for Claire Halpin and Madeline Hellier’s Fordlândia, a mixed media installation that reimagines the town Henry Ford built in the Amazon rainforest in the 1920s in a bid to establish a cheaper source of rubber for the tyres needed by his burgeoning automotive empire. The tiny scale model rests under the Palm House’s imported rubber trees, also displaced from their original habitat into an exotic and hostile environment.

Ford’s hubristic vision of an efficient and productive model town was doomed even at its inception, with his plans to forbid alcohol and women foiled by the building of bars and brothels beyond the settlement’s boundary, and his decision to put engineers, rather than botanists, in charge of establishing his rubber plantation. The enterprise ended in rioting within a year. This reimagined Fordlândia, if left in place, may not endure violence, but like its interloper namesake, will eventually be reclaimed by the jungle.

In the arid confines of the Cactus and Succulent House, the glossy metal capsules of Jesse Gunther’s Desert Ophidians probe the air, for all the world like Star Wars pod racers navigating the pebbled landscape, while the frozen lace form of Jane Groves’ Rain Cloud hovers like precipitation in the damp Curvilinear Glasshouse.


Mags O’Dea, Tree Dressings, blown glass

Other pieces are less in tune with their surroundings, their presence occasionally jarring. Indoors, the Visitor Centre Gallery is a repository for fragile or non-weatherproof objects, offering a jumble of works, wall-mounted and on plinths.

This is a great shame for Evelina Wojtowic’s Nothing Softer Than Water, a diorama of crisp ceramic waves peaking in a central crescendo, which is placed in a corner preventing the viewer from wandering freely around it. Lack of space also restricts comfortable viewing of Tom Dalton’s Angle of Repose, a structure with a mobile wheel driven by a built-in weight, which for now is locked in place, restricting the scope of the work.

The sheer number of works on view at Sculpture in Context is a problem for viewers, as it must have been for the curators. Showing fewer pieces could have more effectively illustrated the breadth of work submitted while allowing for more comfortable and in-depth contemplation.

In terms of exhibition making, the overall feeling with ‘Sculpture in Context’ is of a place being found for work, rather than a sensitivity to the idea of work and context emerging together. To paraphrase Dorothee Richter, How are we to determine meaning from this staging, when it appears to be the result of happy accident when successful, and a lack of reflexivity when not?*

Perhaps this is a question to propose to future iterations of ‘Context’, when we might see its further development into a robust platform for Irish sculpture as well as an opportunity to see myriad works in the context of this engaging setting.

Anne Mullee is a Dublin-based writer and curator. She is currently based at The LAB gallery where she is a freelance curatorial assistant and gallery coordinator.

Notes:  * D Richter, A Brief Outline of the History of Exhibition Making, on www.curating.org, Thinking About Exhibitions

VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement –‘Labour and Lockout …’, Limerick City Gallery of Art


Megs Morley & Tom Flanagan, The Question of Ireland, 2013

‘Labour and Lockout …’
Limerick City Gallery of Art 
9 August – 1 October 2013

‘Labour and Lockout …’ formed part of a nationwide, labour-themed visual arts programme, devised in response to the centenary of the 1913 Lockout. The exhibition, augmented by the seminar ‘Land / Labour/ Capital’, reflected on contemporary labour conditions against the backdrop of the ‘precarity’ prevalent under late capitalism.

Deirdre O’Mahony’s installation T.U.R.F (Transitional Understanding of Rural Features) addressed the ban on turf cutting in certain Irish bogs designated under the EU Habitats Directive. A turf stack installed in the middle of LCGA’s large permanent collection room provided a sculptural focal point and reminder of the material subject in hand. Newspaper clippings, photographic documentation and reading material attested to a bitter standoff. O’Mahony’s documentary film portrayed turf cutting as a self-sufficient, irreplaceable way of life, and alluded to the wider social implications of its loss, beyond the immediate impact on rural communities. Further illustrating the relationship between ‘Irishness’ and the land – as a site of exile, famine and political conflict – O’Mahony included a selection of nineteenth and twentieth century Irish landscape paintings drawn from LCGA’s collection.

Within this frame of reference, Vivienne Dick’s 16mm colour film Rothach (1985) presented a slow horizontal-pan across a vast rural landscape. Amongst the occasional activity depicted in this space, a child’s fiddle playing gradually morphs into screechy b-movie drones, suggestive of impending doom. An acknowledgement of the underlying tensions of mid 1980s Ireland – Irish nationalism versus a desire to embrace European economic modernity – proved pivotal in understanding the wider context of this exhibition, with Rothach providing a psycho-geographic map from which all of the other artworks could plot their co-ordinates.

Anthony Haughey’s DISPUTE (1913 / 2013) documented the 272-day strike by workers of Lagan Brick Factory in Cavan, which closed in 2011 due to the collapse of the construction sector. Although redundancy payments were eventually awarded, the workers’ names and years of service, displayed in horizontal uniformity across the gallery wall, attested to a greater communal loss concealed beneath their modest victory. Haughey displayed some of the last red bricks produced at the factory, inscribed with optimistic words such as ‘justice’, ‘equality’, ‘trust’.

Post-industrial social landscapes were further explored in Sean Lynch’s DeLorean Progress Report, comprising archival material and photographs, as well as cables and car parts strewn across the gallery floor, with a small portable TV perched on an upturned log. This was the latest incarnation of Lynch’s ongoing inquiry, which records the aftermath of the former DeLorean car factory in Belfast, unearthing the financial paper trail, and the whereabouts of original fabrication tools and surviving DeLorean automobiles.

Seamus Farrell’s  Agri-culture (2013) also utilised auto-parts, presenting the windscreen of a tractor, which had pulled a caravan to Ireland from the Netherlands over 20 years ago. Farrell engraved the windscreen glass with a harp and an Irish passport, memorialising a seemingly borderless Europe. Darek Fortas’s Coal Story (2011) traced the development of the Workers’ Solidarity movement in Poland. Portraits of miners and photo-documentation of incidental objects found at the mine sites, express the realities of heavy industry in human terms.

Deirdre Power explored the ways in which people co-exist in Seduction of Place (2013), considering visibility in public spaces; while The Struggle Against Ourselves (2011) by Jesse Jones focused on representations of the body in film, identifying parallels between Hollywood dance spectacles and the constructivist choreography of Vsevolod Meyerhold. Mark Curran’s dimly lit installation The Normalisation of Deviance comprised a stack of printed A4 sheets, accompanied by an unexpectedly soothing sound composition, algorithmically derived from the number of times Michael Noonan has used the words ‘market’ or ‘markets’ in his public speeches since taking office. As a monument to capitalist abstraction, Curran’s artwork reveals economic forces in every facet of life.

Megs Morley and Tom Flanagan’s film work The Question of Ireland (2013) considered the relevance of Marxist ideas in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Scripts were devised by prominent Irish figures and enacted across three sections. The first depicts an educated, middle-aged woman delivering a rant about the demise of the Irish Free State and modern-day negative associations of ‘solidarity’ with conspiracy and terrorism. An account of inner-city life under the current austerity regime is offered by a young Dublin woman, who speaks of ‘neglected places’ and the ‘dismantling of a generation’, calling on the viewer to actively envisage a fairer future. A red-faced gentleman, whose breathless, mocking, comedic delivery recalls a closing-time encounter at a bar, delivers the third act. Following his descriptions of a ‘class-war’ and the ‘gospel of permanent austerity’, the camera pans to an empty theatre auditorium. Then the lights go out and we are left to wonder: Who is listening? Where are the citizens?

Cumulatively, the works in ‘Labour and Lockout…’ looked beyond current economic tunnel vision and long-standing hierarchical formations. Instead, there was a strong emphasis on horizontal collectivity, and meaningful artistic engagement in social and political realities, bearing witness to existing, evolving and alternatives forms and conditions of labour. In the context of the backward- glancing nature of centenary commemorations, this task is as urgent as it is compelling.

Joanne Laws is an arts writer based in Leitrim, who has written for Art Monthly (UK), Art Papers (US), Cabinet (US) and Variant (UK).

VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement –‘False Memory Syndrome’ at Temple Bar Gallery


installation view ‘False memory Syndrome’ TBG+S (forground to background. left to right) works by Sarah pierce, Alan phelan and micheal Boran.

‘False Memory Syndrome’
Michael Boran, Sabina McMahon, Sarah Pierce, Alan Phelan
 05 – 26 September 2013
Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin

In September 2013, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios marked three decades of prominence in Dublin’s designated cultural quarter. The ground floor gallery is an accessible exhibition space, open to the busy street through its entirely glazed south facing façade. Four artists were invited to “imagine alternative histories” for TBG+S in response to their archives, with the results veiling the institution’s literal and metaphorical ‘transparency’ in a number of complex scenarios.*

50 was a very mixed-media installation by Alan Phelan. It comprised a sequence of tableauxs, consuming a large area of the exhibition space. 50 was the number of energetically recycled motifs and in some cases original objects from the loosely archived remnants of a series of fund-raising exhibitions called ‘Multiples’.** Wittily compiled and cross-referenced, these physical histories, arranged in composites and layers, offered potentially endless hours of archeological fun. Phlean’s project was more generous than irreverent, and extended to the participation of others. Sarah Doherty, a recent graduate from DIT, contributed Found (2013), a soap carving that incidentally pointed backwards to an earlier soap piece by Jeanette Doyle. In reconsidering a lavender-infused eye-pillow by Sarah Pierce, the artist’s mother, Harriet Phelan, covered a black eye mask with hundreds of tiny shells.


Sabina Macmahon, A Temple, A Bar, An Excavation and An Elephant Bone

Michael Boran’s set of black and white photographs, Far and Away, depicted wagons parked along cobbled streets, and might have come from the National Photographic Archive just up the road in Meeting House Square. Dusted off images of old Temple Bar perhaps? A humdrum heritage before the cultural circus came to town? Then you notice the anachronisms, suspiciously modern-looking crash barriers, passers-by decked out in modern gear. In fact the photographs were taken in 1991 when Temple Bar was dressed up as a film-set to resemble Boston in the 1890s. Printed here for the first time, the photographs embody their own history; the gap of 22 years between the instance of capture and eventual release is just one aspect of their peculiarly time-warping effect. In an area now synonymous with the creative interpretation of provenance, Boran’s archive brought to light a coalescence of the real and the fabricated, the before then, the then, and the now.

The real and the fabricated achieved a dry synthesis in A Temple, A Bar, An Excavation and An Elephant Bone, by Sabina MacMahon. The artist cornered off an area of the gallery to display artifacts unearthed during a 1993 excavation of the ground directly beneath the gallery space. A miscellany of objects arranged in back-to-back vitrines was clearly labeled and catalogued. Number 17, a ‘Fragment of terracotta’, number 16, an ‘Earthenware pot’. Accompanying descriptions varied from the fulsome to the pithy; the ornately decorated ‘Plate’ had a detailed back-story, while a neighboring lump of matter was simply, ‘Brick’. The style of MacMahon’s presentation rang true, but tales of immolated elephants were less easy to swallow. This dichotomy of truth and fiction was exemplified by the cohabitation of the unlikely ‘Elephant Femur’ with the more prosaic ‘Potato’. Boiled, chipped or fried, the humble potato reminds us of the potential within the ostensibly mundane. An elephant could burn to death on Essex Street, proving that days, like the spud, are protean.

Sarah Pierce presented a video recording of a debate, Artist or Superartist?, hosted by the Temple Bar Gallery in 1998. Donning headphones in time to hear Campbell Bruce say, “The creative act is something that emerges, it is not something that is pre-ordained by words”, I found myself nodding along with the audience. In a debate fixated on language and its determining role in artistic opportunity, no one was cutting words any slack. 15 years later, with art practices increasingly under the aegis of the PhD, I wondered if words had eventually got the upper hand?

An opening night performance saw Pierce sitting before the monitor repeating the words of the participants***. Her practice tends to flatten the temporal spaces between creative events and these overlaps, however precisely layered, benefit from unpredictable slippages. Repetition creates a space, not unlike the one between the shooting and printing of Boran’s photographs (or the spaces between truth and fiction, originality and copy, in the works of MacMahon and Phelan) for a third memory to emerge****. This is less a false memory than a new register, a register that sits between the first instance and its reiteration. Recovering a multi-layered past, the exhibition, smartly curated by Rayne Booth, found lots of new spaces to look at.

John Graham is an artist based in Dublin.


1. Gallery press release
2.‘Multiples’ (1998 – 2003) attempted to make art collecting more accessible while raising funds for TBG+S’. more than 150 artists took part.
3. I didn’t witness the performance. i’m told it was uncanny, weird, compelling.
4. Pierre Huyghe’s Third Memory (1999) is perhaps the best-known iteration of this idea.

VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement –‘Death Drive’ at Galway Arts Centre


Installation view of Siobhan Mcgibbon, What’s between our legs ain’t no bodies business but ours and Stine Marie Jacobsen, It’s less an edit afterwards if you edit while you shoot, image by Aisling Bradley

‘Death Drive’
Vanessa Donoso Lopez, Stine Marie Jacobsen, Maximilian Le Cain, Siobhan McGibbon
07 September – 05 October
Galway Arts Centre 

Developed in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud’s contested Theory of Death Drives posits instincts that strive towards a zero-point of tension; opposed to the life instincts, they yearn to bring the living back to an inorganic state. For the exhibition ‘Death Drive’ at Galway Arts Centre, four artists were invited to consider manifestations of the death instincts in their own work; whether through childhood play, recurring dreams or obsessive re-enactment of traumatic memories.

Seven sculptures by Siobhán McGibbon, dispersed throughout the gallery, punctuate the exhibition. The first artworks the visitor encounters are Parapagus and Omphalo-Ischiopagus, two small skeletons made from human toenails and fingernails. Craniopagus twin headband, in the next room, is a double headband-like form, covered in McGibbon’s trademark thin layer of wax sprouting a growth of human hair. The titles of these works are the medical terms for the different conditions of conjoined twins.

If her use of human residue has shifted from previous combinations with chairs and car parts to the medical grotesque, her exquisite workmanship continues to engender a distinctive mix of fascination and repulsion. The Freudian focus of the exhibition on inorganic states draws the viewer’s attention towards the peculiarity of those parts of our body that evade organic decomposition and are even said to keep growing some time after death. Like bones and teeth, they are the stable mineral part of us that we will leave behind.

Upstairs, an assemblage of second hand furniture and low hanging lights serve as a display setting for Vanessa Donoso Lopez’s playful scenography of craftily mended found objects. Doily flowers, mobiles of tiny paper boats, flags, pinwheels, handmade dolls, spools, feathers, needles, parts of clock mechanisms and various other things are animated with a whirring and clicking simulacrum of life created by electric fans, engines and magnets. With names like A nervous punch of flags interfering with a chasing or The sunflower project revised, each little arrangement invites further contemplation of these repeated acts of collating. The colorful epiphany of time captures the overall atmosphere best: a clock with its second hand slowed down by an adornment of colourful threads.

Three of Maximilian Le Cain’s films are presented in the exhibition. Point of Departure (2007) is a beautifully shot black and white HDV film of an elderly woman (Anna Manahan) in a retirement home. The film works through cuts and repetitions to suggest her confusion between her desire to dress up and go out and her constrained reality. Background (2011) and Areas of Sympathy (2013) push the logic of cuts and edits further in freely juxtaposing 16 mm film, Super 8, HDV and VHS footage. If there are elements of narrative woven into the fabric of images, they do not foreclose our reading of the film, and suggest multiple associations. The mix of elements in Area of Sympathy gives it the final texture of an old VHS, a noisy low contrast medium that breaks down the tension between the black and the white into a greyness that recalls the sandbox experiment described by Robert Smithson to prove the entropic irreversibility of time, in his 1967 essay A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey.

Stine Marie Jacobsen’s wall text printed on vinyl is a sober counterpart to the other works’ sensuousness. In unadorned grey lettering, It’s less an edit afterwards if you edit while you shoot demonstrates Jacobsen’s interest in the verbal re-enactment of visual memories and what this says about our relationship with images. She questions the identification of memory with film, describing a short scene in cinematic terms – a screaming Danish sculptor running towards a river and stepping into it. Unlike with film, we are free to construct this verbally described scene whichever way we want.

The exhibition highlights the best and worst features of the Galway Art Centre’s Georgian premises. The middle room on the first floor, with its elegant fireplace and wooden panelling, enhances the classically smooth forms of McGibbon’s What’s between our legs aint no bodies business but ours. In the adjacent front room, the tall interior window shutters darken the space just enough to complete the impression of a forgotten cabinet of curiosities. Less felicitous is the monstrous electric heater and the none-too-pristine walls of the back room, which jar with the delicate growth of Epidermodysplasia verruciformis (tree man) or the crisp cinematography of Point of Departure.

If they often sin by over-theorising, curatorial propositions can nonetheless offer alternative ways of thinking about an artist’s work and enrich our appreciation. Freud may well have first developed the Death Drives theory as a counterpart to the Pleasure Principle, but there was still plenty of pleasure on offer in this exhibition.

Michaële Cutaya is a writer and co-editor of Fugitive Papers. She lives in Galway.

VAN November/December 2013: Critique Supplement –‘Alphabet’, West Cork Arts Centre


Sylvia Taylor, E For Evening Echo, 2013

21 September – 09 November 2013
West Cork Arts Centre 

As a research exercise, I asked a child, an adult and an artist to recite the alphabet, allotting each letter a word that begins with that letter. I implored them not to think about it too much, to simply say the first thing that popped into their heads. As expected, the child came up with A is for apple, D is for dog, H is for house and so forth. The adult’s words were mostly the same but with a general slant toward more weighty concerns; the cat was replaced by a car, the orange by an oven and the monkey by money. The artist allotted his letters the most unpredictable words, but cheated by thinking too much. He came up with J is for juggernaut, P is for porcupine and, after a brain-racking pause, he conceded X would have to be xylophone.

For the exhibition ‘Alphabet’, 26 artists from Cork Printmakers were issued with a letter and invited to make an artwork in response to it. They were encouraged to “investigate what a specifically Irish alphabet should look like” and “to take on cultural and economic challenges that are relevant to contemporary Ireland”.


Valerie gleason, B is for Burst, 2013

I was surprised to find only one print based on the Early Medieval Ogham alphabet. It came at the very beginning: Zoe Dalton’s A for Alpha. It’s less surprising that several of the artists’ instinctive reactions to the mention of ‘contemporary Ireland’ was one of discontent, despair, even fury. In the exhibition literature, Valerie Gleeson described her B for Burst as a “true reflection of the current state of the Irish economy”. Her letter broke through its clear lines and exploded into a splattered mess. Claire Nagle chose the title Nama for her etching to represent N, and Shane O’Driscoll’s Z for To the Future depicted a tiger’s regal face with two lines of text printed in Irish below. The slogan translates as ‘I’m only sleeping, strength will come into me again’.

Other pieces were less forthright but equally disgruntled. Marianne Keating’s W for Class War was a doctored image of the Dublin Metropolitan Police charging a rally that took place in the aftermath of the 1913 lockout. Sean Hanrahan’s I for Keep your homes, pay no debt makes reference to the days of Daniel O’Connell and the Irish Land League. Both pieces were rooted in the past yet relevant to the current climate of social unrest.

Aspects of the local were present in Paul Le Roque’s F for Forde, which paid tribute to Henry Ford’s link with Ballinascarthy and the tractor factory in Cork city in the 1920s. Sylvia Taylor’s E for Evening Echo was a gorgeously detailed relief on Japanese paper. In front of a wall covered with insects, a badger peruses an animal-oriented edition of the Cork newspaper. Illustrative in style, it bore resemblance to a picture in a children’s book, which was especially apt in the context of the exhibition.

For me, the most interesting artworks were those that took the alphabet’s indelible association with childhood into consideration. This was done darkly in the case of Aisling Dolan’s S for Precious Child and Heike Heilig’s P for Pca, both of which made subtle reference to child abuse. A pca is ‘a creature of Celtic folklore that can assume a variety of forms’ and there was something immensely unsettling about this definition coupled with Heilig’s image of a ghostly figure lingering in a gloomy room. Peter McMorris took a lighter approach in Each to their own H, which cleverly explored classroom politics by underlining the difference between the spelling of the letter H as taught by Protestant and Catholic schools, ‘aitch’ and ‘haitch’, respectively.


Eileen Kennedy, V, 2010, hard ground etching and aquatint

Several artworks incorporated some element of fauna or flora, and it was heartening to find that the suggestion of contemporary Ireland still gives rise to associations with the splendour of the natural world. Aoife Layton’s masterfully executed mezzotint U for Ulchabhin depicted a native barn owl with uplifted wings framed by a U-shaped window, while Tom Doig’s D for Drizzle comprised an assembly of well- watered flowers bloom beneath gathering rain clouds. Shirley Fitzpatrick’s K is for Knowing celebrated our strong mythological connection with nature as well as emphasising the “urgent need for trees to be planted in Ireland” and Georgina Sutton’s etching for X gracefully shunned the xylophone. Axil (latin axilla) depicted an unfolding bud in a simple yet striking symbol of restitution.

Only two artists chose to focus solely on the form of their letter. May Holland’s M shed its amenable curves in favour of bold red and black blocks. Eileen Kennedy’s V was pared back to an inverted heap of parallel lines. Both were eye- catching and gratifyingly uncomplicated, yet overall the exhibition was more interesting for its subtext than for its forms. Each artist eschewed the first thing to pop into their heads and rummaged about a bit, exactly as artists should. The finished prints came together into an alphabet that represents contemporary Ireland in its timely spirit of restiveness.

Sara Baume is a writer based in East Cork

VAN November/December 2013


Mick Kelly and Istvan Laszlo. Luas Docklands Public Art Commission.
Installed August 2013. Commissioned by the RPA, and managed by Visual
Artists Ireland.



5.Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
5.Column. Column. Mark Fisher Space to Think.
6.Column. Jason Oakley Even in Sweden. (Archived)
7.Column. Chris Clarke Status Update.
8.News. The latest developments in the Visual Arts Sector.
9.Regional Focus. Resources and activity accross Cavan.
12.Project Profile. New Others New Difficulties. Jonathan Cummins discusses ‘When I Leave These Landings’, an evolving film-installation project based on conversations with political prisoners. (Archived)
13. Festival. Questions & Change. Bob and Roberta Smith talks about participation, art and democracy.
14.International. Hungarian Connection. John Ward Director of Maurice Ward & Co, and Petra Csizek of ACAX / the Leopold Museum, Budapest, discuss the Leopold Bloom award.
15.Seminar. Resonant Chamber. Joanne Laws reports on ‘Partition’ a seminar held at The City Factory Gallery, Void, Derry (16 –17 July 2013).
16.Residency. Relocations. Anna Marie Savage describes her residency at Cló Ceardlann na gCnoc.
17.How is it Made? Chance is the Objective. Louise Manifold outlines the development of a work created in collaboration with the author Kevin Barry.
18.Project profile. Connecting Domestic Hubs. Alissa Kliest profiles the Household Festival.
19. Critique. Cora Cummins, Visual; Sculpture in Context;False Memory’ TBG&S;Labour & Lockout; LCAG;The Alphabet Series’ WCAC;Death Drive’ Galway Arts Centre(Archived)
23. Career Development. Considered, Stuttering Progress. Ella De Burca considers the guiding principles of her practice.
24.VAI Activity: Show & Tell: Galway. Richard Forrest reports on the VAI Show & Tell session held at 126 Gallery, Galway.
24. VAI Professional Development. Develop Yourself! Artists share their views on the role of training and development in their practices.
25. VAI Help Desk. Reasonable Expectations. What artists should expect from exhibition agreements.
25.VAI Advocacy. Café Culture. VAI’s Common Room Café in Limerick.
26. Organisation Profile. Championing Innovation. A profile of the Luan Gallery, Athlone.
26.Organisation Profile. Food for the Soul. A profile of the Craft and Design Collective, Belfast.
27. Project Profile. The Mayo Collaborative. Marie Farrell, Pat Murphy and Alice Maher discuss Niamh O’Malley’s multi-venue exhibition (31 AUG – 30 Sept), that inaugurated the Mayo Collaborative, a new venture supported by Mayo County Council and the county’s visual arts venues.
28. VAI Consultancy. Street Life. Mick Kelly and Istvan Laszlo discuss their Luas Docklands commission. (Archived)
29.VAI West of Ireland. Clare’s Cultural Climate. Aideen Barry, takes a reading from her cultural thermometer in County Clare.
29. VAI Northern Ireland. Making a Splash. Feargal O’Malley reports on promising new cultural developments in East Belfast, including the Prime Collective.
30.Conference. Listening in Brussells. Sven Anderson assesses ‘Tuned City: Brussels’
30. Conference. Bandwith & Fidelity. Fergus Kelly reports on the Irish Sound Science & Technology Association’s third annual convocation.
31. Project Profile: Relics, Scenarios & Props. A profile of Belfast based PS2′s Galway showing ‘5 ways to say your prayers’.
32. Project Profile. Art For the People. A profile of ‘Art in the Eastside’ East Belfast’s art billboard project.
33. Art in Public Roundup. Public art commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
34.Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.
35. VAI Professional Development. VAI’s upcoming professional development programme events.
36.Artoons. Pablo Helguera’s Artoons – The foibles and ironies of the art world.


‘In Other Words’’ Lewis Glucksman Gallery 22 July – 30 October 2011


‘In Other Words’, the group exhibition at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, transforms the 26 letters of the alphabet into fugitive non-conformists. Neon letters cling indecipherably to a wall, three- dimensional letters are projected falling down the face of a building, other letters seem brash and bolshy, taking the place of the art they are supposed to describe by inflating their own titles. Above all, this exhibition is concerned with the artist’s physi- cal use of text and the potent ability these humble symbols have to light fires in our brains.

Kay Rosen’s work has a spare and pared-back aesthetic. Phantom Limb in Gallery 1 comprises the over-sized white letters ‘p’ and ‘b’, spaced some distance apart against an otherwise black wall. Her strategy, using the work’s title to explore the viewer’s ability to fill-in and complete an artwork, continues in her work Tent in Gallery 2. Rosen examines our ability to construe meaning, while traversing the slippery boundary between reading and seeing. Peter Downsbrough, using a similar aesthetic, utilises our movement through the gallery as a means to heighten communication between his two works. Downsbrough’s pieces are physically slight and, like Rosen’s, ensure the complete work is visible in the mind’s eye of the viewer.

One of the strengths of this exhibition is the man- ner in which it expands upon a subject matter predominantly associated with cerebral activities. ‘In Other Words’ examines the means by which our bodies and their location in the world are implicated and contribute to word formation. Short Cuts, by Erica Van Horn and Simon Cutt, is a walk-in installation derived from an earlier publication. The artists collected verbal expressions from areas around England that describe a narrow passageway between buildings. The quantity and diversity of the words are remarkable but their colour and flair are flattened by an intentionally homogenised presentation in the gallery space.

In White Calligraphy Re-Read, Takahiko Limura explores how nuanced tones can become manifest when words are embodied. In this video work, Limura returns to a 1967 film in which he scratched characters from Kojiki – an early Japanese text – into 16 mm film. The original film has been digitised and is played in the gallery at a slower speed, enabling the artist to voice charac- ters which the video pauses upon.

Many of the pieces in the exhibition use the words of their titles to form the fabric of the artwork. Michael Stumpf’s Massive Angry Sculpture renders these words, expressively, as heavy three-dimen- sional objects stacked upon each other, while the light resin material and timber supports provide contrast through their inherent vulnerability. In Sema Bekirovic’s video work How To Stop Falling, the letters in the title are filmed falling, one at a time, down the facade of a tall building. Tim Etchell’s two part neon work, Will Be, has the viewer scanning the wall of splayed, brightly coloured letters in search of the strident assuredness of neon. The letters re-assemble on a nearby wall, coherent but somehow frustrating. In all these cases, the manner in which the artworks are executed tugs at and resists the direct self-referentiality implied by folding the title into the artwork.

On the window next to Will Be is a small rectangle of text printed onto transparent adhesive. This tract is one of three ‘provocations’ written by Gra- ham Allen, the co-curator of the exhibition. Allen uses these provocations to complicate a piece of work and to emphasise the many academic disci- plines relevant to the exhibition. In this particular text, Allen cites William Blake’s comments on the unsettling quality of words carved into stone, and their terrifying irreversibility. Central to this ex- hibition is a similar commitment to resisting the fixed shape of words. There is enormous scope to expand upon the ideas in this show, stretching and testing the visual power of words, but ‘In Other Words’ embraces the challenges of the subject matter with energy and rigor.

Sarah Lincoln


VAN January/February 2014: ‘Sustaining the Ephemeral’, El Putnam Discusses Nigel Rolfe Masterclass at Live Art Festival


VAI Professional Development Masterclass with Nigel Rolfe at the Dublin Live
Art Festival 2013, photo by Fiona Killeen


During the Dublin Live Art Festival, which took place at the Back Loft from 25 – 29 September 2013, Visual Artists Ireland presented a number of professional development events that addressed a wide range of issues concerning performance art. Included in these events was a master class taught by internationally acclaimed artist Nigel Rolfe and a seminar entitled ‘Sustaining Performance Art Practices’. Both the master class and the seminar raised interesting points and posed questions regarding what it means to be a performance artist living and working in Ireland. As a new arrival to the Dublin art scene, I found that these sessions provided an opportunity to become familiar with local art making and critical practices.

Historically, performance art has emerged from the experimental margins of art making, where the artist makes use of the body, space / place and time to create live works. These works tend to be performed for an audience, though an audience is not required. Performance art is commonly ephemeral and may be connected to a particular site and context, though it can also be documented and distributed by means of other artistic media. With such a vague definition, what does it really mean to be a performance artist? In the master class, Rolfe emphasised that it is not a matter of “anything goes”, but that defining performance art is a complex process and contingent on the cultural context of the work’s development and execution.

Rolfe opened the master class with a lecture, providing a historical overview of performance art in addition to contextualising his own practice within these parameters. Instead of serving as a standard review of art history, his presentation drew connections between the works of established performance artists with conceptual themes and questions, including: action, materials, process and presence. Incorporating anecdotes from his experience into this rich canon of performance art, Rolfe laid out some potential guidelines for being performance artists, and discussed how to elevate and foster this creative practice. The day ended with an hour-long group performance with each participant performing actions while incorporating a range of everyday materials and objects – including yarn, marbles, flowers, and pieces of clothing – which resulted in a cacophonous session of motion, sound and images.

The ‘Sustaining Performance Art Practices’ seminar offered an opportunity to address the more practical questions associated with being a performance artist in Ireland. Moderated by Cliodhna Shaffrey and including speakers Nigel Rolfe and Dr Áine Phillips, this panel brought artists who are nurturing a live practice in conversation with seasoned veterans. Some of the discussed topics were: the advantages and disadvantages of performance art collectives; sustaining a practice in an ephemeral art form; issues concerning documentation; the role of gender in developing and establishing a career as a performance artist; and how to create room for criticality in contemporary Irish performance art.

While Rolfe highlighted his status as a ‘loner’ in the art world, Phillips emphasised the importance of artist collectives, especially in times of social and economic hardship. Such groups help build audiences and offer opportunities for artists to produce work and engage in a critical discourse. However, these positions are not mutually exclusive, as it is possible to develop an identity as an individual artist within a collective that can provide key resources, especially in the formative stages of an artistic practice. A group or scene may pose challenges to furthering an individual’s work, though these do not have to be incompatible and it is possible to negotiate between the two.

Artist groups also provide support that offers a more concrete understanding of what constitutes performance art. This point is significant since the uncertainty and challenges in defining performance art has implications for an artist’s professional practice. As noted in the seminar, during financial recessions, performance art tends to flourish because of the readiness and relative cheapness of raw materials. Despite this, there is still a need for financial resources to sustain a practice. For example, obtaining proper funding can be a challenge, as it can be hard to categorise performance works on grant applications. Even though art institutions are increasingly accepting and promoting performance art, at times even sponsoring the creation of such works, it can still be treated as the bastard child of the art world, despite efforts to distinguish its historical lineage. Also, since many performance works live events, finding opportunities to stage pieces becomes another hurdle. Subsequently, numerous festivals and performance events, such as the Dublin Live Art Festival, have popped up around the world. This raises another issue: unlike other visual arts media, a performance work usually means that the artist must attend the event, which may be costly.

The topic of payment for artists evoked a highly emotional response during the seminar. It is not uncommon to find an artist who has a day job in addition to maintaining a professional artistic practice. There is a concern that younger artists do not have the time to give their art the depth and care it requires, since they are preoccupied with working just to make ends meet, while simultaneously developing a practice that may leave pieces and ideas half-baked. This, combined with the pressure to be visible in order to stay relevant, offers a new set of challenges for younger artists. From what I gathered in the seminar discussion, many performance artists working in Ireland produce work for little or no payment, with artists regularly relying on their own funding to present pieces – a practice that has become commonplace. Rolfe challenged this acceptance, and raised several questions: Does this state of affairs create a space for criticality in performance art? Is it enough to just have a group of people creating work and supporting each other in the process? Instead of being able to effectively critique work, should we be satisfied with the chance to create work at all?

I consider these significant points not just for performance artists, but also for the visual arts in general. In the current art world, plutocratic collectors like Charles Saatchi are treated as gatekeepers of taste and many works are considered an aesthetic success based on popular draw in museums and the prices garnered on the auction block. The assumption that artists are willing to work for free perpetuates this state of affairs, which ultimately causes more harm than good for creative workers in the neoliberal economy. In this system, artists may experience little or no monetary return, which leads, potentially, to financial and creative losses for the individual. At this point in time, when performance art has made a strong enough impression on the canons of art history, it is not enough to just create work. We must also promote a critical discourse around this work while treating these artists as cultural workers worthy of being paid for their time and efforts.

How then does a performance artist develop and maintain a professional practice? What I gathered from Rolfe’s class and the seminar is the importance of working. Like any other artistic practice, performance art involves a skill set and craft that must be supported and developed. The collection of and interaction with materials, generating a sensitivity to time and space, and increasing awareness of the body, are some of the ways that a performance artist can further her practice in the studio. It is also crucial to use live events as opportunities to develop relations with an audience. Peer groups can be useful in cultivating and critiquing ideas, as finding a creative common ground with other artists can help break the isolation of studio work. Rolfe, however, warned against becoming too dependent on these groups, emphasising the importance of generating an interior dialogue and not becoming tied to the confines of a group or clique.

From these sessions, it is evident that performance art is thriving in Dublin, with Irish artists developing their own brand. This brings up an issue that was not addressed in either the seminar or master class: How does Irish performance art stand up in the transnational art world? I feel that increased scholarship and critical discourse concerning Irish performance art in both the regional and transnational contexts would further its development, offering unforeseen opportunities for artists working locally and abroad.

Dr EL Putnam is a visual artist and independent arts scholar based in Dublin.


VAN January/February 2014: ‘Held Captive by the Site’, Sarah Allen Profiles ‘Art Lot’

Neil Carroll 2

Neil Carroll, An exhumation of the wreck of hope (no Man is an island),
2013, Artlot, Dublin


A little corner at the junction of Harcourt Road and Richmond Terrace has been undergoing some curious changes over the past months. Located beside the former diner and Dublin landmark The Manhattan, visual arts project ‘Art Lot’ has set about transforming the long derelict site through thought-provoking artistic intervention. From its inception in June 2013 the project’s curator Jonathan Carroll has acknowledged the dual complications of exhibiting art in the public realm as well as engaging with an inherently problematic space. Having gained experience dealing with public art through his work with the Saint Patrick’s Day Festival (2007 – 2009) Carroll drew up a realistic proposal and succeeded in securing funding for the project from a local business. The six participating artists Neil Carroll, Ella de Burca, Teresa Gillespie, Maria McKinney, Seoidin O’Sullivan and Sharon White have been working sequentially re-imagining the space in bi-monthly cycles.

Emerging at a time when public art projects are receiving heightened media exposure Carroll is keen to emphasise those attributes which make ‘Art Lot’ unique. “Granby Park organised by the Upstart Collective staged temporary activities which took place over a short period of time. It was very focused on community engagement and visual art was only a small part of the overall plan. Similar comparisons can be drawn with ‘Art Tunnel’ in Smithfield which encouraged the local community, including a school, to exhibit their work on the Smithfield site. What ‘Art Lot’ offers in contrast to these projects is a specific focus on visual art of a particular kind.”

Carroll notes that a local business provided the budget and undertook some work on the site to meet health and safety requirements. Regarding further funding he notes that each artist received up to 1250 euro to cover materials and an artist’s fee. The artists then installed the work themselves with some assistance from the curator. Neil Carroll for example, paid a colleague of his to work with him on the site as the installation required a second pair of hands and some skilled labour. Ella de Burca sourced support from Irish Fencing and Railings LTD company to provide fences for her work in exchange for publicity. Finally, design work for posters was raised with the support of local business who would prefer to remain anonymous.

Growth and development are at the heart of the project’s ethos. Rather than artists installing and unveiling their work in a short space of time each artist’s work emerges bit by bit over a two month period. This concept focuses audience attention more acutely on the means of production, positing that artistic production is as significant as the finished work. The project’s wordpress blog (www.artlotdublin.wordpress.com) offers a platform for the artists to map their engagement with the site, thus functioning as an essential element in demystifying the artistic process.

With it’s cumulative approach the public enters into an exciting relationship with the ‘Art Lot’ artworks as they come into being. Both the artwork and the viewer’s perceptions are in evolution and flux. Into this dynamic space between art and its public, the cityscape and city life itself can inject new meaning. As Carroll points out, the top deck of a double-decker bus allows a bird’s eye perspective of the work – and it might well be the best place to experience the project, especially if traffic jams ensure a truly ‘captive’ audience.

As the site is enclosed by metal gates, the artists are also to some extent held captive by the site. This concept of ‘artist in a cage’ might suggest an interesting power shift from the usual white cube dynamic in which – it could be argued – the viewer steps into the space that is emphatically ‘authored’ by the artist. Ella de Burca, who completed her stint on site this November, played off the notion of the cage constructing a series of fences one behind the other which over time amassed to form an imposing mesh of barriers.

‘The Fourth Plinth’ project sited in London’s Trafalgar Square was a source of inspiration for Carroll in devising the project. The latest installation has seen a giant blue cockerel – Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch – reign over the historical square delighting tourists and provoking much debate. There are salient parallels to be drawn between ‘The Fourth Plinth’ and the endeavors of ‘Art Lot’, among them how the artist’s work enters into a dynamic dialogue with its setting. The more dramatic ‘Art Lot’ creations form an arresting juxtaposition with the traditional familiar Georgian facades of Dublin’s Harcourt Street and surrounding areas.

One particular landmark in the area – located just a stones-throw from the ‘Art Lot’ site – is The Bernard Shaw pub. Over the past decade the pub has cultivated a distinctive image owing in part to its ever-changing graffiti art. “Graffiti seems to be the go-to thing for covering vacant sites” comments Carroll “it is a solution that is popular and very good at grabbing attention, however with ‘Art Lot’ we wanted something a bit more solid.” Although frequently enlivening drab cityscapes most graffiti could be said to have a more pronounced, decorative function, yet an essential element of ‘Art Lot’s’ intrigue lies not in providing decoration but provoking speculation.

Carroll highlights how the group welcomed viewer speculation during the initial stages of the project. “We had a funny situation where there was an on-line discussion about what our site could be (this was before we put up any signage). After many postings on-line someone eventually suggested that it may be a public art project – bingo! We also had some rogue signage put up by some inventive passerby, with their humorous suggestion of what the site could be.” ‘Art Lot’ adheres to the contemporary art’s eschewal of definitive meanings or absolute truths. Carroll goes on to comment how working in a site which is not designated to visual art is a liberating experience “you have a chance to return to a purer debate about the role of art and where it should be.”

The option for each artist to leave physical or metaphorical traces of their interventions in the space, after their allotted time is part of Carroll’s curatorial strategy. This can allow specific pieces to speak directly to one another. As part of her work Seoidin O’Sullivan harvested buddleia vines from the site to make flagpoles. Upon completion of her cycle these were cleared to make way for Sharon White’s piece Colony which consisted of a colony of small wooden houses that mushroomed around the site. Here Carroll notes how these two projects echo one another in referencing the organic.

Indeed even if there is no obvious trace of the artist’s work left on site, by virtue of their slow incremental ‘coming into being’, the image of the work becomes installed in the viewer’s memory and thus the work is afforded a life beyond its material existence. This might best be exemplified by Neil Carroll’s enigmatic sculpture ‘An exhumation of the Wreck of Hope (No man is an island)’. Its angular silhouette seems to linger in the mind’s eye even after deinstallation. Superimposed onto its memory is the image of the following art work and so the two mingle in the mind inviting comparisons and enriching their individual readings.

The title ‘Art Lot’ was chosen to purpose fluidity, to suggest that the project could take roots in other vacant spaces in the city. Carroll is hopeful for the project’s future commenting that “Ideally we want to secure funding to take over more sites in Dublin and get a conversation going about the cityscape and how the environment could be more fluid. The initiative to make use of derelict sites came from Dublin City Council (the owners of the Art Lot site) who wish to eradicate the blight of hoarding around the city. DCC are accommodating projects by offering space but so far they do not provide funding for running costs. As any artist will have experienced, the money they get for their work is spent on materials; this leaves little left as an artist fee. If more businesses could provide realistic budgets, we can provide projects to suit.”

To find out more about the project please visit www.artlotdublin.wordpress.com

Sarah Allen is a Dublin based arts writer and journalist. Among other publications her writing has appeared in The Irish Arts Review, Aesthetica Magazine, Photomonitor Magazine and Prism Photography Magazine.


VAN Jan/Feb 2014: Rebecca Strain, ‘Snooping and Shooting in the Dark’


artsaboutyaColumn: Making It

“Meaningless work is potentially the most abstract, concrete, individual, foolish, indeterminate, exactly determined, varied, important art-action-experience one can undertake today.”

Walter De Maria, On Boxes for Meaningless Work, 1961

My key priority over the last 12 months has been to make sense of the reverse culture shock I experienced since returning to a changed homeland (after 12 years studying, training and working as an artist in England) and trying to use my skills, experience and qualifications to support myself – both morally and financially.

This process has involved general snooping and shooting in the dark, suffering perpetual rejection and a sparse scattering of acceptance. This has been coupled with nervous anxiety about potential failure – and generally getting myself roped into all sorts of challenging situations. As I trundle blindly onwards with arms outstretched, I’ve encountered some of the most generous, friendly and warm-hearted beings and fabulously interesting personalities along the way. Some of them I’ve discovered in awesome surroundings: under mountain peaks, on islands and facing gales at the edge of the world.

Finding myself back in Milford, Donegal, living with my parents, I made a shop job into a performative art job. Throughout the day, I answered the questions put to me by old acquaintances about the purpose of a MA in Fine Art, which were usually along the lines of, Why would you persist with a laborious activity that is at times detrimental to your health for no foreseeable monetary gain?

Happily, this paved the way for an all-expenses-paid residency at Cló, the print studio located in the Donegal Gaeltacht at the foot of Mt Errigal, and later an exhibition at Hive Emerging in Waterford. At Cló, I made alliances with other professional artists: Ian Gordon, Sarah Lewtas, Heidi Nguyen, Sue Morris, Anna Marie Savage, Ian Joyce and Oona Hyland. I still converse regularly with Sue in Sligo and Anna Marie in Newry; each of us nurturing the creative a seed that fell on fertile ground during our spring shared in Cló, where we collaborated on ‘Ceamara Agus Other Pinhole Devices’, which included a rather spectacular tinfoil covered car.

After my brief time spent as gaelige, I was whisked off to Inis Ceithleann (around the time of the G8 conference) following a successful application to Harnessing Creativity, a programme for creative enterprise based in the North West. Myself and another 11 selected artists were tasked with developing a ‘creative lab’ in response to the town of Enniskillen and the context of the political, economic and environmental discourse. At first, I felt that my presence in this context was somewhat random, but I resolved to go with the flow, experiment with the elements and concoct a ‘creative enterprise’.

The outcome was another ‘performative occupation’, which has evolved into an ongoing project that involves making hand-made circular paper as a portable medium to exchange and disperse the revolutionary thoughts of thinkers. Those featured include philosopher Edward deBono, graphic designer Kenya Hara, architect and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte and Catholic theologian John O’Donohue.

Harnessing Creativity assisted me in acquiring a six-meter wide hexagonal mobile pop up art venue, which I’ve also been using as a workspace; if all else fails at least I have a roof of sorts over my head. It has already been used at Ebrington Square in Derry for an exhibition of works by Landscape Ireland, which in turn was used to entice participants into the David Shrigley drawing activity at the Turner Prize.

Nine months after my return to Ireland, I’ve finally bagged myself a more-or-less regularly paying job. In September 2013, I was appointed Project Co-ordinator at Artlink Ltd, which is located at the military base at Fort Dunree in Inishowen, Donegal. My role is making an unfunded organisation survive in the wilds of the 33rd county on a JobBridge scheme. As well as learning to be ‘at work’ in a ‘job’ – complying with government bureaucracy, remembering not to pull all-nighters on sideline projects and fail to arrive at the appointed time to be present at ‘work’ – I’m immersed in dialogue with great artists: Christine Mackey, Conor McFeely, Sara Graevu, Cathal McGinley, Phillip McFadden, Sebastiano Furci and John Beattie, as well as my colleagues Patricia Spokes and Declan Sheehan.

Besides my local and national contacts, I’m also in regular contact with artist Damaso Reyes from New York, whom I met on a residency in Tallinn back in 2010. Damaso is also a mentor to aspiring photographers and maintains an informative and opinionated blog, www.damasoreyes.com. We contribute to each other’s work through online conversations, including the odd wine fuelled Skype party / debate. Our current line of conversational enquiry follows ideas of ‘frivolous activity’, in particular the work of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). We are looking at how, just like artists, the FDA is plugging away at a cause they are passionate about, which improves wellbeing in society but in the main falls on blind eyes. Despite getting little attention and recognition they get up every day and do their work; and so do I.

Rebecca Strain


VAN Jan/Feb 2014: Emily Mark Fitzgerald – A Special Beauty in all that is Goodly…



Rachel Joynt, Noah's Egg, 2004. Veterinary building, UCD Belfield, Co. Dublin

Rachel Joynt, Noah’s Egg, 2004. Veterinary building, UCD Belfield, Co. Dublin


In making his case for the importance of liberal arts education, John Henry Newman argued in his Idea of a University (1852) that the value of education lay in its intellectual and broader social contribution, not merely in terms of its impact on the commercial economy. Reflecting on the aesthetic cultivation of landscape – and how this duty of care might be translated to the cultivation of the mind – he queried:

“Why do you take such pains with your garden or your park? You see to your walks and turf and shrubberies; to your trees and drives; not as if you meant to make an orchard of the one, or corn or pasture land of the other, but because there is a special beauty in all that is goodly in wood, water, plain, and slope, brought all together by art into one shape, and grouped into one whole.”

Clearly we are some distance removed from Newman’s principles as fundamental to the idea of the modern Irish university, entrenched as we are in the current model of output and impact-driven education. Yet what is further interesting to draw from Newman’s metaphor is the assumption that the value of a thoughtfully tended physical environment is obvious and shared. In terms of Irish universities’ recent attention to managing their own physical surroundings – especially in policies and procedures related to cultivating the cultural life and artistic vibrancy of their campuses – such expectations are met only inconsistently.

University art collections are probably one of the lesser-known resources in the visual arts, encompassing an enormous range of historical and contemporary works. Some have achieved high profile and acclaim – University College Cork’s Glucksman Gallery is the most obvious example – while others, such as Trinity College Dublin’s significant art collection, more quietly achieve remarkable levels of public access and exposure through active lending and exhibition policies. The Naughton Gallery at Queen’s University Belfast has functioned as a key exhibiting space in Northern Ireland for more than a decade; and University of Limerick has arguably led the university pack in savvy contemporary acquisitions and community engagement with its historical collections.

At my own university – University College Dublin, the recent record and contemporary trajectory of strategic vision for arts and culture is more disappointing. We have the fabulous Newman House on St Stephen’s Green (under the care of its curator) and a wealth of artworks on the walls and dotted across campus – on any given day students walk by Rachel Joynt’s popular Noah’s Egg close to the veterinary school, or Corban Walker’s gridded glass sculpture outside the Health Sciences Library. Though by comparison UCD’s historical collections are relatively thin, some important and stunning works can still be uncovered (with persistence) at Belfield – including Lady Elizabeth Butler’s Evicted canvas in the Folklore Department, or John Hogan’s sculptural masterwork Hibernia with the bust of Lord Cloncurry in the Clinton Institute. Yet UCD’s visual arts committee (established under President Art Cosgrove) that oversaw the purchasing of many works, and drew wider representation across the university, was disbanded several years ago under our current administration. A number of acquisitions to the college collection have been made (even in straitened financial times) but there remains no strategic vision or oversight as to the purpose and direction of visual art, here at the largest university campus on the island.

With a number of new buildings recently unveiled or under construction at UCD, public art commissioning has persisted, but in a piecemeal fashion with no larger consultative process. Unfortunately some of the most recently unveiled public pieces on campus are the woeful legacy of this failure. The newly-opened and architecturally acclaimed student centre now boasts an impressive range of arts facilities, but no one is responsible for their longer-term programming or development. One suspects Newman himself would be aghast at how little attention is paid to developing the collections, space and resources that might develop students’ visual and aesthetic appreciation, at the university he helped establish.

The ongoing development of the new DIT Grangegorman campus throws into relief an alternative approach to campus planning. A massive civic project that will unify DIT’s campus at the site of the former St Brendan’s hospital in north Dublin, it will be one of the most important urban developments in coming years. Managed by the Grangegorman Development Agency, a campus art committee is already in place that will work with architects, landscape architects and representatives from Dublin cultural institutions to envision how the environs can be designed to meet the physical, aesthetic and intellectual needs of its future population.

This committee is deliberately independent and wide-ranging in its membership and brief. With so many resources, potentialities and enthusiasms (student, faculty, community) to draw upon, each of our college environments should be bursting with creative activity of every kind, but such visions must be supported and encouraged by enlightened leadership. As Newman well understood, education serves the ambition to “open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge”. Visual art – and the curating of the campus itself – have an essential part to play in expanding such cultural capacities.

Emily Mark Fitzgerald


VAN Jan/Feb 2014: Lisa Fingleton Reports on her Participation in a Workshop with Shirin Neshat at The London Film School

Lisa Fingleton, 'What Goes Around', video still

Lisa Fingleton, ‘What Goes Around’, video still



I couldn’t believe it when I literally stumbled across the opportunity to work with the world renowned Shirin Neshat. Shirin is an Iranian-born, New York-based artist, photographer and filmmaker. Much of her work addresses the personal, social and political dimensions of women’s experiences in contemporary Middle Eastern societies. She was awarded the First International Prize at the 48th Venice Biennale and in 2009 won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for her first feature film, Women Without Men.

Last September, the London Film School offered 12 international artists the opportunity to work with Shirin for 10 days. I sat blinking at the Artsadmin website, wondering if this could be possible. My disbelief was quickly interrupted when I saw that the deadline was that afternoon.

The application was reasonably detailed. As well as sending examples of my work, I had to explain why I wanted to work with Shirin specifically, and what I expected to get from the workshop. This was quite easy for me as I was really inspired by her cinematic imagery and multi-screen installations. I had been to her retrospective exhibition at IMMA in 2001 and was hugely impressed. I was also curious about how she negotiated her role as artist and filmmaker within the very different the worlds of fine art and film.

Tutorial with Shirin Neshat

Tutorial with Shirin Neshat

I was delighted to get a place on the workshop. It was a very tight schedule from notification to start date, due to a delay with funding from the Arts Council of England. The workshop was free on the proviso that any films created during the workshop would remain the property of the London Film School. I made an application for a bursary to Screen Training Ireland and was very grateful that they agreed to fund my travel and accommodation.

The workshop was run over 10 days from 21 – 31 October. It was extremely packed, with scheduled group work from 10am – 5pm most days, as well as a series of evening events and seminars at the Barbican Gallery, Couthauld Museum and the London Film School.

It was a brilliant opportunity, not only to work with Shirin and her partner Shoja Azari (who came for the first week of the workshop), but also with the other 11 filmmakers from around the world. We started with short presentations of our work. There were eight different nationalities in the group so the diversity of experience and aesthetic form was really exciting. While most of the group identified as artist-filmmakers, some had experience in television and advertising.

Shirin and Shoja are in the process of making their second feature film about the life and music of Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum, and it was a real privilege to hear about their process of collaborative working. Shirin shared her ‘mood book’ or storyboard for the film. According to her, “film-making is all about image-making”, and she is very focused on the aesthetic form of any project and how we can transcend cultural narratives and issues through art. She gathered images from her own past work, archives and the Internet to present us with a visual picture of her next film. “I have to be clear about what my intentions are and then leave it open for interpretation” she explained.

She talked about the importance of working with others who can bring different technical skills to a project. “You must learn to dance with others but you must not compromise on your integrity”. Both Shirin and Shoja share a studio with other others, which they described as a “laboratory” and space of “community synergy”. “I think I would find it very difficult to be out there alone”, Shirin told us.

She also emphasised the importance of taking on new challenges. “Experimenting is so important. The anxiety keeps me on my toes. I like the anxiety that I might fail”. Thus, over her career, she has moved from creating photographic images to multi-channel video installations and onto feature films for cinematic release. She described how it took six years to make her first feature, Women Without Men.

Both Shirin and Shoja were really open and interested in generating conversations with the group. They posed some thought provoking questions for us all on the first afternoon. “Why do you make art? Who is it for? What is your ultimate goal? Why should the public care what you have to say?” Shirin asked us, “How will you get the world to stop and listen?” She stressed the importance of passion and obsession. “If you have that everything else will fall into place”.

As well as the 10 days of workshops and seminars, each filmmaker had to make a three-minute short film. Day two was spent discussing our ideas and a number of questions such as, How do we frame our ideas? What are our parameters or boundaries? How do we balance the demands of form and content?

Lisa Fingleton, 'Talk Wise'

Lisa Fingleton, ‘Talk Wise’

By the end of the second day, we had agreed a number of parameters for our projects, to ensure some level of consistency between them all. We decided to focus on portraits of a person or place. We agreed on a number of rules (and the permission to break one): three-minute duration, no synch sound, black and white, natural lighting and a single-screen projection. My initial feeling was one of resistance, as I don’t generally like rules. However, I discovered that there was great creative freedom within those clear constraints.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent developing, presenting and clarifying our individual proposals. From Friday to Sunday we were shooting our projects. We worked in groups of four and organised the filming within these groups. On the following Monday and Tuesday, we worked with professional editors to compete the films. We also had individual tutorials with Shirin. Her enthusiasm, honesty and engagement with each of the filmmakers was really impressive.

The final day of the workshop was spent watching and critiquing each of the films. It was amazing to see the incredible range of projects and how we all responded so differently within the boundaries. That night we screened the 12 films at Bl-nk gallery in Shoreditch, with an audience of around 200 people.

The whole experience was almost equally exhausting and exhilarating. Each day was packed with new questions and challenges. I found myself constantly sketching and playing with ideas in my notebook. Before I went to London, I was exploring a new project about food, farming and art, possibly based here on our farm in Kerry. The timing seemed a little off. What was I going to do about farming in London? Little did I know that there are hundreds of food, gardening and farm projects in the city.

I did some research and ended up making my film with the Farm Shop in Dalston. What goes around is a portrait of an aquaponic system of food creation within an urban setting. It is essentially about how fish poo can be used to grow lettuce without any soil. Shirin originally thought this was aesthetically impossible and it was quite challenging in a four-hour shoot. However, I took on board Shirin’s feedback about balancing content and form and was really happy with the results.

On applying for the workshop, I wanted to learn more about bridging the gap between film and art. I wanted to learn how to distribute my work, which often sits uncomfortably between the two worlds. I came away with more confidence that it is okay to do both and I don’t have to choose one or the other. Each world offers the work and the audience different possibilities and varied levels of engagement. Both are equally valid and exciting.

I do have ongoing concerns about living so physically removed from any visual art ‘centre’. Shirin felt it was very important for her to live in New York. “I can hardly imagine living on the periphery. You have to be in the middle of it”. This was reiterated in a session by David Gryn, a visiting film curator from Art Basel who stressed that “If you want to be ‘in’ the art world you must ‘be’ in it”. Travelling to cities and visiting art exhibitions continues to be a challenge when there are chickens to be locked in at nighttime and cats who just seem to like human company. Perhaps the time has indeed come to bring the art to the farm.

Lisa Fingleton is an artist, filmmaker and farmer based in Kerry. Last September she completed an MA at Goldsmiths College, London. She is currently developing projects on the theme of art and farming.



VAN Jan/Feb 2014: Jason Oakley Reflects on ‘Arts Awards: Prizes! Prizes!’, A VAI Talk in Conjunction with 2013 Turner Prize




The art world has a funny relationship to art prizes and awards – a certain sniffyness prevails. Some artists say they don’t care if they win or not, or that they’d rather not be nominated – the surrounding hoopla is just not their thing. Curators are loath to say that they’re overly impressed by the winners of various gongs and baubles. But to give this attitude its due, Stuart Morgan, writing in the very first edition of Frieze Magazine in 1991, perhaps never said truer words than “artists are not in competition with each other but with themselves and the past”.

So what is the public role of arts awards? On one level, it’s always gratifying to see the Turner Prize included in mainstream media coverage – it’s an opportunity for an affirmation and demystification of contemporary art. But on the other hand, the exposure is not all good. The Daily Mail always has a field day with the Turner Prize, reporting sensationally on what “gets called art these days”. The prize is also vulnerable to accusations of ‘festivalisation’: a once a year taster that only gives a selective picture of what contemporary art is. Don’t audiences deserve year-round access and engagement with the arts?

In theory, the positives outweigh the negatives. Big spectacles like the Turner Prize can highlight the talent, creativity and energy of the art world to the general public; they function as occasions for healthy debate on ultimately irresolvable questions about the quality and value of art.

As signalled by its rather brash title ‘Art Awards: Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!’ Visual Artist Ireland’s talk, held on Saturday 9 November 2013 at the Golden Thread Gallery in partnership with the 2013 Turner Prize, set out to explore the ambivalent attitudes around art prizes in all their forms. The talk was part of a daylong programme, ‘From Grassroots to Celebrity’, exploring developmental pathways and milestones for artists from local artist-led spaces to international edifices such as the Turner Prize.txt2[1]

The day was the brainchild of VAI’s Northern Ireland Manager Feargal O’Malley and Head of Learning for The Turner Prize, Lynn McGrane, who kindly invited yours truly to chair a panel of experienced prize-givers and recipients: artist and Director of Golden Thread Gallery Peter Richards; independent curator / consultant and former Head of Exhibitions at IMMA Brenda McParland, who also organised the Glen Dimplex and Nissan art awards; artist and Head of Fine Art at NCAD Phillip Napier; and MAC Curator Hugh Mulholland. The framework for the discussion was broad, and took into account the myriad formats and forms of art prizes: open submission shows, commissions, biennale-type presentations, commissions, emerging talent / lifetime achievement awards, surveys and residency prizes etc.

Hugh Mulholland stressed that art prizes should be primarily devised with aims and ambitions of artists in mind – artists should want to be part of them. His own curatorial career, as he’s often publically stated, was born of a desire to draw attention to an emerging generation of Northern Irish artists who were then his peers. This culminated, to an extent in his presentation of their work at the 2005 Northern Ireland show within the Venice Biennale. Mullholland typified the best art prizes as positioning both institutions and artists in a mutually beneficial way – raising profiles and connecting them to national and international networks.

Brenda McParland agreed with Mulholland, noting that IMMA’s Glen Dimplex Prize (1994 – 2001) was consciously devised as part of the development of the profile and activities of the institution, which was still young at the time. Also emphasising the centrality of the artist, McParland noted that IMMA’s prize exhibition of the four nominated artists was always devised a distinct set of independent mini exhibitions. There was no self-conscious attempt to represent a zeitgeist in the selection process or the installation. Mulholland and McParland also agreed that central to the whole business of selection was making decisions about when an artist was at the ‘right’ stage of their careers, ie demonstrating not only a good track record but also the potential to develop further.

Mulholland is clearly an advocate of awards, but sounded some notes of caution: those on selection panels should always be on guard about rewarding success for its own sake, ie giving awards to the winners of other awards. And he’d witnessed cases of nominated artists getting stuck in an attention vacuum, the explosion of publicity around the winning artist temporarily diminishing their profile.

In terms of the funding and sponsorship behind awards, Mulholland and McParland stated that the happiest partnerships had arisen from sponsors approaching their respective institutions. Both have also worked strategically to court support at one time or other but as Mulholland put it, making lists of potential ‘sponsor benefits’ can become a rather tangential and pointless exercises. In their experience, the most successful arrangements simply came about due to the sponsors’ sincere interest in the contemporary art world – and supporting art for its own sake – rather than any strategic concerns for reaping corporate benefits.

Phillip Napier, who was shortlisted for the Glen Dimplex and represented Ireland and the UK in Biennale-type shows such as Sao Paulo (1994) and Gwangju Biennale in South Korea (1995), confirmed the ‘positioning’ role of prizes for artists as part of the process by which artists up their game and achieve intuitional support and validation. Napier concurred that artists were in a state of perpetual competiveness with themselves and their future potential and reputation – adding that artists could only be as good as their last work. By way of illustration, he recounted that on his nomination for the 1998 Glen Dimplex award, he elected to make an untested ambitious work, treating the award exhibition opportunity as a kind of production residency. He wasn’t that year’s winner and he ruefully commented to McParland that had he played safer perhaps his chances would have been better.

Peter Richards stated that he was an artist with a low level of participation and success when it came to art prizes and awards, which makes him representative of most artists. Modesty aside, Richards conceded that inclusion in Mulholland’s 2005 Venice show had been a milestone for him. Likewise, having his work selected for the 1999 Bloomburg New Contemporaries show was a break though; it helped him make links with regional UK venues, which he hadn’t been able to do working out of Northern Ireland. In terms of his work as the Director of the Golden Thread, he noted that, while the venue doesn’t have any explicit prize structures, in devising shows for artists, their participation in art fairs and their development of the venue was of course part of a wider field of affirmation and adjudication of the art world.

Richards and Napier didn’t dwell on their own personal experiences of the life changing benefits of award monies and accolades to their practices. The financial and reputational benefits of prize monies and publicity are after all more than self-evident. Instead, they joined Mullholland and McParland in underlining the importance of artists participating in award structures for more work day and slow burning benefits to their careers – namely ongoing visibility and connection to networks.

The discussion closed with the consensus that art prizes are one of the key resources used by the art world for its ongoing decision-making processes in terms of exhibitions, residencies – and of course, more prizes. To ensure the circulation of your work within the networks of exchange and communication that make up the art world, artists simply have to participate in this system.

While the effort and monies expended on putting together an unsuccessful application might seem futile to some, the panel emphasised that applying to prizes undeniably gets your work across the desks of the influential artworld gate-keepers. It’s a cliché, but true. To recast Hugh Mullholland’s opening point, all serious artists should want to pursue prizes – what is there to be ambivalent about?

Jason Oakley
Publications Manager
Visual Artists Ireland


VAN January / February 2014


Mark Swords, Reflections and Variations, 14 September 2013, Redcross
Woods. Presented as part of ‘I wont say I will see you tomorrow’ a
multi-disciplinary project exploring the legacy of philosopher
Ludwig Wittgenstein. Photo: Enda Doran.

5. Column. Rebecca Strain. Snooping & Shooting in the Dark.(Archived)
5. Roundup. Recent exhibitions and projects of note.
6. Column. Emily Mark Fitzgerald. A Special Beauty in all that is Goodly … (Archived)
7. Column. Jonathan Carroll. Steadier on its Feet.
8. News.The latest developments in the visual arts sector.
8. VAI News. Recent VAI activities, campaigns, comment and analysis.
9. Regional Focus. Laois: Resources & Activities. Adrienne Symes, Angela Delaney, Laois Arts Office, Jackie Carter, Karen Hendy.
12. Residency Profile. Immersed in Possibility. Ciara Healy and Karl Musson, recipients of 126 gallery’s Art Farm residency, offer an account of their experiences.
13. Institution Profile. Evolve, Learn, Grow. Barry Kehoe profiles Block T studios,Dublin.
14. Profile. Fostering the Countrypolitan. Patricia Hurl and Therry Rudin talk to Fiona Woods about Damer House, a new artist-led space in Tipperary.
15. VAI Professional Development. Sustaining the Ephemeral. El Putnam profiles VAI’s masterclass by Nigel Rolfe and the discussion ‘Sustaining Performance Based Practices’ at the Dublin Live Art Festival. (Archived)
16.Residency. Station to Station. Maria Mckinney, Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser describe the studio exchange run by Fire Station Artists’ Studios, Dublin and Acme Studios, London.
17. Project Profile. Tbilisi Traces. Eoin Mac Lochlainn profiles the ’Palimpsest/ Rianú’ project, which was shown as part of Artisterium VI, held in Tbilisi, Georgia during October 2013.
18. Career Development. Becoming a Better Sculptor. Jason Ellis describes his training and background and reflects on the motivation and philosophy behind his art practice.
19. Critique.‘Common ground’, Occupy Space, Limerick; ‘The Work of Micheal Farrell’, Crawford Gallery,Cork; Dragana Jurisic, Belfast Exposed; Mary Burke Draiocht, Dublin; Sinead Rice in a group show at Flowers Gallery, ‘A Lamb Lies Down’, Broadstone Studios, Dublin; Mark Durcan, The Lab, Dublin
23.Workshop. Intention, Then Interpretation. Lisa Fingleton reports on her participation in a workshop with Shirin Neshat at the London Film School.|(Archived)
24. Art in Public. Digital Inclusion. Ruby Wallis describes her multi-media project ‘Illuminate’, focused on people with intellectual disabilities.
25. Collaboration. Visual Counterpoint. Fergal Dowling, Michael Quinn and Ailbhe ní Bhriain outline the working processes underpinning ‘Mirrors of Earth’, a presentation of a chamber ballet by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, accompanied by a responsive video work.
26. Art in Public. Held Captive by the Site. Sarah Allen profiles ‘Art Lot’, a programme of temporary visual arts projects programmed by Jonathan Carroll for a vacant outdoor site in Dublin city centre. (Archived)
27. Profile. A Pretty Quiet Place. Aoife Tunney and Eilís Lavelle discuss ‘I Won’t Say I Will See You Tomorrow’, a multi-disciplinary project exploring the legacy of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.
28. VAI Northern Ireland. Ambivilant Spectacle. Jason Oakley reflects on ‘Arts Awards: Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!’, a talk organised by VAI in conjunction with 2013 Turner Prize and the Golden Thread Gallery. (Archived)
29. VAI Event. Financial Security Aideen Barry reports on a VAI Common Room Café hosted by HQ / Occupy space, which focused on artists payments, pensions and financial security.
29. VAI Northern Ireland. Feargal O’Malley, VAI’s Northern Ireland Manager, on the 132nd Royal Ulster Academy’s annual exhibition embracing both contemporary and traditional modes of visual art.
30.Art in Public. The Allegory of Place. Silvia Loeffler profiles Kathy Herbert and Dorothy Smith’s project ‘Open to the Public’, which was shown at Satellite Studios project space, Dublin during October 2013.
31.Art in Public Roundup. Commissions, site-specific works, socially engaged practice and other forms of art outside the gallery.
32.VAI Event. Show and Tell. The most recent VAI ‘Show & Tell’ held at HQ / Occupy Space, Limerick.
33. Artoons. Pablo Helguera’s Artoons – the foibles and ironies of the art world.
33.VAI Professional Development. VAI’s upcoming professional development programme events.
34.Opportunities. All the latest grants, awards, exhibition calls and commissions.


VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: ‘Common Ground’ at Occupy Space, Limerick


Fiona Woods, Post Art Condition, 2013

‘Common Ground’
Occupy Space, Limerick
(Aine Phillips, Amanda Dunsmore, Deirdre O’Mahony, Fiona Woods & Sean Taylor)
8 – 30 November 2013

Ground Up Artists Collective (GUAC) is concerned with strengthening the foundations for art created in rural areas, through research and collaborations. The GUAC annual exhibition for current members was held recently at the Ennistymon Courthouse Gallery in Clare but, to celebrate the collective’s 10 year anniversary, curators Orlaith Treacy of Occupy Space in Limerick and Barry Charles Foley of GUAC teamed up to bring the work of five former Ground Up artists to the Limerick city centre venue. The show thus offered a dialogue between work exploring rural concerns and the urban display context of Occupy Space.

Sean Taylor’s Silent Protest (2013) banners referenced the Communist Manifesto (1848) with the slogan “Listeners of the world unite!” and a graphic of a microphone and headphones standing in place of the expected hammer and sickle emblem. The emphasis in Taylor’s often sound-based work is on listening – something also pertinent to the importance GUAC places on working with local communities and encouraging engagement. Softday, Taylor’s ongoing art project, focuses on social and environmental issues.


Amanda Dunsmore, Others Have Their Heads…Church Band Intervention with Austrian Hedge, 2011

Deirdre O’Mahony’s SPUD (2013) investigated traditional forms of potato cultivation. The installation on display resembled an ‘educational shrine’. Copies of whitewashed pages from literature on the potato, tacked up on the walls, accommodated drawings. The drawings illustrated in minute detail how to grow and harvest potatoes – resembling encyclopedic excerpts. A bookshelf with various books on the potato outlined the vegetable’s historical relevance. This project was developed in conjunction with local farmers who have farmed using traditional methods. A rhythmic accompanying soundscape conjured up images of labourers digging. This project had artistic, social and even economic merit. O’Mahony’s SPUD emphasises the value of generations of knowledge versus modernisation, as global resources are coming under severe pressure.

Áine Philips contributed a project that highlighed the positive and lasting impact that art in the community can have. Shelters was commissioned in 2005 as a temporary work, but ended up staying in place for years. These simple sheds were set up at three different unconsecrated burial grounds for un-baptised babies in Co Clare. Located in places of the utmost beauty and serenity, the sheds were intended to act as a space for reflection and for healing. People were encouraged to leave a symbolic token in memory of these babies. Sheds are usually seen as a space to contain things, but here they served to let things out. A grid of photographs illustrated the project in its early stages on one side and its most recent guises on the other. The accumulation of items, such as little knitted jumpers and shells, are evidence of how people have engaged with this project.

Post Art Condition (2013) by Fiona Woods was a multimedia installation featuring several projects showing man-made interventions in the landscape or ‘natural’ interventions indoors. A trail of leaves were draped around a hospital bed on a drip – is this a reflection on nature in difficulty? An expletive text on the main back wall greets you as soon as you enter the gallery space, bold and unapologetic: “TOTALLY FUCKED OFF WITH ART”. The photographs and plant installation on display create a sense of a developing practice and time passing. This suggests looking back at what has gone before and assessing the current situation, in this case with a sense of disillusionment.


Aine Phillips, Shelters, 2003 – 2013

Amanda Dunsmore’s Others Have Their Heads… Church Band Intervention with Austrian Hedge (2011) provided a contrast and seemed a more lighthearted offering. This video piece of a performance for a festival showed an intervention with local participants. In the work, the body become an almost sculptural tool for altering the landscape – temporarily reshaping the normal lay of things and disrupting the everyday routes of local people.

The beauty of this show was in its inherent diversity – despite the common interests of the artists involved. Collectives, especially in more isolated areas, can instill a sense of mutual support and probably heighten the chances of making an impact, without compromising individual practice. Although these five artists are no longer members of GUAC and their practices have no doubt evolved, the fundamental concerns of the collective still permeate the works on display. Presenting these concerns in an urban space opened them up to a new audience for appreciation. ‘Common Ground’ served firstly to highlight the aims of GUAC – which is still going strong, but also to show how members are carrying forward its ethos, proving that art created in rural areas is not on the margins at all but at the very centre of a distinct movement.

Roisin Russell is a writer based in Dublin. She has also written for Paper Visual Art Journal, Circa and Vulgo.

VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: ‘The Work of Micheal Farrell’ Crawford Gallery, Cork


Micheal Farrell (1940 – 2000), Man Lost in a Glass of Water, 1978, © The Micheal Farrell Estate

‘The Work of Micheal Farrell’
Crawford Gallery, Cork 
9 November 2013 – 4 January 2014

This exhibition, produced by Solstice Arts Centre, and subsequently shown at the Crawford Gallery, aimed to re-evaluate the work of the late Micheal Farrell (1940 – 2000), from abstract minimalist to cultural commentator, opening with his Celtic series from the mid- 1960s. Farrell primarily utilised the medium of acrylic, which was new at the time, to evoke ancient Irish traditions by integrating Celtic motifs and symbolism into the hard-edged style of abstraction that was being practised by his contemporaries. His unique take on minimalist painting was termed Celtic Abstraction. While Farrell rose to prominence through abstract painting, this exhibition celebrated his move from the objective to the subjective, bringing together a vast array of later works which deal with Ireland’s tumultuous political history.

Among these were numerous re-appropriations of François Boucher’s Nude Reclining on a Chaise- Lounge (1752), which depicts Miss Marie-Louise O’Murphy, the Irish mistress of Louis XV. This object of male desire becomes, in Farrell’s work, a body which has been exploited and used. In order to amplify this new context, a number of these works were displayed opposite An Incomplete History of Ireland (1980 – 81), a painting which presents us with a less desirable image of a naked male face down on the floor against a jet black background. Translucent brown paint runs across his buttocks and is smeared all over the white (wall-like) pages of a book, which he seems to have fallen out of.

Much of the work in this exhibition dealt with violence as it impacts upon the body, most impressively in the way Farrell uses the formal qualities of paint to bring emotional states to the surface of the canvas. Sun 30 Jan 1972 (1997 – 78), shows a number of figures gathered around a mass of black paint, suggestive of bodies and blood strewn across the floor. These figures themselves are made up of blocks of black and grey paint with only suggestions of faces as the paint is violently dashed and scraped across a dry and exposed canvas. In other works that refer to both Bloody Sunday and the Omagh Bombings, we see half- sketched, frail figures whose bodies seem overwhelmed and engulfed by masses of thick paint in bleak colours.

The exhibition continued upstairs with a number of large and seemingly unrelated paintings, the arrangement of which seemed to lack a curatorial agenda. These included portraits of full- length figures, paintings referring to Parisian bistros, a painting of a boxing match, and Self- Portrait (1994), which depicts the artist in France, his home from 1971. Farrell is seen here as an average-looking middle-aged man, balding and with a paunch, wearing slacks and sandals, gazing out at us in a manner reminiscent of a holiday snap. Again, Farrell’s formal technique seems to suit the subject matter. This sunny portrait displays a more refined sense of realism and a more leisurely style of painting that seems to better fit this portrait of a man of retirement age than the sketchy and raw political works in the lower galleries.

Aside from the upper gallery, the exhibition overall was dominated by overt symbols of ‘Irishness’, such as James Joyce in a Celtic tie hung opposite a bar serving only Guinness and Powers whisky. Despite this preoccupation, and the overtly political context of much of Farrell’s work, a posthumous biographical reading seems unavoidable. The motif the glass and the numerous references to drinking or drowning inside a glass evoke not only Ireland’s drinking culture, but also Farrell’s own troubled relationship with alcohol. More morbidly, works like Sunday (1997 – 98), whose title and orange background make explicit its political context, could also be read in terms of a personal contemplation of death. This mixed media work was painted ten years after the artist was diagnosed with throat cancer and two years before his premature death. It depicts an emaciated figure in a hospital bed, surrounded by a thick mass of black paint which encases his head and drips down from his crown. Of the same period, Black 47 (1997), depicts a gaunt but defiant figure against a black background, standing at a table upon which rests a skull. A skeleton can be seen in the brown space evoking the earth under the floorboards. This vanitas painting, referring to the Irish Famine, seems to sum up Farrell’s later work by coupling a mournful remembrance of the suffering of Ireland’s past with the artist’s unflinching acceptance of his own mortality. Here the outrage and anger of Farrell as a political commentator seems to give way to a more tender consideration of the fragility of life and the shadow of death that hangs over us all.

Kirstie North is a PhD candidate at University College Cork, working on a thesis entitled ‘Salvage Operations: Art Historical Memory and the Archive in Contemporary Art’.