PhotoIreland: Dublin, Ballina,Co Mayo, and Roscommon.

It wasn’t the best introduction to Dublin and Ireland.  I had been so looking forward to seeing this country that everyone seems to love from the minute they touch down.  Could it be that I don’t drink beer in any colour or degree of frothiness, or Guinness?  Could it be that I had had a 9 hour delay at Copenhagen airport and only landed in Dublin at midnight instead of early afternoon?  Could it be that the hotel I was staying at had 3 nightclubs going simultaneously, that my room was on the first floor with every fibre of its boudoir décor amplifying the throbbing noise, and that as soon as the music stopped thumping at 5am, the beer barrels started rolling and being dumped outside my bedroom window?

I walked 17 km on my first full day in Dublin.  Most of it was spent looking for the venues.  Take the Laia Abril ‘On Abortion‘ exhibition, for example.  The venue was given as ‘The Copper House, St Kevin’s Cottages, D8.  I could see where D8 was (much like the arrondissements in Paris).  But what street is the Copper House on?  I asked one of the people standing outside a school – nobody knew; I went further up the street to another group of people – ditto.  One hour later, I saw a sign to The Copper House pointing to a dead-end lane.  Finding the door bell was another adventure into the unknown!  I know that technology is moving on at a pace but even my Citymapper app could not cope! The incomplete venue information does not stop there and I could relate more tales of unwanted adventures but that’s not the reason for writing.

The first exhibition I stumbled upon was not part of PhotoIreland but it drew me in.  It was a sculpture installation in the Temple Bar Gallery entitled “Knock knock” by Hannah Fitz which she developed during her year long residency after winning the Recent Graduate Studio award.

The venue was ideal: plenty of space not only for the sculptures but also for visitors to move between the sculptures and see how they were made, and appreciate the use of solid colour.

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Highlights of the installation:

  •  The curious sculptures of tables and chairs which seemed to eschew their usual purpose and assume a life and story of their own.
  •  How everyday objects ‘become caught in the stillness of sculpture’
  • The gallery commissions writers to write their responses to work exhibited in the gallery.  For this exhibition, Doireann Ni Ghriofa was commissioned to write an essay which was available in the gallery.  I was to see this practice again in a gallery in Roscommon.  The essay reflects on an aspect of 18th century Cork history and an imagined, apocalyptic nightmare experienced by one of the citizens whose lover had been murdered.   This poem introduces the essay:

 “Last night such opaque reveries

 appeared to me,

come midnight in Cork

as I lay awake late, alone in bed;

our bright-limed home tumbling,

the Garage all withering,

no growl left of your hounds

no sweet chirp of bird-sound”

 

The last paragraph gripped me very strongly:

“Above: a clot, a cloud, gushing away in silvers and deep greys, could be a flood suspended over us today – all our meltwater elsewhere, opaque, bared.  Our pasts are deep underwater.  Our pasts are clothed in layers and layers of clay.  Our pasts are sunken, submerged in elsewhere.”

 

What I took away with me about the work:

  • I loved the freedom which the use of the space gave to the installation which allowed it to live.
  • The title of the work is the opening line of an awkward joke and that awkwardness is evident in the installation.  The joke creates an expectation which the exhibition sustains: there is a feeling that expectations are not met and it is that feeling which I think creates the magic in the installation.

What I took away with me about me:

  •  I love playfulness and imperfection in a work.

Notes:

I have subscribed to their newsletter because I felt that I could learn a lot about their curating and ideas on how to promote artists.

 

Mariela Sancari: Moisés

Another epic journey to find this one.

The exhibition booklet introduces this one by stating “Thanatology asserts that not seeing the dead body of our beloved ones prevents us from accepting their death.  Contemplating the body of the deceased helps us overcome one of the most complex stages of grief: denial”   Mariela and her twin sister were not allowed to see the body of their father for reasons unknown to them so they spent years expecting to see him in a cafe or walking in a street.  Her reading has led her to believe that ‘fiction can help us depict the endless reservoir of the unconscious, allowing us to represent our desires and fantasies.”  The work on show, Moisés,  is a typology of portraits of men in their 70’s, the age the artist’s father would be today if he were alive.

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Highlights:

The work here revolves around memory and identity.  There is a thin line dividing memory and fiction and the way she photographs and presents the changing profiles gives me the impression of the sitter being simultaneously there and not there.

What I took away about the work:

They are very different portraits with the changing profiles giving the viewer an idea or feeling that the author is wanting to see aspects she remembers of her father.  The splits in the frames make us question who is being photographed and what the author sees in the sitters.  the ones in which the sitter is facing the camera seem to challenge the photographer / viewer in a way which is absent in the others.

What I took away from the work about me:

I prefer to photograph buildings and plants.  I wonder what makes her able to take such different shots?

 

Laia Abril : On Abortion.

Given the socio-historical context of the exhibition, I was semi-surprised that it was still open to the public – perhaps that’s why they had to lock the place up and open it only when there were visitors?  I doubt it – it was merely the result of the owners of the print space where it was being shown, were very busy people.

I was familiar with the items on show as my tutor, Wendy McMurdo, had suggested I look at the work when I was preparing for my body of work on prisons and prisoner identity.    On Abortion is the first chapter of a larger project “A history of mysogyny” and documents and conceptualises Abril’s view of women’s lack of access to legal, safe and free access to abortion throughout history and to the present day.

The exhibition comprises audio, visual and textual evidence and asks the viewer to consider the ethics and morality involved in this denial of access which, in turn, create stigmas and taboos around abortion.

The venue: Excellent space but the exhibition is so far off the beaten track that very few people would see it.

The highlights:

Seeing the work in the flesh has a far stronger impact than seeing it in a book because you can stand alone with each piece, be it a portrait or an image of the tools of the trade.  This causes you to reflect much more deeply on the issues raised by the artist.

What I took away with me about the work:

Stark, conceptual pieces are very effective in causing viewers to reflect.  The images are not that big but against a white wall and in the company of similar images, the tools make you imagine what was going on and what still goes on in the name of patriarchy?  Religion? Both supported by the state.

What I took away with me about me:

As in my project about prisons and prisoner identity, the social pressures on people who have been stigmatised for one reason or another, are immense and sustained by the state.  The biggest question I came away with was:  Who or what is to be protected? A mother, an unborn child, the law, the state, the lawyers, the politicians, the priests, religious beliefs?  I don’t know the answers.  Perhaps we should not have generic questions?

In the same venue, still way off the beaten track in an unmarked road,  was another exhibition on abortion:

Sarah Cullen’s “You shall have exactly what you want”

It was moved there from its original place in Temple Bar, a D2 district of Dublin, in the middle of town.  Why it was moved from D2 to D8 is open to conjecture but, to be charitable, we could say that it dealt with a similar topic to Abril’s.

Cullen’s work used colour to transmit its message.  The mixed media aspect of the exhibition would appeal, I imagine, to a wider section of society than Abril’s would but they deal with the same topic: women’s access to abortion and bodily autonomy.  In a way, it was good that these two bodies of work were exhibited together so that they could expand the viewership.  They both worked on psychological aspects of abortion but in very different ways.

Cullen uses textiles with text and photography.  Her banners represent the marches against the real of the eight amendment: On 25 May 2018, a referendum was passed overwhelmingly to delete the constitutional ban on abortion.

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The banner created for the Abortion Rights Campaign: Annual March for Choice 2017.

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The banners draw on the history of women’s use of textiles and embroidery to enact and communicate resistance and recall public protests by women’s movements for over a century.

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Venue: 

It was a good idea to move it to be with Abril’s work where there was a gallery space.  Its distance from the town centre and the absence of a street name meant that far fewer people would see it.  In a socio-political atmosphere still raw from the referendum one week earlier on the 8th amendment deleting the constitutional ban on abortion, you could understand the sensitivity of the topic.  But, if art is to make people reflect on really important issues, why not give it prominence?  Perhaps because the argument was one-sided?  Were there no other artists who were vocal against the abortion laws?

Highlights:

I was very glad to have seen a completely different treatment of the topic by the two artists.

What I took away with me about the work:

The mixed media presentation worked very well.  Should photography be embracing other media more?  This question reminds me of the question asked at a recent OCA SW study day: Textiles artists produce far richer work when it is influenced by fine artists.  Would fine artists enrich their work if they were to get inspiration from textile artists?

What I took away fro the work about me:

My work is richer when I use mixed media but photography seems to be quite stuck in its 2 dimensional flatness.

Notes:

Experiment more with textiles for the 2019 One Year exhibition – I am more determined than ever to produce a quilt for it.

 

 

Brian Cooney: No Place Like Home

Ballina, County Mayo

My trip to Ireland took place for many different reasons: I was out of the country for 4 days & thought I would extend it by another 3 = no big deal;  I have never been to Ireland and everybody talks highly of it; I have not been to an overseas photo festival for 2 years & felt I was losing out; one of the OCA students I know had the honour of having his work selected for this prestigious exhibition & I felt I had to and wanted to support him.
Having gone round some of the exhibitions in Dublin, I hired a car and travelled west across the middle of the country to Ballina in County Mayo – virtually every county has a town called Ballina – Brian tells me that it means ‘Mouth of the river’ .  I had booked a hotel and found it very easily –  built on the banks of the river Moy and as I checked into the room, there was a beautiful scene of fishermen fly-fishing up to their armpits in the river.

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Of course, they hadn’t seen this fisherman who was getting all the fish upriver:

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He was probably Mr Clarke:

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After getting to know where everything was, I located the town library which was where Brian was going to hold his exhibition opening later that evening.

In the brochure blurb on Brian’s work, we read: ” Historically, the landscape of the West of Ireland has been regarded as an inspirational symbol for audiences at home and abroad.  During times of economic uncertainty it has been a symbol that Ireland, as a nation, has continually returned to for comfort.”   Yet the Ireland that Brian returned to in 2012 was still suffering from the economic crash of 2008 and the future seemed very unstable.  The Wild Atlantic Way was a romantic slogan to try to regenerate economic enthusiasm for the place.  Brian’s work examines and questions that concept.

Brian was chuffed that one of his images was used to advertise the whole exhibition.

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Venue:

It was a large, light accessible venue above the main library space.  The images were arranged around the walls and two vitrines, one with Brian’s essay and main reference books and the other with Irish poetry books,  were placed under the images on the long side of the room.

Highlights:

Brian opened his exhibition by talking about what had led him to developing his project and talked about his inspirations.  My favourite images were:

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By kind permission of the artist.
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By kind permission of the artist.

In my opinion, they are excellent images for this body of work.

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Brian’s presentation at the opening of his degree exhibition.

What I took away with me about the work:

Brian knows his area well and treats his subject with a fitting irony.  Brian had a press release on his work which people could take away and find out what it is all about.

What I took away with me about me:

I loved this little adventure into the unknown and using photography as an excuse for expanding my horizons.  I had heard of the beautiful west coast of Ireland but had not heard of the romanticised Wild Atlantic Way.  I thought that the countryside was different: billboards advertising farming machinery; hand-written notices on a piece of cardboard on the side of the N4 with “Calves for sale” .  There were beautiful homes establishing their hold on big plots of land standing empty.  The economic aftermath of the crash are still being felt.  I felt that the attachment to the land was something I had not expected to see expressed in so many ways and so strongly.

Notes:

I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the work Brian had produced and the informal way he chose to hang it.  It was totally unpretentious and appeared to be an honest reflection of how he felt about the wild west.  It was obvious that the had worked very hard to set up the exhibition.

The next day, Brian, his family and I went to see another of the PhotoIreland exhibitions in Roscommon, not far from where he lives.  It was great to catch up over a delicious meal after the exhibition.

 

In, Around & Aftereffects. 

“The psychological landscapes of the Midlands are explored through this exhibition showing work by three photographers.  The social, cultural and political life of the region is (sic) brought to bear through three different photographic languages, where each of the artists has explored aspects of the Midlands over the last ten years.”

Again, the location of the Roscommon Arts Centre where the exhibition was held: Circular Road, Roscommon.  That gave me hope  if it’s a circular road , I will have to come across the arts centre sooner or later.  The road is as straight and long as Route 66.  Perhaps in the radius of this circle is huge but the Google Earth view leaves me in no doubt that the concept of circle has its own meaning in the Midlands: Circular Road is that long road running through the middle of the town

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Of the three exhibitions, the one which I was drawn to the most was “Midlands” by Martin Cregg, possibly because it resonated with Brian’s work so I had an idea of the socio-political context of the body of work.

Venue:

The three photographers shared a relatively small room and their work was mixed although the Vote No 1 stood out because of the size and nature of the photos.

I had wanted to see the exhibition because the photograph advertising it was of roses in a sombre landscape and, given that I want to focus on plants in my SYP project, I wanted to see more.  Sadly,  this image was on view & the curator could not explain why it was not on show.

Here too, as in Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin, the arts centre had commissioned a writer to respond to the work.  Joanne Laws uses the publicity roses image to illustrate her booklet and refers to them in her prose: ” I find a glimmer of old-fashioned romance in a stray rosebush planted at the side of the road.  Summer petals have long since wilted, but I recognise a kind of beauty in its weariness.” I wish I could have seen that image in the display!

Highlights:

For ‘Midlands’, Cregg had made his own book which is quite unique because its layout is very different, precise and intriguing, with short essays interspersed throughout the book in these fold-out sections.  Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 19.54.15.png

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In ‘Midlands‘, Colin Graham’s essay “Dwelling” states: Martin Gregg’s photographs of housing estates of the midlands look beyond the political failings which encouraged the expansion of housing in these areas, and beyond the aftermath of the housing market collapse … “genuine buildings give form to dwelling in its essence”.  How often have we seen this happen in the UK?  We see perfectly good spaces in inner cities which are abandoned yet massive housing complexes, consisting of thousands of squashed ‘dwellings’, spring up all over the countryside.  Are they sustainable, we ask ourselves.

What I took away with me about the work:

It was more the book than the exhibition which has stayed with me. The muted palette, the simple lines and the simplicity of the images attracted me most to Cregg’s work.

One image which I loved because I had just come over the new part of the N4 and had seen creative tyre marks just like these on the new road:

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I also noticed how close to the land the images are in both Brian’s and Martin’s work.

What I took away with me about me:

I love simple lines and images.  Lines are assuming an ever bigger part of my consciousness.

Notes:

Practice simple line photography.

 

4 thoughts on “PhotoIreland: Dublin, Ballina,Co Mayo, and Roscommon.

  1. So much and so different and I appreciate the way you’ve brought out the essence of each and how each impacted you.
    Hannah Fitz – when I first saw your photographs I thought it was a performance – so realistic.
    Mariela Sancari – I have read about her work before. It brought to mind the number of times Ive thought about my own parents and wondered what they might look like now.
    Laia Abril and Sarah Cullen – Such a complex, emotional subject. I know that both my grandmothers had abortions at a time when it was illegal. One of them actually spoke about it and my whole body cringed when she described what was done. I just can’t believe that they survived such butchery. Could go on, but won’t.
    Brian Cooney – wonderful that you got to see his work and were able to support him. I’ve followed it with much interest.
    “In Around and Aftereffects” – Interesting that these works appeared in Ireland. Not that they shouldn’t, after all London hosts internationally. Still, I wondered if there was an Irish connection.

    Cregg’s book looks fascinating – I would love to have seen it and, as you know, I’m very interested in the idea of moving away from ‘just’ photography as there’s so much richness that can be added by using multi-media. I keep reminding myself that I need to ‘justify’ why I’m experimenting with other methods.

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    1. I am staggered that your grandmother spoke about her abortion! Quite courageous. Was she trying to ‘educate’ you? Wow!
      The ‘In Around & Aftereffects’ was a jewel of an exhibition and Cregg’s work was superb. All the artists in PhotoIreland were from Ireland. The work ‘Midlands’ was of the Roscommon area which is in the middle of the country. We had a good old time trying to justify our experiments this afternoon in Bristol! The table was split in half: one half, all men, had traditional photography which David Hurn appreciated very much; the other side, mostly women, had out of focus images, printed on plain paper, my rocks experiments, images with chemicals poured over them – a lot of fun experiments really, which sank below the masterful sea of tradition never to emerge again! It was quite a split! I feel your experimenting pain – perhaps we should start a revolution? I am fed up with conventional photography! At the end, David said that he could not comment on our experiments because they just did not appeal to him. We should not, in his opinion, have to explain what we are doing – it should be evident. Oh boy!!?! Martin Parr was in the background in more ways than one! Again, I appreciate the time you took to read and to comment.

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  2. Anna
    Very good to read your thoughts on everything you saw on your adventure! Thank you for the kind words on my work. ‘Informal’ is a good word to describe the way I chose to hang! Also I agree with you on photography’s shortcomings and using mixed media. Looking forward to seeing your work next July! Also do come and visit again but this time come and stay with us!

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    1. I was very pleased to see your work, Brian. Long may your success go on! I shall let you know about the exhibition and, similarly, if you are ever in Devon, please come and stay – we’d love to show you around, although I can’t guarantee that we will have any exhibitions on the go! Keep well and all the best to you and your family.

      Liked by 1 person

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