Painting as Solidarity


Joanne Laws: ‘The Aleppo Paintings’ depict the crumbling buildings of the war-torn Syrian city. Can you describe your motivation for this work?

Brian Maguire: I was very interested in the Syrian Civil War. I was reading texts by Patrick Cockburn, which made me think about how the Irish Civil Rights Movement was militarised and sectarianised. It became about Catholics and Protestants and was taken over by the military, yet it began as a civil rights movement, just as the rebellion in Syria began as a peaceful movement and very quickly became militarised by armed gangs. It also became sectarianised, meaning that people of different faiths could only live within certain areas. With these paintings, I’m not making any statement about who did what to whom, because I don’t know. This series evolved from a painting I did for the Kerlin show in 2016, of a destroyed apartment block in Aleppo. The motivation was to finish the argument.

Continue reading “Painting as Solidarity”

Leaving Little Trace, But Whispers…


Response to a Request 1 was an online publication I started in July 2016, and which came to an end, for the most part, in June 2017. Over the course of its brief run, I somehow managed to convince the following people to write for it: Kathy Tynan, Kevin Breathnach, Niamh McCooey, Nathan O’Donnell, Lizzie Lloyd, Adrian Duncan, Joanna Walsh, Ian Maleney, Susan Connolly, Jonathan Mayhew, Darragh McCausland, Emma Dwyer, Sam Keogh, Sue Rainsford, Michael Naghten Shanks, Suzanne Walsh, Ingrid Lyons, Sabina McMahon, Eimear Walshe, Dennis McNulty, Fergus Feehily and Niamh O’Malley. However, as I prepared for the belated closing event that took place on the 2 of February at the Douglas Hyde Gallery – presenting three final responses from the artist Isabel Nolan, writer Mike McCormack and poet Stephen Sexton – I was faced with the task of articulating why I started Response to a Request at all. What, exactly, was its aim?

I’m not sure there really was any distinct aim with the project, but let’s assume that Response to a Request was set up to address a modest need or even a perceived lack within Irish art writing. Was it successful in this aim? One way of traditionally gauging success is, of course, through a growing or at least stable readership; and, more typically now, through a sustained and visible currency on social media. But the problem is that Response to a Request vanished just as quickly as it appeared. The website is dead and the texts are not available to read anymore. Granted, I knew this would be the case when I first conceived the idea, but this material dearth makes its assessment – as success, or indeed failure – much less clear-cut. On a personal level, there’s also something distinctly self-sabotaging about editing a publication that leaves little trace but whispers. Continue reading “Leaving Little Trace, But Whispers…”

Spatial Assemblage


I became interested in identity politics in second year of my Visual Arts Practice degree at IADT Dún Laoghaire. Terms like ‘appropriation’ had begun to penetrate the pop culture sphere, which caused me to evaluate the work I was making in terms of my own cultural perspective. My practice has become an extension of the types of socio-political commentary that have become increasingly prevalent throughout the internet via social media and the public sphere. The internet is a particularly pertinent platform because it offers itself as a vehicle for research, while also providing its own kind of spatial interventions.

Historical art movements such as Arte Povera encapsulated ideologies regarding art and the everyday, defined by Italian art historian, Germano Celant, in terms of people against systems. The system he speaks of falls in line with many concerns regarding present and future assimilation and commodification of queer bodies. When Celant states (with regards to art production) that “each of his gestures has to be absolutely consistent with his behaviour in the past and has to foreshadow his future”, he highlights a tendency towards defining intangible ideas, people and gestures relative to historical contexts – a concern widely shared by queer theorists.1 Such concepts resonate with my own interest in making and are particularly relevant to postmodern notions of the everyday, whereby computers and digital spaces have become primary models of communicating and recording, generating vast archives of personal data – uploaded to clouds and easily accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection.

For me, the repositioning of these historical narratives inside a queer framework has become interesting, based on a capacity to subvert and to create new narratives. Where queer theory practices see understandings of the term as relative to history, it is constantly being defined and redefined as that narrative progresses. The type of assemblage techniques that underpin my two-dimensional research and digital collages, echo the same process interests found within my sculptural assemblages. Compounding the two approaches has expanded my ideas about image deconstruction and reconstruction. Judy Chicago’s installation, The Dinner Party (1979), is a pointed reference for my work, based on how the piece wrote a new historical narrative by placing a certain value on kitsch over the aesthetic object. Documenting the process of making a physical sculpture and deconstructing it through collage techniques; reconstructing and printing this form as another physical object – this amounts to an aesthetic investigation of how we read images and objects. It also questions whether the documentation of process embodies the transience of queer culture more apparently than a finished artwork. Continue reading “Spatial Assemblage”

Archival Gesture


To write about the Periodical Review – an annual exhibition, now in its seventh iteration – is to repeat and confront the curatorial project’s own questions and provocations. Hosted, organised and partially curated by the not-for-profit artist-run space, Pallas Projects/Studios in Dublin, Periodical Review aims to enliven the practice of contemporary exhibition-making by reimaging the gallery space as a magazine. The exhibition title, in itself, echoes this publishing endeavour, suggesting something occurring at regular intervals. Periodical Review offers a unique opportunity to look back on the preceding year in Irish art, by showcasing artworks that have previously been exhibited nationally. Holding an annual survey of contemporary art is certainly a provocative proposition. A list of selected artworks immediately queries what isn’t present, what has been left out and by what authority?

The format has remained largely intact from the beginning. Working alongside Pallas Projects’ directors, Mark Cullen and Gavin Murphy, invited artists, writers or curators put together a selection of significant artworks exhibited on the island of Ireland during the previous 12 months. This review format calls to mind the Turner Prize – an annual survey of timely and significant moments or practices in contemporary art, within the geographical boundary of the UK. There are key distinctions, of course. At a basic level, the Turner Prize is framed around an individual award, while Periodical Review is a ‘review-styled’ group exhibition. More significant is the fundamental question of institutional weight. The Turner Prize was originally founded by a group of collectors in association with the Tate. Today, it is a monumental event, receiving major corporate sponsorship, celebrity endorsement and widespread coverage in the mainstream media. In contrast, Periodical Review is a grassroots and artist-led initiative, but they share an archival ambition, to remember to reflect on what came before. In an art world captivated by the next up-and-coming artist, commercial gallery trends, or ever-expanding auction records, the desire to reflect upon what mattered and why, during a given timeframe, is both critically challenging and wildly nourishing. Continue reading “Archival Gesture”

Push and Pull

RHA Ashford Gallery, Dublin, 19 January – 11 February 2018

In a TED talk entitled ‘How architecture helped music evolve’, the musician David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) suggested that the relationship between architecture and music is directly formative. Byrne argued that the spatial and architectural features of a venue specifically influence the sonic and acoustic characters of the music performed there. In other words, American punk band, Black Flag, are to the small hardcore club what AC/DC are to the open-air area. If we imagine visual art to be engaged in a similarly formative relationship with its venues of display, it is interesting to consider whether Niall de Buitléar’s exhibition, ‘Push and Pull’, is specifically informed by the spatial particulars of its host venue, the RHA Ashford Gallery. According to the press release, Byrne’s attempts to “create [musical] compositions that were multi-layered and non-hierarchal” influenced de Buitléar’s work. Comprising 14 paintings and a small sculpture, the exhibition celebrates, with a calm but persistent rigour, the formative logic of interior worlds and the differences that emerge through formal repetition. Continue reading “Push and Pull”

Black & White

Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, 13 January – 25 February 2018

Does a ‘feminine aesthetic’ exist? It’s a divisive hypothesis (and a possibly unanswerable question) that came to mind upon viewing Jane O’Malley’s exhibition, ‘Black & White’, at the Butler Gallery. The fifty pieces shown included several etchings and aquatint prints, as well as sketches in an array of media, including chalk, Conté crayon, pastel, oil, pen and ink. As the title implies, this body of work is monochromatic, although a couple of pieces display slight intrusions of yellow. O’Malley’s ease with her wide range of media is immediately apparent. Lines are loose, fluid and used sparingly but effectively. There is a pleasing juxtaposition of sparse details – a simple outline suffices to suggest a jug, a straw, a bowl of cherries – with repetition used to add substance and pattern, as in the fields and flora of her Chinese brush drawings. O’Malley also has numerous techniques in her repertoire; these include uninterrupted fine line, scratching and removing marks. In At Michael Joe’s with Bob Quinn the Dog, 1984, she achieves an extraordinary luminosity in her rendering of the pots, bottles and jugs, through a combination of such techniques. Continue reading “Black & White”

A Sense of Place / Fragmented Realities

Ards Arts Centre, Newtownards, 1 – 24 February 2018

A series of black and white digital photographs by Belfast-based artist, Mariusz Smiejek, was presented in the Georgian Gallery in Ards Arts Centre. The small-scale photographs depicted women within the natural and domestic landscapes of the Ards Peninsula. Strong tonal contrasts played a part in some of these images, whereas others had a softer tonal range. The depth of field also varied; sometimes Smiejek concentrated solely on the subject, while at other times the background was also depicted in detail. The artist explained: “I focus on the person rather than their surroundings, capturing the person rather than things”. That said, the objects surrounding the women also seemed to have life resonance. Most of the photographs intimately narrated the women’s facial expressions but a few also conveyed their physicality, stance and their attitudes towards the camera, with some seeming more self-conscious than others. Yet my favourite photographs captured a sense of energy, such as wind tugging at women’s hair. Somehow, this elemental force brought a youthfulness and honesty to the women’s smiles. Smiejek stated that “it takes time to become part of the person’s life… I like to spend as many hours or days as possible”, suggesting that, ideally, projects need to be quite durational. Continue reading “A Sense of Place / Fragmented Realities”

Sustainable Futures

Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, 8 February – 1 April 2018

‘Sustainable Futures’ is an ambitious exhibition currently showing at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh, County Cork. The show acts as a focal point for a multifaceted collaborative project bringing contemporary art practice into dialogue with scientific research on sustainability, through a series of talks and events involving artists, the scientific community and local youth groups.

Upon entering the East Gallery, the first thing we encounter is David Thomas Smith’s large-scale aerial photographs of the Chrysler factory and Silicon Valley, taken between 2009 and 2010. These are Google Map composites, developed using a meticulous process that works against the low quality of the source material. Smith has photographed tiny sections of the Google Map images, reconstructing them like a jigsaw, so that the images stay sharp as the scale is increased. With a background in documentary photography, the artist shows us detail that wouldn’t normally be visible. The photographs deal with the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ – referring to the geological age of mankind who, in one hundred years, have affected the natural world more drastically than natural processes have in 1,000 years. Continue reading “Sustainable Futures”


Dunamaise Arts Centre, 19 January – 28 February 2018

Tom Climent’s exhibition, ‘Latitudes’, at Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise, was described in the gallery text as “investigating the boundaries between abstraction and representation”. Climent presented twelve roughly similar landscapes featuring a central mound, peak or outcrop on a slightly higher-than-centre horizon line. While these compositions fall within the recognisable tradition of landscape painting, the artist’s synthetic colour palette, along with occasional architectural additions, serve to unsettle the familiarity that the genre normally fosters. Perhaps Climent’s expansion of this disciplinary boundary is less focused on stylistic approaches and more concerned with how the viewer rationalises personal expectations of painting. It helps that they are beautifully executed and bridge real and imaginary worlds. Climent’s disorderly arrangements of planes, vertices and edges are softened by his hand-drawn outlines, textured surfaces and luxuriant use of colour. Continue reading “Latitudes”