PAUL MCAREE DISCUSSES THE EVOLUTION OF LISMORE CASTLE ARTS AND INTERVIEWS NIAMH O’MALLEY, WHOSE EXHIBITION IS CURRENTLY SHOWING IN ST CARTHAGE HALL.
Lismore Castle Arts (LCA), a not-for-profit gallery, was founded in 2005 in Lismore, County Waterford. We are committed to the presentation of contemporary art across two separate exhibition venues. The main gallery space within Lismore Castle hosts one major exhibition of international art per year. In 2011, a second venue opened in St Carthage Hall – a former Victorian church hall in the heart of Lismore town – which presents a diverse programme of contemporary Irish and international art and graduate work, as well as learning and community projects. LCA has also developed an offsite programme, including partnered exhibitions in Ireland and overseas. We seek to be a major contributor to the cultural and visitor economy of Lismore and the region, offering unique experiences with contemporary art.
In 2005 the long-derelict West Wing of Lismore Castle, the private family home of Lord and Lady Burlington, was transformed into a state-of-the-art contemporary gallery. To date, LCA has commissioned and presented unique projects by Gerard Byrne, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Anne Collier, Dorothy Cross, Rashid Johnson, Richard Long, Wilhelm Sasnal and Pae White, amongst others. We have also occasionally invited national and international curators to lead our main gallery exhibition programme, including Aileen Corkery, Polly Staple, Mark Sladen, Kitty Anderson & Katrina Brown, Allegra Pesenti and Charlie Porter. Lismore Castle Arts’ main gallery exhibition for 2019, ‘Palimpsest’, is curated by Charlie Porter and features Nicole Eisenman, Zoe Leonard, Hilary Lloyd, Charlotte Prodger, Martine Syms, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Andrea Zittel, many of whom have created new work for the show.
The unique location of the castle gallery within a seven-acre site means exhibitions can spill into the castle’s gardens, offering the potential for outdoor work. Almost every exhibition we have hosted has seen work extend into these gardens, with the most notable instance being Rashid Johnson’s exhibition in 2018, involving the presentation of seven outdoor sculptures, which were gradually overcome by plants as the summer progressed. Luke Fowler also presented a new sound work in a tower in the gardens in 2017 – a unique work researched and developed across multiple visits to Lismore and presented in collaboration with the Nasher Sculpture Centre, Dallas, Texas.
In 2013, Dorothy Cross exhibited Eye of Shark at St Carthage Hall, an installation of nine reclaimed cast-iron baths which had their scum-line painted gold, along with a tabernacle embedded in the wall containing a shark’s eye. The work subsequently toured and expanded to include 12 baths. The installation is now permanently housed at Lismore Castle and will be open to view on 6 July and 3 August. Core funding for Lismore Castle Arts programmes is provided by Lord and Lady Burlington, with additional funding sought from the Arts Council of Ireland and Waterford City and County Council. Going forward, LCA will continue to present evermore exciting and ambitious contemporary art, while expanding the offsite, learning and events programmes. For LCA’s 15th anniversary in 2020, our main gallery exhibition will be multi-sited across Lismore town.
The following is an interview with Irish artist Niamh O’Malley, whose solo exhibition is currently showing in LCA’s St Carthage Hall (1 June – 25 August).
Paul McAree: Perhaps you could discuss your current areas of interest – what are you working on and what materials are you using?
Niamh O’Malley: There is a current compulsion in my work to make something still and to make something solid. I think perhaps this comes out of anxiety; a sense of a rapidly changing, unreliable planet. I’m not sure what it means to be absorbed and to scrutinise – to give attention to making in this circumstance – but that is what I’m finding myself doing. In terms of material, I’ve been stretching lines in steel, making polished wooden handles and sanding the edges of slivers of glass. I’ve also been working on a film which feels quite fidgety and agitated – but that’s for later in the year.
PM: Your solo exhibition for Lismore Castle Arts is currently showing in the small chapel-like space of St Carthage Hall. Later this year, you will exhibit in the large space at the RHA. How does the contrasting scale of exhibition spaces affect your approaches and thinking?
NO’M: I really enjoy the challenge of working with different kinds of architecture, and solo shows offer you a particular opportunity to position the viewer. St Carthage Hall feels very intimate, as a space. It is a building which was evidently conceived to contain thought and reflection. There are windows but you can’t really see out and, perhaps because you step down to enter, it also feels very grounded and calm. It has definitely impacted on my decision to focus on mostly floor-based sculptural works. Because the development of a large body of new work has coincided with invitations into these contrasting spaces, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to occupy the volume of a room. In both venues, I am using steel as an obvious component for the first time; its structural capacity and strength will hopefully allow me to create complex delineations within both venues. I’m trying to find techniques to choregraph and locate the viewer, without building or relying on the walls.
PM: You recently used the phrase ‘furniture’, when discussing your new work, which incorporates beautiful pieces of wood; can you explain this idea of artwork as furniture, or vice versa?
NO’M: I’m mostly interested in the idea of furniture because of its relationship to the body. While obviously taking in a wide variety of objects, the term connotes positioning, touch and a sense of habit. My works won’t necessarily provide the functionality of a chair or a table, but I like the idea that they might feel familiar; that you will know how it feels to run your finger across the surface. There is also a stillness and stability to furniture: it produces place from space; gives you handles to facilitate your encounters with the world.
PM: How do you balance your interests in film and sculpture? How do they work together and how do you think about an exhibition that doesn’t contain any film work?NO’M: Recently when I have presented video in gallery spaces, it has been displayed on monitors, occupying a similar physical status to the sculptural objects and flat work – except that moving image produces a different kind of activation in the viewer. I’m interested in the idea that in a show made up of many different materials and things, the insertion of movement and time can activate the solidness and stillness of the others. I decided early on not to show any film in St Carthage Hall – the space seemed too small, in a way, and a video would always be too present and distracting. There is also the proximity to the street – the door opens onto the village. I think that that closeness of life and movement is operating as the film in this show.
PM: Over the last few years, you have experimented with handmade glass. How has this developed within your practice, as a material, tool or symbol?
NO’M: Glass is of course a very ancient material, somewhat magical, produced from sand. It is a molten translucent liquid caught in solid form. I began using it as an optical filter in front of the video camera and it gradually made its way in front of drawings and into sculptures. Having the glass lying around the studio, I became more aware of it as an object with edges and depth and form – not just something which directs us to look through, but something which we can look at.
PM: You are from Mayo, live in Dublin and have two solo exhibitions this year, in Dublin and Lismore. Does the setting and location of a space matter?
NO’M: The setting and location definitely affect the encounter. I was invited to show as part of the ‘Mayo Collective’ exhibition in 2013. It’s a really innovative exhibition initiative, curated in my case by Patrick Murphy, which involves five visual arts venues in the county working together. (Áras Inis Gluaire, Customs House Studios & Gallery, Linenhall Arts Centre, Ballina Arts Centre and Ballinglen Arts Foundation). In that situation the work’s relationship to the landscape became heighted; the journey between the venues inevitably formed part of their reading. In Lismore, the village and gardens and the journey (if you’ve made one) will also reframe the work. Preparing for the RHA, I have the luxury of developing an exhibition in the city I live in, so I can call in regularly and terrify myself with the scale of that room. I can also remind myself of how it feels to walk into the venue from the busy city centre. This is all more difficult with a single site visit to an international venue. I think different kinds of venues in a diversity of places all add to the wealth of our potential experiences with art.
PM: How do you feel artists are resourced in Ireland (regarding fees, production and technical support) compared with our international counterparts?
NO’M: Over the years my practice has been generously supported by Arts Council bursaries, studio awards and residencies in places such as MoMA PS1 (New York), Fire Station Artists’ Studios, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, HIAP (Helsinki) and IMMA. I think, in many ways, I have been privileged to work in Ireland. Most of the public institutions I have worked with in Ireland and abroad are genuinely working hard to resource the artists they work with – within their limited means. The reduction in funding post-crash continues to hurt everyone but I am relieved that galleries, in the main, recognise that to pay artists means to support the wider artistic ecology. Without artists there will be no work and even if we had a rich commercial environment, I would not like to see us relying on it as barometer or funder. Who gets to make art, show art and to look at art, matters and I do worry that the opportunities I have had – such as free education, Arts Council grants (to help me to live, work and pay childcare), free access to galleries and artists’ fees – are not something we can take for granted. It is important that we continue to talk to each other and advocate for each other.
Paul McAree is Curator at Lismore Castle Arts. Niamh O’Malley’s exhibition continues at St Carthage Hall, Lismore, until 25 August. ‘Palimpsest’ continues at Lismore Castle Arts until 13 October.
Niamh O’Malley, Production Still, 2019; courtesy the artist and Lismore Castle Arts.