2017 – 2018 – Review by Bernard O’Rourke
2017 – 2018 – Review by Bernard O’Rourke
In January of 2017 MART Directors Matthew Nevin and Ciara Scanlan launched a year-long curated programme titled Destroy These Walls. This market the first time that MART had run a single curated programme spanning the whole year. After ten years of national and international curation and four years in their own permanent gallery space in Rathmines, Dublin 6, the programme of 2017 marked a curatorial achievement which the organisation had been steadily building over previous years.
MART’s gallery space in the old Rathmines Fire Station opened in 2013, and during its formative years of existence alternated between hosting their own curated shows, supplemented with operating as a gallery for hire as a way to keep the organisation running. This approach allowed MART to showcase a wide range of different activities.
Destroy These Walls can be viewed as a self-contained statement of what MART as an organisation had been established to achieve – at the heart of the programme was an encouragement for its artists to experiment with traditional forms and new media. MART served up a programme of work that challenged perspectives of what art could or should say, while also providing works with many accessible points of entry for a wider audience.
In their own words, curators Ciara Scanlan and Matthew Nevin sought to ‘encourage participating artists to explore and reinvent materials, technologies and methodologies.’ By taking an active role in the production of the work displayed, the curators encouraged artists to ‘produce work that can provoke the limitations of the gallery environment, producing powerful, informative and experimental new work.’
This brief included an encouragement for artists ‘to be reactionary and politically engaged in their approach to their practice, and to tease out new radical ways of viewing and perceiving their art works.’ All of these approaches were elements that have been central to MART’s ethos since its inception as an organisation that champions work which challenges existing traditional notions of fine art, and seeks to amplify voices which challenge political and cultural conventions.
As part of this championing of artists, MART’s Dublin programme was complimented by a series of international curations – most notably an ongoing collaboration with Los Angeles based galleries and cultural partners which would eventually lead to the formation of CIACLA (Contemporary Irish Arts Centre, Los Angeles) in 2019. Many of the artists who appeared in Destroy These Walls in Dublin would also go on to have their work shown abroad, a pattern MART has continued to the present day as a way of offering participating artists a way to grow their profile and practice, and of presenting a fresh perspective of contemporary art to new audiences.
Destroy These Walls began in January when MART welcomed renowned Japanese artist Tomoko Sawada for her solo exhibition School Days (12 January – 24 February). Scanlan and Nevin had first met Sawada during a residency the pair did in the Kyoto Art Centre in 2014, and had been keen to bring an exhibition of Sawada’s work to Dublin ever since. The work in School Days consisted of photography and video that experimented with the notion of self-portrait, and it’s complex relationship to perceived images of femininity.
Following Sawada’s programme launching show, MART engaged in a series of solo and two-person shows from emerging Irish artists, many of who had developed a relationship with MART over the previous years through featuring in group shows and other collaborations.
For each of the shows the curators worked with the artists to ensure an environment that allowed a high degree of creative freedom, particularly when it came to experimenting with form and making large scale work. Most of these exhibitions featured ambitious sculptural and installation works that acted to transform the gallery space, delivering a series of shows where each offered a significant visual contrast to the last.
The Mistress of the Mantle (2 – 31 March) by Dr Katherine Nolan echoed School Days with its use of photography and video to explore gender identity, this time in a specifically Irish context, revisiting cultural memories of womanhood. The exhibition launched with a durational performance by the artist which further contextualised the works presented for the audience present.
Providing a space for performance art has been part of the MART mission since day one – and in collaboration with the performance art collective Livestock, MART was able to provide a venue for many live art events throughout its gallery programme in 2017 and beyond.
Livestock is an artist-led initiative established by curators Eleanor Lawler and Francis Fay to support, encourage and promote performance, the artists and their work. Central to their ethos is the creation of a positive and welcoming environment where artists can perform their live work to an appreciative audience. Scanlan and Nevin share this belief that performance facilitates a relationship between artist and audience, creating an intimacy and a space for dialogue between both parties – and as such have endeavoured to have MART Gallery serve as a space where this engagement with live art can occur.
The next exhibition at MART was Transmission (6 April – 4 May) – a two person show from Helen Mac Mahon and Sofie Loscher. Through large sculptural works that employed projection, reflection, refraction, the exhibition examined light as a material, exploring visibility, the process of perception, expectations versus function and how our beliefs or understanding of light can be changed or manipulated through positioning, alignment and juxtaposition.
Following this was A Rhythm Exposed (Routines: 5–6) by Steven Maybury (11 May – 8 June) , a part of the artist’s ongoing Routines series. In this series drawing was used as a key conceptual tool for the artist to examine obsessions in archiving, ownership and preservation. The works of A Rhythm Exposed invited contemplation of the meticulous use of ink, light, and time spent on the aesthetic of the artworks.
For Dragons of Eden (15 June – 13 July) the curators invited the artists Aoibheann Greenan and Terence Erraught to produce work that would provoke the limitations of the gallery environment, producing new work that teased out radical ways of viewing and perceiving our culture and society. Greenan and Erraught responded with powerful creations that took on alternative perspectives on gender representation via symbols and icons of ancient cultures experienced through a schema of digital means.
In the summer of 2017, the Destroy These Walls programme moved outside the walls of MART Gallery in Rathmines through a series of national and international collaborations. Throughout May and June, Scanlan and Nevin teamed up with RUA RED (Tallaght) for the sixth Glitch digital art festival. Since its inception, Glitch has brought leading digital media and technology artists, curators and artist groups together with audiences to draw out connections between art, culture and technology. For the 2017 edition – Sedimentary Structures (2 May – 10 June) – the artists David Beattie, Cliona Harmey, David Lunney, Richard Forrest and Robin Price were invited to create works that were interactive, reactionary, impulsive, divisive, explosive and political in creation leaving a significant and possibly mystifying residue of what took place. This took place over two weeks of live making, during which the artists were present in the space at RUA RED and the public were invited to engage, question and interact with artists and artworks. This blend of art making and art display was complimented by ‘interface’ a live art event hosted by Livestock. The performance artists (Francis Fay, Lisa Freeman, Laura O’Connor, Rachel Ní Chuinn, El Putnam, Eleanor Lawler) all responded to contemporary modes of communication and the symbiotic relationship between artist and public. By using digital technology as a starting point for their response, a series of works spiritual, physical or intellectual responses to the theme were presented.
MART’s next project of the year also involved RUA RED, but this time with an international scope. European Connections in Digital Arts / EUCIDA was a three year project funded by Creative Europe led by RUA RED Ireland in partnership Gantner Multimedia Space (France) and Lūznava Manor Rēzeknes (Latvia), and curated by Matthew Nevin along with MART Gallery manager Deirdre Morrissey. The Project aspired to demonstrate innovation and high standards in Digital Arts, and to boost the international visibility of the artform.
The resulting show – Echo Chamber (16 June – 15 August) – exhibited simultaneously across Ireland, Latvia and France, showcasing six contemporary visual artists, two from each of the host countries (Jeanne Briand, Adam Gibney, Fabien Leaustic, Helen Mac Mahon, Rasa Smite, Paula Vitola), whose practices were rooted in various aspects of digital technology. Its primary aim was to create an accessible conversation and debate between the digital arts, technology, politics, culture and society in an accessible way to a European public.
European partnerships also featured in MART Gallery’s next two exhibitions in its Dublin gallery, with a duo of exhibitions forming a conversation between digital video art from France and Germany. Trouvées Métrage (Found Footage, 20 June – 18 August) presented the works of four French digital media artists – Yan Beauvais, Nicolas Montgermont, Antoine Schmitt and Pierre Jolivet. Following this, Freedom of Movement (25 August – 22 September) presented an exhibition of film work by renowned German artists Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani. The films displayed posed questions on various aspects of human identity and society, the limits of geographical, artistic and social structure, and race relations. “Watch this film,” wrote art critic Gemma Tipton in her Irish Times review of the exhibition, “and the unsettling answers will come to you. The next question is: can we go back out into the world and help to try to prevent our own fall, to get it right this time?” Both of these exhibitions were curated by Deirdre Morrissey, and served to broaden the awareness of European trends in video-based art to the gallery’s Irish audience.
For the summer of 2017 MART returned to Los Angeles, where Scanlan and Nevin built upon years of previous transatlantic collaboration with Activating Pangea: Destroy These Walls (8 July – 5 August), hosted by Arena 1 gallery (Santa Monica). For the third exhibition in the Activating Pangea series Scanlan and Nevin curated a selection of artists to work under the parameters of risk, political agitation and ephemerality. For this they drew upon artists of their Dublin programme that year (Steven Maybury, Dr Katherine Nolan, Terence Erraught), plus artists who had or would go on to have solo shows in Rathmines (Margaret O’Brien, James L Hayes). In line with the title, and as a means of highlighting impermanence, artworks displayed in this exhibition were destroyed after its closing. Here the curators pushed for work that would provoke the limitations of the gallery environment. As a form that is inherently impermanent, performance also had a role to play. To mark the exhibition’s opening, performance artists from both Ireland and Los Angeles (Cindy Rehm, Terence Erraught, Katherine Nolan, Thinh Nguyen, Meital Yaniv) were invited to respond to the show’s themes through live art. This ongoing cultural conversation between Ireland and the west coast of the United States would continue in subsequent years – culminating in the formation of CIACLA in 2019.
The MART team returned to LA in October as part of Irelandweek Los Angeles 2017, with RE:IN FORCE (18 – 21 October) – a pop up contemporary visual art exhibition which focussed on artworks that commented on the relationship between the viewer and object. In keeping with previous exhibitions that year the participating artists (Richard Forrest , James L Hayes , David Lunney, Katherine Nolan) were invited to explore and reinvent common material, technologies and methodologies, resulting in works that provoked artistic limitations.
As 2017 drew to a close, MART Gallery Dublin presented two final shows as part of its goal to provide an exhibition opportunity to emerging artists. In September Deflated Capital II presented the work of sculptor Doireann Ní Ghrioghair, recipient of the annual Fire Station Artists’ Studios & MART Gallery Exhibition Award. Following this MART unveiled a new partnership with Crawford College of Art and Design (Cork) to award recent graduates of that institution with an exhibition opportunity. Can You Hear Me Now (2 November – 1 December) unified the work of four graduates (Enid Conway, Elena Sawczenko, Thomas Spencer, Chloe Tetrault) working in performance art whose practices dealt with concerns around identity, voice and the body. In order to provide these graduates with mentorship to further develop their practice, MART once again teamed up with Livestock.
By the end of 2017, MART had exhibited a total of 32 artists across 16 exhibitions, brought 12 international artists to Ireland and flown 10 Irish artists abroad. In terms of sheer numbers, this makes it MART’s most expansive year to date. The next two years would see a refinement of the curation work done in 2017, as Scanlan and Nevin continued to develop a captivating and original programme in the MART Dublin, alongside international endeavours with a steadily expanding scope.
For 2018 MART focused on providing international and local opportunities for artists. The centrepiece of this year was Acts to Objects – a group show in Los Angeles. Beyond this MART further cemented their partnership with the performance art collective Livestock, through a yearlong residency in 2018. Over the course of the year, they hosted a series of performance events and workshops. Through these live events, both emerging and established artists working in performance were given space to present new work to an audience, under the constructive guidance of Livestock curators Francis Fay and Eleanor Lawlor. The workshops meanwhile aimed to further build upon this by giving performance artists an opportunity to explore theories and methods underlying their practice. These workshops included ‘The Body and Activism’ by Áine Phillips, ‘Walk to remember, Walk to forget, Walk to re-imagine’ by Rae Goodwin and ‘Body and Borders’ – a weekend of talks and workshops in association with UK based collective Something Human. Central to the year’s programme of events were questions of how to give voice to marginalised identities through art, and the role of digital technology in performance.
Performance art was also located at the heart of MART’s primary international curation of 2018. Acts to Objects ran in LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), between 15 March and 29 April, and featured work by Áine Phillips, Amanda Coogan, Helen Mac Mahon, Margaret O’Brien, Katherine Nolan, Eleanor Lawler, Laura O’Connor, and Jane Fogarty, with live performances on the opening night by Amanda Coogan, Eleanor Lawler, Cindy Rehm, Thinh Nguyen and Mothertongues (Meital Yaniv & Kim Ye). The exhibition marked the final iteration of the three year programme Activating Pangea. The exhibition brought together artists from Ireland and LA that spanned a number of generations, in order to explore the role of spectacle in feminist practice today.
The artworks on display investigated the idea of art as spectacle. Sculptural works explored methods of refracting and manipulating light, while also playing on expectations of material form and colour. The performances and their remnants represented acts that intervene in social space and norms. By engaging with the city of its staging – Los Angeles – the exhibition challenged that locus of production of the Hollywood spectacle, which much early feminist discourse critiqued for its dominant gendered narratives that positioned women as passive objects to the active masculine look – a gaze which continues to persist in new forms.
In November of 2018, MART again returned to LA to take part in Irelandweek, this time with an exhibition directly inspired by one which had taken place in MART Gallery Dublin the previous year. Transmission (presented in Hangar Galleries, Santa Monica Art Studios, 27 October – 27 November) saw artists Helen Mac Mahon and Sofie Loscher revive work shown in Rathmines in 20017, this time alongside Robin Price, whose work echoed their use of light as catalyst to investigate the risks in our everyday life. The exhibition surveyed the processes of how light moves through space, exploring visibility, the process of perception, and expectations versus function. Writing for Art and Cake, Genie Davis said of the exhibition: “There is an edge of science in each of these works, and an edge of the ephemeral: light itself is a ghost that we see and allows us to be seen.”
Back home in Ireland, 2018 was the year of a historic vote on the Eight Amendment to the Irish Constitution – a law introduced in 1983 which outlawed abortion. Ahead of this referendum MART hosted an exhibition and art auction in April to raise funds for the Together for Yes campaign. In selecting the work for Artonomy (5 – 13 April), Deirdre Morrissey of MART and Sophie Murphy of Taproot Art curated work from invited artists and MART Studio members who believed in the removal of the Eight Amendment. MART Directors Ciara Scanlan & Matthew Nevin felt strongly that the organisation should lend its support to this campaign to repeal a law which “denied Irish women the freedom to make choices and have autonomous control over their own bodies.” Further, MART has always firmly believed in the self-determining artist and art organisation as vital societal and cultural catalyst. On 25 May 2018, the people of Ireland voted to repeal the Eight Amendment by a resounding majority.
MART’s exhibition programme resumed in November with Things Twice (multiple times) – a solo exhibition from David Lunney which marked the beginning of a new run of shows which would continue through 2019, and represented – among other things – a fresh attempt to offer opportunities for artists to present new work, while also having a large degree of freedom to use the gallery space to experiment with large scale installations. Things Twice served as a snapshot of the artist’s extended process of making. Lunney’s work involves the undertaking of protracted art processes. Typically, these processes start with the construction of site-specific sculptural works in Dublin Mountains, and proceed through photography, painting and handcrafting frames and other methods of display to create layered compositions. Things Twice also served as something of a return for MART, and a promise of things to come in 2019.