2009-2019 – By Bernard O’Rourke
2009-2019 – By Bernard O’Rourke
As an artist-led, self-sustaining organisation for the development and promotion of contemporary art, MART have always had ambitions of connecting with an international audience, rather than limiting their sights to the development of art within Ireland.
A key part of MART’s ethos is their role in finding audiences for exhibitions of contemporary, non-traditional art works, frequently doing so in a way that encourages engagement with the work on display. Often, this has involved inviting audiences to interact with the exhibition. As the organisation grew, MART developed this curatorial ethos in galleries in the UK, across Europe, the USA and Japan to promote contemporary Irish artists to an international audience.
MART’s first international exhibition came in June 2009, when eight of the fledgeling organisation’s artists showcased their work with a group show in London’s Shunt. Adam Gibney, Natalie Zervou, Joan Healy, Matthew Nevin, Ciara Scanlan, Ivan Twohig, Katherine Nolan and Lisa Marie Johnson all contributed to a collection of installation, video and performance works, reflecting MART’s commitment to the promotion of these non-traditional media.
This initial introduction to an international art audience explored ideas of voyeurism, narcissism, technology, digital media, and the concept of creating a playful interaction between art and audience. All of these ideas became recurring themes in MART’s curation, both at home and abroad.
In 2010, An Instructional marked MART’s first large-scale international venture. A touring exhibition that visited galleries in six cities – Bergen, London, Bratislava, Berlin, Dublin and Jackson – An Instructional built on the developing aims of the MART organization, bringing them to a large international audience for the first time.
Curators Matthew Nevin and Ciara Scanlan devised an exhibition format with a unique interplay between artist, curator and artwork – with the intention of challenging each role through a dynamic collection of video, installation, sound and performance work from contemporary Irish, British, European & North American Artists. This reflected the curatorial approach of MART as an organisation with an aim of supporting art making practices that break new ground, that test and stretch the material and immaterial, and ever changing conventions of ‘the norm’.
An Instructional subverted the norm (and cut down on costs) by challenging its artists to embrace a readymade approach in their work. This involved asking participating artists to produce artworks that were easily transportable or reproducible onsite in each new city. This ad-hoc approach embraced the idea of found objects, or “Manufactured objects raised to the dignity of works of art through the choice of the artist” [Andre Breton] while also creating an opportunity for connection and collaboration with local artistic (and non-artistic) communities in each location.
Over the course of the tour, works from over 30 artists were displayed. The travelling exhibition began its run in the Entree Gallery in Bergen (Norway) in June 2010. From there it went to Shunt gallery in London (UK), on to Space in Bratislava (Slovakia) and Stattbad in Berlin (Germany), before returning to Dublin to exhibit in the Molesworth Gallery.
The final leg of the tour saw the MART team cross the Atlantic for the first time to bring An Instructional to The Lewis Gallery in Jackson, Mississippi (USA) in November. In an interview with NBC while visiting Jackson Mississippi, Ciara noted how the An Instructional was intended “to challenge what people would expect from a normal exhibition.”
MART’s next trip to the states came in 2011, with Invite or Reject, which visited three notable galleries in three of America’s most artistically influential cities: New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Invite or Reject, as part of Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland programme, engaged with its setting by referring to the duality of understanding and miscommunication that existed when Irish people first immigrated to America. Curators Matthew and Ciara sought out a range of work that was challenging yet irresistibly welcoming for American audiences. Many of the works invited interaction from members of the public, opening up a more dynamic communication between an American audience and a selection of newly emerged irish artists.
Toni Earls of Irish Emigrant Online praised the way Invite or Reject “drew attention to the fact that the Irish were treated as second class citizens in 19th Century America. When they came searching for a life free of famine, war, and oppression, they faced hardship and were in many cases unwelcome.”
Invite or Reject opened in the Pop Up Art Loop in Chicago on 2 June 2011. From there it traveled on to Flux Factory in New York, opening on 7 July. The final stop of the tour was C4 Gallery in Los Angeles, where the exhibition opened on 4 August. Over the course of the tour, a total of 14 Irish artists displayed work: Ella Burke, Adrian Duncan, Adam Gibney, Benjamin Gaulon, Joan Healy, James L Hayes, Tony Kenny, Sofie Loscher, Matthew Nevin, Katherine Nolan, Margaret O’Brien, Ciara Scanlan, Nicky Teegan, and Stephen Woods.
In attempt to keep art from becoming too unapproachable and academic, MART has frequently adopted a playful approach in its curation. This came to fore in their 2013 exhibition Non Zero Sum Art Games which ran simultaneously in Unit 4 Dublin, metamatic:taf Athens (Greece) and Plataforma Revolver Lisbon (Portugal) from 7 – 24 March. Participating artists placed in a competition with strict rules, but no results or winner. These Non Zero Sum Art Games opened concurrently on 7 March 2013 with a live video link between all venues.
As with An Instructional, Non Zero Sum Art Games encouraged the use of found materials in each city, rather than extensively pre-prepared art works. In fact, this was enshrined into the game’s rules, which stated that “Artists may not bring any materials or equipment with the exception of one Mobile Phone & one Laptop” and that “Artists must work with at least one local artist or resident.” Each artist had only five days to prepare their work before the exhibition began.
The resulting exhibition created a reconsideration of “the notions of possessing, being a winner, being a loser, communicating and deciphering media messages as well as conceiving the urban space,” according to Stella Pekiaridi of Greek publication El Culture. Meanwhile in Metropolispress, another greek publication, Kika Kyriakakou noted how the exhibition explored “the possibilities of art and people to transform the mentality of the public”.
The Non Zero-Sum Art Games was part of Culture Ireland’s ‘Culture Connects International Programme’, marking Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The choice of cities represented three countries on the fringes of Europe who had all been disproportionately and disastrously affected by the global economic crash, engaging with the question of producing art in an environment of recession.
MART went further afield than ever before in 2014 when they visited Kyoto (Japan) for Imitators. Once again embracing a playfully non-traditional approach, Imitators was an interactive video installation that encouraged attendees to imitate the work on display and share their attempts on social media – blurring the line between artist and audience through an embrace of technology.
The curators collaborated with three Irish artists – filmmaker Trish McAdam, visual artist Andrew Carson, and musician Róisín O – to produce a performative video installation which was displayed in the Koyoto Art Centre from 2 to 10 August. By inviting its audience to produce their own imitations of the work on their camera phones, Imitators explored the narcissism of modern culture, selfies, minor feats of ‘fame’ and our obsession with self indulgent self promotion via social media has changed how we live day to day.
As with previous trips abroad, MART’s method of presentation encouraged an interaction between visiting Irish artists and a local audience as a way of opening a dialogue that would not have possible with an exhibition that relies simply on passive viewing of works of art.
MART’s lead curators Matthew and Ciara represented their country and its artists abroad again in 2015 when they curated Ireland’s exhibition in the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (PQ’15). The exhibition – Activating Affective Atmospheres – created an interactive sensory environment that explored the themes of weather and technolgy, and once again invited the local audience to be a participatory part of the presented work.
With Activating Affective Atmospheres the curators created a construct to produce and observe the audience as ‘activators’ who directly affected the atmosphere of the exhibition space. The installation consisted of a simple mechanism that graphed the pressure exerted by the room’s atmosphere. By triggering this mechanism, the audience began their own short-term documentation of the atmospheric changes within the space during their visit.
To create this interactive multimedia exhibition environment, Matthew and Ciara worked with composer Tom Lane, visual artists Brian Duggan and Stephanie Golden, critic/historian Siobhan O’Gorman, and producer Noelia Ruiz.
As well as representing Ireland in Prague, MART also returned to the US in 2015 with Instinct – a cross-disciplinary visual art and design based exhibition which visited three Los Angeles art galleries simultaneously in July and August, before returning to Dublin for a follow-up exhibition back in MART’s own gallery in Rathmines.
Curated by Matthew Nevin, Instinct sought to open up a confrontational visual argument with the viewer. To achieve this he collated a series of artworks that question the role of instinctual art production, with the artists develop their ideas through experimentation and the use of formal creative training.
The tour visited the Hive Gallery in Los Angeles from 9 July to 1 August 2015, the Los Angeles Centre for Digital Art from 11 July to 29 August, and the Santa Monica Art Studios from 25 July to 22 August. Across the three exhibitions, a total of eighteen artists showcased work: Dominic Thorpe, Liam O’Callaghan, Margaret O’Brien, Katherine Nolan, Terence Erraught, Eleanor Lawler, Francis Fay, Aidan Smyth, Olga Criado Monleon, Kayleigh Forsythe, Marie Farrington, Róisín de Buitléar, Gearoid O’Dea, Grainne Tynan, Ida Mitrani, Patricia Douglas, Karen Vaughan, and Christina O’Donovan.
By introducing yet another group of emerging Irish artists to an international audience, Instinct laid the foundations for an ongoing creative exchange between Dublin and Los Angeles, helmed by MART and their ever-expanding range of American contacts.
By 2016, Los Angeles had become something of a second home for MART, who returned there again in April for Activating Pangea in the DAC Gallery. This marked the first in a planned three year series of exhibitions in the city.
The exhibition title referenced a pre-human world without borders, and sought an imagined space without physical and cultural barriers that prevent new ways of being and thinking. The participating artists – Margaret O’Brien, Sofie Loscher, Gearoid O’Dea and Jonathan Mayhew – created work that depicted a series of imagined worlds which served to challenge and distort reality.
Furthermore, as part of their endeavours to provide creative platforms, during April 2016 MART attended its first Art Fair: Supermarket Art Fair Stockholm, showcasing works by James L Hayes, Adam Gibney, Ruby Wallis, Margaret O’Brien and Katherine Nolan.
In the coming years, MART built upon the close relationship they have developed with LA to further promote Irish artists and their work to the US, allowing for the development of new work and many exciting opportunities for exposure. Activating Pangea was the first of two trips to LA in 2016 for Matthew and Ciara, who curated The Voyage at CB1 Gallery featuring works by Adam Gibney & Brian Duggan, which reflected on geopolitics over time and space, negotiating real and imagined places in a global context.
2017 proved to be MART’s busiest international year to date, heading to USA twice, Latvia, France and Hungary. Matthew Nevin with assistance from Deirdre Morrissey were selected to curate a three city exhibition as part of EUCIDA’s 2017 Exhibition Programme with Echo Chamber. The three parallel exhibitions, which mirrored each other, analysed how culture, politics and socio-economic issues are reflected across Europe. Featuring replicated works by Jeanne Briand, Adam Gibney, Fabien Leaustic, Helen Mac Mahon, Rasa Smite, Paula Vitola across three galleries RUA RED Dublin, Gantner Multimedia Space France and Lūznava Manor Rēzeknes.
A Residency in 18th Street Arts Center Los Angeles followed in July 2017, which allowed curators Nevin & Scanlan to produce Destroy These Walls at Arena 1 Gallery in Santa Monica, featuring Margaret O’Brien, James L Hayes, Steven Maybury and live performances by Katherine Nolan, Terence Erraught. Thinh Nguyen, Meital Yaniv and Cindy Rehm. By encouraging participating artists to explore and reinvent material, technologies and methodologies, the curators pushed for work that can provoke the limitations of the gallery environment, producing powerful, informative and experimental new work.
October 2017 saw two exciting projects come to life, firstly MART represented Ireland at Budapest Art Market showcasing works by James L Hayes, Jane Fogarty and David Lunney, presenting a unique artistic composition in a vibrant and exciting region and in one of the culturally most attractive cities in Europe. The organisation was then invited to exhibit as part of the inaugural Irelandweek, creating a pop up contemporary art gallery on Hollywood Blvd. RE:IN Force featured work by Richard Forrest, James L Hayes, David Lunney, and Katherine Nolan, and focused on artworks that commented on the relationship between the viewer and object, often creating a visual abstraction which highlights the process and creation of the artworks.
For the early part of 2018 Scanlan & Nevin worked alongside leading performance and sculptural artists to devise a large scale exhibition highlighting the work of groundbreaking artists through Acts to Objects at LACE, Los Angeles. Artists harnessed and heightened the spectacle of the visual, allowing their form of subjectivity comment on the tradition of ‘attention grabbers’, that the artists in this show regularly employ a strategy addressing the audience gaze. Featuring works by Aine Phillips, Helen Mac Mahon, Margaret O’Brien, Katherine Nolan, Laura O’Connor, Jane Fogarty and live performances by Amanda Coogan, Eleanor Lawler, Cindy Rehm, Thinh Nguyen and Mothertongues (Meital Yaniv & Kim Ye).
Later that year saw MART return to Art Market Budapest for a second time. Led by Deirdre Morrissey, MART’s presentation to the atr fair exhibited the work of James L Hayes, Shane Berkery, Steven Maybury and Niamh Hannaford. Showcasing four Irish artists at different stages of their professional careers working across painting, drawing and sculpture whose work takes innovative approaches to traditional media. While across the atlantic Transmission as part of IrelandWeek 2018 saw the works of Sofie Loscher, Helen MacMahon and Robin Price curated by Matthew Nevin exhibited in the Hangar Galleries Santa Monica. Within their work, the artists examine and reinvent light as a material, producing experimental methodologies to act as a mirror and analysis of the structure of our world.
2019 will see MART endeavour to deliver their biggest international project to date, by launching the pilot programme for CIACLA – Contemporary Irish Art Centre, Los Angeles – during the summer of 2019. Utilising the previous nine years of exhibiting in Los Angeles and receiving funding from Department of Foreign Affairs MART will launch CIACLA. The center will promote Contemporary Irish Culture through a multidisciplinary programme, coinciding with local and international cultural partnerships. CIACLA aims to develop a creative platform to support and challenge Irish artists, working across disciplines, as a means of promoting Irish culture in Los Angeles.
With no signs in slowing down in their role as a true leader of promoting contemporary Irish art abroad, MART is working to establish long lasting channels for the creation and promotion of contemporary Irish art internationally. The MART team will continue to explore opportunities abroad with yearly visits to international art fairs and events, while continuing to provide creative platforms across the world.
MART’s international endeavours have been kindly supported by Culture Ireland.