Project Y | Karen Conway at Engage Studios

Project Y | Karen Conway at Engage Studios


25/06/2021 - 10/07/2021    


Engage Art Studios
Churchfields, Lower Salthill, Galway, Galway City, H91 YCW9, Galway

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Karen Conway, ‘Project Y’ 

Mapping the Science of Pandemic Art, the Journey to find a Vaccine…

‘Project Y’ is an exhibition of new work by Galway artist Karen Conway which will simultaneously launch in ‘Engage Studios’ and on the artist’s website on Monday, the 5th July

The project was part-funded by the Arts Council of Ireland’s Covid-19 Award and is an observation of the Medtech/Pharma industry’s response to the then-evolving pandemic as it raced to discover a vaccine. Before the pandemic, Conway had been the artist in residence with CÚRAM/SFI, NUI Galway conducting research from the Biopharmaceutical Science Laboratory there.

When the SARS-COV 2 virus arrived, scientific research went from being very low on the radar of the general public’s interest to becoming central to all news broadcasts. Likewise, artistic practices followed this trend with subject matter focusing not only on science but also looking at the human cost of the pandemic which appeared to dominate the production of new work, both in professional and amateur practices. Conway’s working method involved keeping meticulous notes about the situation and then documenting all works on social media as they were made, linking in with the Irish Medtech/Pharma industry, and observing how Ireland was emerging as a world leader in the evolving scientific research.

On show in the gallery will be three drawings, the first one, ‘Project Y’ – the title drawing is a large 6ft x 4ft drawing using pencil and graphite on Fabriano paper, it was completed entirely from photographs supplied by a leading Pharma company 1 It visually pieces together the information and images acquired through research and was informed both by video linked conversations with the staff there and by consideration to the evolving scientific research that was taking place in Ireland at such an accelerated pace. At the center of this title drawing, we see an image of a laboratory where scientists are working; they are flanked either side by machines and bioreactors which connect to a plant where the manufacturing of a much-awaited vaccine will take place.

The second drawing, ‘Lauren Leaving Helsinki in Swimming Goggles and an Industrial Mask After Finland Calls a State of Emergency, 17th March 2020’ is another 6ft large graphite drawing made on Fabriano paper made shortly after the WHO declared that COVID-19 was to be characterized as a pandemic. The artist explained that her daughter had to abruptly leave her Erasmus studies at the University of the Fine Arts Helsinki and that this drawing was made from a photo sent to her from an empty Helsinki-Vantaa Airport empty airport before a traumatic flight home to Dublin, Laurens’ twin sister was completing her studies in Biopharmaceutical Sciences at the same time.

A third smaller pencil drawing considered the second lockdown when ‘covid fatigue’ set in and a ‘universal boredom’ became apparent. This discontentment became increasingly evident as the public continued to ‘wait’ for the solution to arrive, explained Conway. ‘On Salthill Ritual’ referenced the coping mechanisms that the local people used in an attempt to alleviate the uncertainty and confusion in a now-familiar COVID-19 world. In this drawing, Conway references ‘The Last Messiah’ 2 a 1933 essay by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe where he suggests that the four main methods humans have used for limiting the contents of their consciousness are: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation – similar in a way, to the distractions and routine of the walk/swim/cycle/run (repeat) cyclical activity evident on the Salthill Promenade.

Conway predominantly works with pencil but also included in the online part of the exhibition are a series of experimental ink drawings which feature the pharmaceutical plants and devices referenced in the project. Digital ink collages investigating cells and their structures are also featured and these extra additional drawings can be viewed on the artist’s website when ‘Project Y’ is launched in its entirety on July 5th

The exhibition will run for a week from the 5th – 10th July in ‘Engage’ studios, Churchfields, Lower Salthill, Galway, The gallery will be open to the public from 11 am – 4 pm each day and the entire exhibition will be available to view online here:

In line with public health guidelines, face masks are to be worn, and only six people at a time will be allowed into the gallery at 30-minute intervals to allow for physical distancing. Advanced booking is advised, but not required, via

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