VAN Critique Jan/Feb 2014: ‘Common Ground’ at Occupy Space, Limerick

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Fiona Woods, Post Art Condition, 2013

‘Common Ground’
Occupy Space, Limerick
(Aine Phillips, Amanda Dunsmore, Deirdre O’Mahony, Fiona Woods & Sean Taylor)
8 – 30 November 2013

Ground Up Artists Collective (GUAC) is concerned with strengthening the foundations for art created in rural areas, through research and collaborations. The GUAC annual exhibition for current members was held recently at the Ennistymon Courthouse Gallery in Clare but, to celebrate the collective’s 10 year anniversary, curators Orlaith Treacy of Occupy Space in Limerick and Barry Charles Foley of GUAC teamed up to bring the work of five former Ground Up artists to the Limerick city centre venue. The show thus offered a dialogue between work exploring rural concerns and the urban display context of Occupy Space.

Sean Taylor’s Silent Protest (2013) banners referenced the Communist Manifesto (1848) with the slogan “Listeners of the world unite!” and a graphic of a microphone and headphones standing in place of the expected hammer and sickle emblem. The emphasis in Taylor’s often sound-based work is on listening – something also pertinent to the importance GUAC places on working with local communities and encouraging engagement. Softday, Taylor’s ongoing art project, focuses on social and environmental issues.

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Amanda Dunsmore, Others Have Their Heads…Church Band Intervention with Austrian Hedge, 2011

Deirdre O’Mahony’s SPUD (2013) investigated traditional forms of potato cultivation. The installation on display resembled an ‘educational shrine’. Copies of whitewashed pages from literature on the potato, tacked up on the walls, accommodated drawings. The drawings illustrated in minute detail how to grow and harvest potatoes – resembling encyclopedic excerpts. A bookshelf with various books on the potato outlined the vegetable’s historical relevance. This project was developed in conjunction with local farmers who have farmed using traditional methods. A rhythmic accompanying soundscape conjured up images of labourers digging. This project had artistic, social and even economic merit. O’Mahony’s SPUD emphasises the value of generations of knowledge versus modernisation, as global resources are coming under severe pressure.

Áine Philips contributed a project that highlighed the positive and lasting impact that art in the community can have. Shelters was commissioned in 2005 as a temporary work, but ended up staying in place for years. These simple sheds were set up at three different unconsecrated burial grounds for un-baptised babies in Co Clare. Located in places of the utmost beauty and serenity, the sheds were intended to act as a space for reflection and for healing. People were encouraged to leave a symbolic token in memory of these babies. Sheds are usually seen as a space to contain things, but here they served to let things out. A grid of photographs illustrated the project in its early stages on one side and its most recent guises on the other. The accumulation of items, such as little knitted jumpers and shells, are evidence of how people have engaged with this project.

Post Art Condition (2013) by Fiona Woods was a multimedia installation featuring several projects showing man-made interventions in the landscape or ‘natural’ interventions indoors. A trail of leaves were draped around a hospital bed on a drip – is this a reflection on nature in difficulty? An expletive text on the main back wall greets you as soon as you enter the gallery space, bold and unapologetic: “TOTALLY FUCKED OFF WITH ART”. The photographs and plant installation on display create a sense of a developing practice and time passing. This suggests looking back at what has gone before and assessing the current situation, in this case with a sense of disillusionment.

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Aine Phillips, Shelters, 2003 – 2013

Amanda Dunsmore’s Others Have Their Heads… Church Band Intervention with Austrian Hedge (2011) provided a contrast and seemed a more lighthearted offering. This video piece of a performance for a festival showed an intervention with local participants. In the work, the body become an almost sculptural tool for altering the landscape – temporarily reshaping the normal lay of things and disrupting the everyday routes of local people.

The beauty of this show was in its inherent diversity – despite the common interests of the artists involved. Collectives, especially in more isolated areas, can instill a sense of mutual support and probably heighten the chances of making an impact, without compromising individual practice. Although these five artists are no longer members of GUAC and their practices have no doubt evolved, the fundamental concerns of the collective still permeate the works on display. Presenting these concerns in an urban space opened them up to a new audience for appreciation. ‘Common Ground’ served firstly to highlight the aims of GUAC – which is still going strong, but also to show how members are carrying forward its ethos, proving that art created in rural areas is not on the margins at all but at the very centre of a distinct movement.

Roisin Russell is a writer based in Dublin. She has also written for Paper Visual Art Journal, Circa and Vulgo.

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