BRINGING art to the streets makes sense as we emerge from lockdown and venture out into the city.
The Glucksman’s new off-site exhibition, ‘New Light’, developed in partnership with the Cork Midsummer Festival, gets underway tomorrow, June 10, and continues until June 24. It is the gallery’s response to the strange times we live in.
The billboard exhibition takes place along five designated walking routes in Cork city, showcasing posters by eight artists. The street art will be accompanied by a series of postcards of the art works and an online guide about the exhibition.
As Glucksman director, Fiona Kearney says: “We know people are eager to experience culture beyond the screen and it is hugely exciting for the Glucksman to be able to present an exhibition that people can view from a safe distance. I’m in awe of the stunning artworks created by our eight artists. Each one is a reminder of how precious it is to see things in a new light.”
One of the participating artists is Traveller Leanne McDonagh, who is the Traveller education co-ordinator at CIT. She welcomes this presentation of art in the public space.
“Not everyone feels they can go into a gallery. When you bring art outside, it creates a bigger audience.”
Leanne’s contribution to the exhibition is a digital image that she captured a number of years ago.
“I have been waiting for the right moment to exhibit it. I took the slow exposure image with a Cannon camera. What will grab people is the colour in it and the movement. The piece is titled ‘Pavee Presence’. It’s about seeing the beauty in others. I had opportunities to show it before now but I held off. I hope that when (the pandemic) is over and we get back to some kind of normality, society will have a new outlook.”
Leanne says that when Fiona Kearney described the concept of the exhibition, “looking with new eyes at the daily lives we lead, it felt right for my image. The photograph was taken at a horse fair. It’s of a Traveller’s stall at a fair. You may not see that when you first look at it. There are two people in front of the stall. It’s fairly bright and it’s all about seeing what you want to see in people.”
When she was younger, Leanne remembers being approached to have her photograph taken at horse fairs and other events.
“I willingly did so until I came of an age when I got sense and started to wonder, what happened to those images? Where did they go and in what context are they shown? When I was in my final year at the Crawford, I did some research, for my own work and thought process. I found an image online of a horse fair I used to go. My brother was in it. The report that went with it was absolute crap. My brother wasn’t aware that it was online. He was never informed that it was going to be used in this context, which was sensationalist.
“So I decided to take photographs in a way that the viewer has to question what exactly the image is, what it’s about.”
Leanne, a mother of two young children, says that as far as she knows, she is the only professional practising artist in the country who is a Traveller.
“But when I say that, I know there are many more Traveller artists among us. I’ve met them. But unfortunately, they just don’t consider themselves to be artists.”
Leanne feels that a lack of confidence is part of the reason.
“I’m working on trying to get more of them to accept that they are artists, that their work is worthy and that they should put it out there. Then again, I suppose all artists, regardless of who they are, have a certain vulnerability about putting something out in public.”
Now that she is an established artist, does Leanne still experience discrimination?
“The most discrimination I ever experienced was between the age of 18 to 25. They were the years when I would have gone out at weekends. I think more and more people know who I am now. Before, when I was younger, I could walk into a room and people would say to me that I didn’t look like a Traveller. Unfortunately, I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult.
“Now, I don’t experience much discrimination. I work so hard that I don’t have time to go out. But I wonder what would happen if I did. That said, I’m now confident enough in myself and I know my rights. I wouldn’t allow anything to go unchallenged.”
Cobh-based Peter Nash, originally of Carlisle in England, who did his masters in art at the Crawford, thinks the ‘New Light’ exhibition “is a brilliant idea, especially at this time when so many artists’ projects have been cancelled.”
His contribution to the exhibition is an Indian ink drawing of bird life using a pen with a nib.
“It’s quite a slow process of drawing and it’s one that I’ve used a lot. A lot of my processes are very slow. I also do animation and wood carving.”
Spending a lot of time looking out the window on a lovely view of the water, Peter says it seems, when we’ve all been confined to home, that “the world has stopped outside”,
“But when you look out, the birds are there, collecting bits for their nests, hatching and bringing up the young. So I was just watching the birds and taking solace from that, and seeing them while on neighbourhood walks.”
Peter has read that crows can recognise human faces.
“I just thought that was fascinating. I wonder do they know who we are, do they see us coming and going, off to work during the day and then wondering why we’re not going out much anymore?”
Over time, Peter has done studies of birds.
“I collated them and made a piece for the exhibition. It has got a crow, another bird flying and a study of a wing showing how it works. I take a lot of inspiration out of reference books and encyclopaedias.”
Such pre-internet sources are solid and reliable, as far as Peter is concerned.
“I’m 39 so I’ve lived through the technological changes. When I was younger, we got a lot of our information from books. I took comfort from them. There was a place to go for everything you needed. It was structured whereas real life isn’t like that. Instead, it can be haphazard. I did a lot of research in libraries. We have a great library in Cobh.”
Google is the search engine that most of us now use, but Peter says that while “it’s a brilliant tool, it can sometimes be too much. You look for something and you get a thousand results and if you click, there’s a link to something else. It can all be very distracting. That’s why, when I’m trying to work, I find it easier to have a couple of pages to refer to.”
Peter has always been interested in nature, “specifically biomechanics and the structure of things. I love looking at the skeletons of animals and biology.
“I’m a sculptor as well. I’m very interested in the way things are put together, especially when you look at the skeleton of a bird. It’s just incredible, the size of it and the fact that it works. I think we’re all more aware of birds now and bird song.”
Because his studio at the Backwater Artists’ Studios complex is closed due to the pandemic, Peter is trying to work from home.
“It’s difficult. I have only a one-bed flat. I live with my partner who is an artist as well. The two of us take turns to use the desk. We can both be a bit messy.”