August is Cork Craft Month - a season of events, exhibitions and initiative to celebrate and show support for the work and output of the county’s craft creators. From woodwork and sculpture, to clay and ceramics, it’s a broad field of study and appreciation, one in which the city hasn’t been found wanting in recent years.
Enter the Emerge New Makers Exhibition, currently underway at the MTU Gallery space on Grand Parade, bringing together the work and mission statements of fifteen new and emerging artists, each at the outset of their careers after graduating from one of five courses of study and practice in the field - Applied Arts at Crawford College of Art & Design,
Furniture Design at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, Jewellery Making at St. John’s Central College, the West Cork Campus Skibbereen subsidiary of the Cork College of Commerce, and Kinsale
Its 2022 installment opened last Thursday night, for its first physical exhibition since the outset of the Covid-19 crisis, and a large, curious crowd filed in to take in the artists’ work firsthand, and take in an opening speech from Tripe and Drisheen culture journalist Ellie O’Byrne.
Curator Ava Hayes discusses the significance of the opening: “For me, the launch was absolutely amazing, because, it's my first show that I've curated solo, so it was particularly special for me, I suppose, and because I selected all the work with Michelle, from Friends of the Crawford.
“We really know all these makers super well, it's not just that we did an open call and we looked at the pictures online, we went to all the shows, we spoke to them face to face. So it was all very personal, and meeting people there with their families and friends, it was just beautiful, really, overall.”
This parish will often talk about art and its process itself, but nowhere near as often about its facilitation - and for curators like Hayes, it starts with liaising with artists on the aims of their exhibition, agreeing on work to display and placing it in the context of the event and the space it’s in - hopefully building a rapport along the way.
"So for Emerge in particular, it kind of depends, for each college, on how big their body of work actually is. So, for me, it's very important to actually select the work with the artist so that we're both happy, as opposed to just picking what you prefer, and then the artist is kind of looking at you like, 'oh, God, is that really what we're putting on?'.
"I invited all the artists into my own studio, because I work as a painter myself. So I know exactly what it is, you know, for a show to go ahead, but also to talk to curators, that are particularly a bit frightening. So I invited all the makers into my own studio, to not only talk about my own work and myself, so that they get a personal background to me, but also to choose their work and talk through any problems or worries that they'd have about the exhibition itself, because it can be quite scary.
“So we kind of began there by building a bit of a relationship, I suppose, with everyone, after we had selected the work.”
Of course, we can’t go about discussing visual exhibition spaces or venues without discussing the circumstances of the past few years - with digital exhibitions having long become tiresome for curators, the rush to put an in-person event together was understandable.
But after the onset of the Covid crisis, and the remaining concern for those who are vulnerable to its continued spread, the considerations for a physical space and its character, as well as its relationship with the pieces being installed, took on a new dimension.
“It was just talking about where might suit the artists' work - for instance, Jordan Wheeler, who was our award winner this year, he has a walnut table, which couldn't be put towards the window due to the risk of it fading, there's all those logistics to take on board.
“There is that nervousness, as well, post-pandemic. We were really trying to keep that in mind, and you never know who'll turn up on opening night, you have to take on board kids, older people, and we want it to be as welcoming and safe a space as possible.
“But there is that thirst there, I think, like we see with everything at the moment with gigs, and people trying to promote them, people have an energy that they want to come, they want to talk to the makers, because they're sick of the online thing, and so are we, we want to be out there talking to curators to artists, we don't just want to see them on-screen anymore.
“So although we did set up the Instagram, and we were delighted with the traction that it was gaining, we were delighted for launch night for the place to be absolutely packed, because the proper conversations were happening, then really.”
The Emerge exhibition continues to run at the space until Monday August 29, with panel discussions and other events still to come as part of its run. Showcasing as it does the breadth and depth of new and emerging craft talent in Cork, Hayes is hopeful of a continued change in consumers’ perceptions, and artists’ expectations, placing an emphasis on how a sense of community inherent to art and creativity can drive it all.
“We're really just trying to keep up that excitement that everyone has, everything is on sale within the space as well. We've had a few sales already, thankfully, so hopefully that will keep up.
“For myself, I work as a curator and educator, an artist and everything else inbetween. For myself, I'm finishing my Masters now at the end of this term, so my own exhibition will actually take place in November within the same grounds, which is really interesting for me, because it's great to have taken on board all these factors, because I'm going to be doing it myself for my own work in November anyway.
“There's a great sense of community after coming out of this - it isn't just about craft, it's really about community, and the difference that community makes to craftspeople because without it, they do fall beneath the surface, you know, which is unfortunate.
“I'm surrounded by makers myself, and by musicians, luckily, in my friend group, so we really do try to work together in anything we can help out in. If you need me to take money at the door of your gig, I will, if I need them to pour wine, they will, and I think that's what it's all about, really, because once we kind of band together, there's no reason why it shouldn't work.”
The Emerge New Makers Exhibition continues until Monday August 29, open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm, at the MTU Gallery, 46 Grand Parade, Cork. For more info, visit https://crawford.cit.ie/events