Household at Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, May, 2013

Five  curators, Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Eoin Dara, Kim McAleese, Alissa Kleist and Ciara Hickey invited seven artists and an experimental theatre group Skinnybone to contribute to the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast,2013. They secured  three  vacant  sites, an  office suite, a Pound Shop  and the architects studio.

At 7 North Street the rooms  still fitted with office furniture and paraphernalia became the  theatre stage, with the  audiences, limited to fifteen , huddled together in one corner.

“The weekend never seems to come. It’s ‘Happy Friday’ in the office again. Make sure you’re living your life to the full, or run the risk of finding permanent employment with us.”

Household curatorial collective are proud to present a brand new performance by the Belfast-based experimental performance group Skinnybone Theatre, featuring Adam Bargroff, Ben Maier, Bronagh McCrudden, Adele McGrath and Claire McCartney.

Another part of the office suite became a kind of workshop/wardrobe for an artist-in-residence  Tonya McMullan.

Photo: Transformed

In an informal tempo of ordinary exchange, negotiation, sewing, making toys or garments, the difference between art and non art became imperceptible. As with any conceptual art, the desire to remove the standard that aims at making life déclassé, the energy and style of this performance looked like work  with clients. The installation part insisted on making visible what is assumed not worth of special attention: a cupboard, used clothes, sewing machine, chair and table.  Inanimate things/objects occupy a rather lowly place amongst values, and normally they are a property of someone. As  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809  – 1865) pointed a proprietor may “allow his crops to rot underfoot, saw his fields with salt, milk his cows on the sand, change his vineyard into a desert and use his vegetable garden as a park.”  Mc Mullan does not maltreat materials and things, she  proposes a very different kind of ownership, one that cares, offers an exchange, transforms things into other things. She organized the cupboard, the garments, and  the labels telling the stories,  in a pleasant sensual order.

In addition, every  actual exchange of things   is recorded  as if it were a historical event. McMullan photographs ordinary human beings as if they were celebrities, hinting, with  a touch of humour , at subversion of photography as a proof of identity. Every time an exchange between the artist and a viewer happened, for ex. by liking a toy or wearing a garment, the penalty,/payment/reward was to be taken to a “photographic studio “ to document the deed. McMullan managed to allow both the repetitiveness of sewing and its creative potential to co-exist without conflict or hierarchy. Surprisingly, the ordinary display and activity felt fresh.  For that achievement alone, her effort to revalue the aesthetics of so called “little arts” (see William Morris) remains worth of attention.  Each of the things she displays are treated not just as a property, but as a fellowship between people and things.

At the beautiful space designed by the Todd Architects at 41-43 Hill Street, Liam Crichton made a beautiful  installation titled Vacant Echoes.  Its first part at the entrance contained a pillar with mirrors on its surface, exhibited earlier at Lissmore Castle and Satis House. As a part of Crichton’s Vacant Echoes, it was installed behind the glass wall, with two strip lights on the ground forming a right angle.

Their insensitive yellow beams interfering with the sophistication of reflection and shadowy grey tones. The  visual links to Flavin and Turrell  are signs of respect for both, without copying either. The soft reflections  on the glass  and mirrors, abolished the hierarchy of inside and outside, of behind and in front,  and rewarded the eye with elegant abstraction of  it all.

The steps led to the interior on two levels. The floors were covered with stone in an approximation to a well cared for county lane or yard.

The pristine horizontality evoked importance of space and silence. That, of course was not the intention, as on lower lever four heaters broadcasted their red bars as untouchable, and on the level above a speaker issued  agreeable pop music.  In a gently muted volume the sound easily embraced the whole interior without curtailing any inclination to meditate the aesthetics of road, grey stone and white walls. Spotlights accentuated the rhythmical relationship of materials by picking out white rectangles just where the wall stopped and the roof inclined above it. On the lower level,   in a small alcove, a vertical strip light on the wall morphed into a religious symbol  above the  closed horizontal black “mensa”/bench .

If the mirror pillar allowed  an association with neolithical menhirs, the rest was hinting at appropriation of some values cherished by Japanese Gardens, and Carl Andre’s idea that the best sculpture is a road.

Fifteen tons of stone project another issue: the space fell into desuetude. The original ethical domain included the space, furniture, light, heat, and people working, thinking, and  creating. Both architects and architecture  were governed by instrumental relationship. Crichton opens  that domain to include stone, industrially produced, to the realm of values, as if in an attempt to counter the exploitation of materials and nature architects take for granted.  The way the stone is placed speaks of care and trust, of an attachment to something of value.

Similar duration and continuity were  not available to the five artists contributing to  Exquisite Corpse, a contemporary take on a game used by Surrealists in 1920s. It is like a game of consequences. It  is a ritual that induces a feeling of control  and reduces uncertainty.  Rituals are often part of communal or religious setting. Equally though, they are performed in privacy, in solitude, with the intention to reduce anxiety, alleviate pressure or boost confidence to perform well in competition or collaboration. The  order in which the artists were given the time slots, the transfer of keys , framed the ritual aspect of these events.

The closed down Pound Shop at 18 High Street  became a space for a collaborative connection during ten days,   each  participant was given the use of the space for two consecutive days , without knowing  what they will find  on their arrival, and what the outcome of it all will be. This curatorial decision invested in responsiveness and inspiration, chance and invention.

Laura McMorrow  has  installed a shiny black slab not quite vertical  nor horizontal, instead  on an angle of the mirror in Victorian fitting rooms. In front of it under a glass dome, some snails were supposed to exist for a while. Snails became also subject of a video accentuating slowness as a life supporting value. Installed under the roof, the collection had a trace of Victorian interest in nature, and, life and death. The smooth surface of the inclined rectangle easily metamorphosed into a blackened mirror, denying acceptability to both  vanity and narcissism.  It was slightly reminiscent of the medieval images of Last Judgement, the opening of the tombs. The accent on slippages, slippery beings, slippery paths, point to phenomenological grounding of the whole, thus offering  a link to her previous work on boundaries.

Martin Boyle bet on a unifying characteristic of sameness, by buying  ceramic birds and frames at another  Pound shop.  Search around the space yielded  staff  messages written on note paper, which he framed and installed on the wall as art what was not art. By this Boyle restored the neglected things into something of value. The desolation of something that no longer belongs to its original use has been overlaid by insistence on their aesthetic and documentary appeal.The sensual value of the common practice of keeping memorabilia  resonated above the banality of the words  that contributed the differences.


The chirping sensors from the toys were distributed around the stairs and walls, the sound activated by the passing viewers. The idea of continuity between past and presence  enshrined in the materials used, appeared mute (framed texts) and loud( chirping of the sensors) in synergy with the sight.  The sound of the birds was too mechanical to evoke nature, and too surprising to be dismissed as a commercial kitsch. Its poetics was born out of the practical body movement suddenly distracted by the just  about audible charming association with a bird song.  Both parts of Boyle’s installation, the visual and sound, forged a non –sentimental memory of people who used the space before,  a gesture towards   their symbolic  afterlife.

Brian J Morrison constructed  wooden structures  from raw timber with no apparent purpose, as if waiting for a joiner  who never comes.

At one end of the lower space a constructed photographic portraits of his parents were set apart and along the wall. Whether a viewer believes that the photographs are indeed of his parents or not, is dependent on knowing about Morrison’s intention and his concept of photography. In a normal exhibition visitors will be instructed by labels and curators commentary. Here, no such assistance was on offer.  Deliberately.  The reward for an unpolluted directness evoked a delicious play of allowing and denying, belief and doubt.

Catherine Devlin  placed shelves in parallel  so that one watches the other,  broadcasted muzak, and displayed two videos of herself with shopping bag posing for a camera. These two grey images make her smaller than the surrounding things, and decidedly fatigued. The visualisation of shopping as an unpalatable chore is neither revealing or transforming  insight into banal experiences.  Until that is, her direct gaze into the camera, enters the viewing experience. Than the memory of empty shelves downstairs connect, and some dishevelling need takes on the tenor of the metaphor. Something untoward is happening to the person doing the shopping and succeeding to half fill a small plastic bag. Absence of expected result looms large, and there is no solution. The shelves are empty. It does not matter  whether it connects to the people who lost their jobs when the shop closed, or to any other person, Devlin masterfully removes identification, even if her face is recognised. This also intensifies the role of economy in the life of an individual. Be it an artist or a shop assistant.

Colm Clarke  tripartite contribution consists of a sculpture, interventions and a printed brochure. Imagine Antony Caro in black and with projected images. Near the entrance, Clarke erected a wall made out of shelves  connected to a sloped screen made of covers of light fittings in the ceiling.  On it he projected fragments of found tapes of films and other sources.  It would stand on its own outside this space and the curatorial intent.

Photo: The Exquisite Corpse site looks spectacular tonight! All 5 artists are now occupying the space. Drop in from 6-8 tonight to see the huge installation Colm Clarke has been working on over the past 48 hours.

During the ten days,  every second evening, there was an opening of  the work finished by  the asigned artist . At those occasions, Clarke inserted his various interventions. At the back of the brochure there are four pages of interventions he abandoned, under a summarising title  >peripheries. E.g. Have a  silent disco for the deaf:  low frequency vibrations; or Recreate ‘I love America’ by  J Beuys, except for a coyote use L McMorrow’s slugs respectively huge  and me wrapped in potato bread instead of felt. Now few examples from interventions he did execute:

At the Laura McMorrow’s opening he left a number of as if  press releases , suspended a handbag outside the shop and sprinkled glitter on the threshold. For Martin Boyle’s opening he hid a book on wild creatures of Ireland, Martin never found it.  A book he left for Catherine Devlin was lifted by another person instead.  More is to be found in the third part of his collaborative work, the printed brochure called  false flags.  It contains handwriting of five artists and a report of someone who analysed the writers characters.

Household made a contribution to a tradition of artists using spaces outside the art establishment, that in Belfast has a checkered but vivacious history. Before Delawab there was  Resonate.  In 1998, Susan Philipsz  and Eoghan McTigue  founded Grassy Knoll  and invited Theo Simms, Karen Vaughan, Mary McIntyre, Emma Nelson and Kevin Henderson, to install public art as a part of the Belfast Festival at Queens.   Nietzsche’s belief that things  re-occur  received a helping hand.

From the left: Kim McAleese, Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Eoin Dara.

The images are copied from Household Facebook pages, sorry, no credits available.

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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