GUEST – at the Arts and Disability Forum gallery, Belfast, January 5 , 2016 –

Chris Ledger, CEO of the ADF in Belfast invited Hugh Mulholland, the senior curator at Metropolitan Art Centre,  to curate a small exhibition  titled GUEST, of art   “…produced via these grants – over many years and in all art forms….The exhibition coincides with the opening of the second round of applications for IDA grants(IDA = individual disabled/deaf artists) that have been managed by ADF on behalf of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. ” ( quoted from the gallery handout – it does not give a closing date)

Mulholland  selected  nine  artists, displaying animation, sculpture, video, photography, performance(as a  video) and painting.

I appreciated his measured approach to the available space and natural light. Each work had enough of a distance from another, and stayed crisply visible even during the cloudy day.  Although the scale of the exhibits differed, not ever breaking a kind of synoptic relationships, Mulholland achieved  a co- operative variety.

Sinead Peru


A small video represented a performance in Peru by Sinead O’Donnell. She received an IDA grant last year using it -at the time of  this exhibition-  for a residency in the Far East.  Mulholland chose her earlier work, a  part of the Caution project, O’Donnell curated  for the Cultural Olympiad  in 2012.  The Above the cloud was filmed in Markawasi in the Andes Mountains in Peru.  The video is accessible on this link.

Peru appears also in the work of Shiro Masuyama, in his video trilogy of Sustainable Life. Mulholland selected the part filmed in Mongolia, 2015,  Making a saddle for the Bactrian camel I sheared using its own wool. 

Shiro-MasuyamaJPG Both  artists share commitment to  values offered yet often undervalued in a modern life. O’Donnell takes off her clothes to make contact between her skin and rock, air and sunlight, virtually becoming the  border line  between the surface of the Earth and the air before it reaches the rest of  the universe.  Watching it made me think of childhood  innocent celebrations of the  possible that only is in the imagination.

Masuyama’s take on the possible is more pragmatic. Stressed by the event at Fukushima nuclear  power station he searches for know how that may re-boot a civilisation after a catastrophe. His encounters with knitters in Sligo,  weavers in Peru and Mongolia – profile particular skills that support life. in a sustainable way. The video is a straightforward, slightly edited, honest  narrative of his personal experience and celebration of those indigenous people.  The video is possibly too long for visitors to watch in full – 45 mins.  It also minimises its appearance as art.

The question whether a document is art, and when, is not solvable in general. Some documents are, some are not. Masuyama deliberately keeps his work on the borderline, which becomes apparent when  its neighbouring  exhibit  decidedly follows the Modernist canon.  Like both exhibits by Stuart Calvin


Calvin, Receiver, 2014

Stuart Calvin, Receiver, 2014

and another

Calvin, Near Death tumblr_mpmnucQMfo1qb1g58o1_500

Stuart Calvin NDE,2012

Calvin NDE 2012GT_NDE02_2000

This view  is not from the ADF installation where it was displayed off the wall.  It still communicates the connectivity with both  Late Modernism and spirituality in art. This artist has a strength to  admit the existential insecurity  in a kind of minimalism that economises with means, without reducing the evoked depth of feeling.

Emotion, belief and  sustainable living appeared as a subject in Anne Quail‘s performances and video installations. Based on the narratives about folklore remedies  she rehearses what she is told with a kind of sympathetic distance and silence that seduce you to co-operate, putting your sceptical judgement aside for a moment.


Anne Quail, Direct Inconstancy, 2009, video still

The way she presents the inherited belief keeps ambiguity and not knowing what truth is embraced in and by  the generous “listening ” ( with subtitles) to the narrators who act as a conduit between past and presence.  Quail has a quaint style of relaxing rules of the ordinary to let some  magic to become acceptable. Until you, as a viewer,  break that uneven collaboration.

Real – what is real  – is not just a question that troubles cognitive philosophy, physics, and psychology – art too has a strong stake in that.  And painting, perhaps, has the most glorious history of winning most arguments.   The curator chose a painting from the Iceland Series by Maurice Orr.


Staying with my theme of the insecure truth and our uncertainty – I note the role of light and darkness as a pointer to one of the oldest embodiment of the problem in Plato’s Myth of the Cave.   Orr holds the power of light to hold the shape without defining whether it is a wave or a rock surface snowed over.    Darkness then is the impenetrable space appearing dangerously powerfully near or  far -as if giving up any promise of clarity.

Under the Cover of Darkness  is  the theme of photographs by Fergus Jordan.


Accomplished compositions allow the narrative, descriptive details to be swallowed by the darkness -without any protest. The light then gilds the visible  when and where it wishes – to frustrate a story telling. It is like apparition flirting with dreams.

Julie McGowan calls her exhibit  Darkland.  Title accidentally connecting  it with the previous two subjects stands in deliberate conflict with the fragile temporary state of being. Like soap bubbles, these bubbles have limited life time, but in a still  they frieze as if for ever.  This art is delightful for being both hard nosed research and child  play. Blowing bubbles  – safe to guess that everyone tried that at least once?  Taking something that commonplace is a risk, which McGowan confidently replaces with manipulation of the behaviour of the bubbles using the lens  to register the changes.  All her work i managed to see in situ is simply intriguing and never mechanical or dull. She holds on to the poetics of vision and play, without falling into romantic dreaming.  Rather – I registered almost scientific thoroughness.   Julie McGowan12715738_10153870066774840_8397402693326584735_n


They were two more artists in this exhibition. Alas,  I do not have images of their work: Fionnuala Doran (Grow) and Shannon Sickels (Re-assembled, Slightly Askew) .

Chris Ledger concluded:

“We intend to make this guest curation approach a regular theme – with visual arts but also with other types of work.”



About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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