Eight Years On: Ambulatorio Belfast Anniversary


Eight years ago today on the 11th July, we opened Ambulatorio Belfast by Oscar Muñoz to the public at the Crumlin Road/Flax Street interface – meaning the interface itself was opened to the local communities for the first time in decades. Today we look back and celebrate the story of how this extraordinary temporary public art intervention within one of Belfast’s most contentious interfaces came to be.


Press Eye – Belfast Northern Ireland – 9th July 2012 – Picture by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

How did the project begin?

Ambulatorio Belfast would not have happened without the Draw Down the Walls project: a collaboration between North Belfast Interface Network (NBIN), Lower Shankill Community Association (LSCA) and the Golden Thread Gallery (GTG).

Draw Down the Walls was created to imagine a city without barriers. North Belfast is no stranger to the news, but stories were generally focused on the negative and did not reflect the growth in positive relationships being built between communities. Bringing an international artist into the mix encouraged residents and visitors to see the area differently and provided opportunities for young people to have creative involvement in the social decisions that affected their lives.


The Artist

Oscar Muñoz lives and works in Cali, Colombia. His work has been exhibited in numerous group shows including the Venice Biennale (2007), Prague Biennale (2005), and Cuenca Bienal (2004). In 2008 he had solo exhibitions at the Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, Toronto, Canada; the Herzliya Museum, Israel; the Institute of International Visual Arts (INIVA), London, UK; and the Museo Extremeño e iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo, Badajoz, Spain.

Oscar Muñoz: Narcisos, 2002 © ConstanceMensh Courtesy: Philadephia Museum of Art
Oscar Muñoz: Narcisos, 2002 © ConstanceMensh Courtesy: Philadephia Museum of Art

Highly regarded as one of the most important visual artists working in Colombia today, Muñoz has captivated audiences around the world with the universal subject that underlies all of his work – the commonality of loss and remembrance.

His experience of working in another conflict zone put the local into an international context, providing a unique window of opportunity to spotlight the relationships that are being built between historically divided communities as we move towards more hopeful times.

While Oscar’s work subtly alludes to the impact of the war in Colombia – another region immersed in political and social turmoil – his themes have a more universal appeal, exploring themes of memory, human loss and impermanence.

Ante la Imagen, 2009 © Oscar Muñoz, courtesy of the artist and Mor charpentier gallery

Muñoz reinforces this: “My work today arises from my interest in understanding how a society comes to accept war – or rather, a dark and corrupted succession of wars over more than 50 years and which have not yet ended – as part of the routine of living, where both the past and the present are plagued with daily violent events which are persistently repeated”.

Creating the Ambulatorio Belfast

In February 2012, Oscar Muñoz was invited to visit Belfast and meet communities from both sides of the interfaces. 

As a response to this visit he developed Ambulatorio, a site specific installation using aerial maps of North Belfast sealed under a layer of cracked glass. 



Ambulatorio was initially created using aerial photography of Cali in Colombia.  In Ambulatorio Belfast, Oscar transformed the ‘no man’s land’ between the two barriers that separate the Crumlin Road and Flax Street. The artist installed a unique view of north Belfast at ground level, involving a series of photographic tiles across 120 feet between the two interface gates.


The Project Partners

Peter Richards, GTG Director recalls ‘Through the gallery I have had the privilege of working with many incredible people on many wonderful projects. But Ambulatorio Belfast still stands out as a truly special moment – a coming together of the best of people, to make this happen, regardless of obstacles.

I have so many memories of the project, some very vivid – such as the whole install team, myself included, sat on sandbags weighing down bolts whilst the adhesive set, in the lashing rain, to level out the panels!

But rather than me go off into sharing all my memories, I’ve chosen an extract from one of the texts in the catalogue; a transcribed conversation between the key project partners Breandán Clarke from the North Belfast Interface Network Ian McLaughlin from the Lower Shankill Community Association and Ruth Graham from the GTG about the reasons for getting involved, how it connected with the work they do and how Ambulatorio Belfast  impacted on the residents of interface areas.  

Imagining a City Without Barriers

Ruth:    I’m the Development Officer for Golden Thread Gallery and our involvement with Ambulatorio Belfast began with Draw Down the Walls.  When Peter Richards, the Gallery Director, was invited to pitch an idea for the Cultural Olympiad as part of the London 2012 Festival, it made sense to start with Draw Down the Walls and invite an internationally respected artist to make a proposal that would mean something to residents of interface areas.

Ian:      The Lower Shankill Community Association was formed in 2000.  Part of the work we do is to motivate our community to get involved in the regeneration of their area and the decisions that affect their lives.  I’ve been involved with LSCA at various levels from 2000 and have worked here since 2009.  Ambulatorio Belfast came to the fore through working relationships developed from the North Belfast Interface Monitoring Group, leading to Draw Down The Walls which, in turn, led to our collective involvement in the project.

Breandán: North Belfast Interface Network is one of the driving forces behind Draw Down the Walls and by using some of the conversations within Draw Down the Walls as a starting point, we were able to widen the context of the project to imagine a city without barriers, where the barriers were recognised as not being solely physical.  The opportunity to realise a project as part of the Cultural Olympiad was an ideal way to increase our impact on both a regional and international level.  Ambulatorio Belfast allowed us to engage residents living close to an interface that has been closed for almost 30 years and look at how it could be temporarily opened to allow this project to happen. We needed something people could connect to during what is historically the most contentious time of the year. Creating an artwork with an international artist, being part of the Olympics and seeing a good news story from north Belfast were all factors in increasing residents’ confidence to participate.  It also allowed residents to participate in community relations activity without really thinking about it: they were simply taking part in something together.

Ian:  It was also an opportunity for our residents to connect with London 2012, which had not impacted on Northern Ireland as much as it had with other areas of the United Kingdom.  By connecting with the project, ordinary community members felt a sense of pride through being “involved” in London 2012.  We also used the project as an opportunity to open another gate for the duration of the exhibition, funnily enough in Columbia Street, to make it easier for our senior citizens to visit the project.  This was actually requested by people who attended a consultation meeting before the artwork was installed.

Ruth: We found that the project introduced us to new partners and confirmed our view that high quality art can change the way people think about their communities.

Breandán: The feedback has been overwhelming, from local residents to media reports and reviews as well as being a live topic on Twitter and Facebook for the entire summer. The conversations generated within the community relations sector have gone to the most senior levels of government in Belfast and it has been benchmarked as a model of good practice by Belfast City Council & OFM/DFM.  The project was launched by DCAL Minister Carál NíChuilín and supported by DSD Minister McCausland & DOJ Minister Ford, demonstrating that Draw Down the Walls, by uniquely using contextual art to engage communities in community relations activity, can affect real change.

Ruth:    I spent a fair bit of time on the site so for me, the responses were first hand.  Most of them were positive and most were visitors the local area.  Comments ranged from, “I’m going to bring the wife to see this” to “why don’t they keep these gates open?” to “where’s the art?”. Most poignantly there was one visitor who had not been near the site since his brother was shot close by.  He told the invigilators that it was important for him just to be in the space. The project encouraged discussion about the past, the artwork and about barriers in general.  Art galleries can be silent – like libraries  – with Ambulatorio Belfast there was contemplation AND talking.

Ian:  We have had very positive feedback from everybody who was involved in the project and from those who visited Ambulatorio Belfast.   There were also some very interesting stories from our elderly visitors who vividly remember a North Belfast without barriers. 

Ruth:    I felt a difference when I returned to the site after being away for a week or two.  The site itself felt charged with layers of meaning and looking at Ambulatorio Belfast from a fresh perspective revealed an element of the project that can only be described as poetic.  In terms of real difference – yes, communities are talking more about how easy it should be to open more interfaces and there seems to be a desire for meaningful change, but there is a long way to go. 

Breandán:  Change began as soon as we started to discuss the potential of the project. The difference was that there was a resolute undertaking from everyone that whatever we did, it had to be embedded in the North Belfast community. To realise the project we had to get access to a space that had been closed for 30 years, we had to broker keys, then, with consent from residents, have a doorway cut into a steel barrier, so the difference had already been made. The space has changed forever both physically and contextually and so has the relationship between the communities. The next step is to gather the learning from the process, evaluate what was achieved and look at what we could have done better. People are talking about the future of these structures and the conversation has also begun about how we can use art to “create the conditions to imagine a city without barriers” when we use it contextually and with relevance to the audience. The real ownership of Ambulatorio Belfast and its legacy are the residents of Ardoyne/Shankill-Woodvale.

Ruth:    At the moment we are de-installing the artwork.  It was never meant to be permanent because that would freeze the space in some sort of limbo where the exhibition would always be open but the road would always be closed.  It is possible that we will develop more temporary projects on the same site as a way of building on the interest generated through Ambulatorio Belfast

Ian:      We should take this opportunity to build on the Ambulatorio project to create the conditions whereby interface barriers are consigned to the pastDraw Down the Walls is open!


Ambulatorio Belfast, commissioned with the London 2012 Festival in Northern Ireland, was well documented at the time, in the media:

BBC Evening Extra

Irish Times

In art reviews:

Culture Northern Ireland

Art writer Slavka Sverakova

In academia:

Études Irlandaises

In local journalism:

Shared Future News

TransConflict

And a beautiful publication was created which is still available to buy – sales support the work of the Golden Thread Gallery.


Ambulatorio Belfast was a project which created a space that gave people the freedom to explore the artistic value of the project and allowed people to experience, and participate in, an artist’s vision of a city without barriers.

And it showed the power of art as a force with huge civic importance. We look back on it today, eight years on, with pride and knowledge of what communities coming together in Belfast can achieve.

Aerial photography at Flax Street for the AMBULATORIO BELFAST

GTG Workshop: Open Processing with Robin Price


In part 2 of his workshops on using computer coding to get creative, Robin Price takes us through how open processing works.

Once you have the basics of this down, the potential for making all kids of new art is really boundless!



Robin uses technology to create music and soundscapes as well as visual art, and to push the boundaries of our ideas about what different technologies can do. What do you think our machines and devices could do that would be new and different? Send us your pictures and ideas!


GTG Workshops are funded by the Community Foundation NI

GTG FLASHBACK: SPLATTERED!


In August 2008 the Golden Thread Gallery hosted a ground-breaking participatory art project called Splattered. The project showcased range of contemporary urban artforms, with events run by the Trans Urban Arts Academy and aimed to encourage innovative crossovers between street art and more established forms of contemporary visual culture.

Splattered was an ambitious project combining contemporary urban art forms such as graffiti, VJing and low-tech filmmaking, with the added attraction of a paint-bombing event that linked with an exhibition of new work by Carlos Llavata: an internationally renowned artist & explosives expert, known for using fireworks and other kinds of explosives to create artworks that reflect on the human condition and the tension that lies between creativity and destruction.

It was an unbelievable opportunity to paint bomb an art gallery and join forces with an international explosives expert / artist. Participants listened to the sound of paint splatter and the newest beats as they took turns exploding with Carlos!



Splattered included:

Bodyscapes – an exhibition of new work by Carlos Llavata (Spain) connecting audio-visual projections with live actions and dramatic undertones.

Graffiti – Filth & Duncan Ross with the Splat Pack transformed the walls of the Gallery using graffiti techniques.


And now… it’s your turn!


CREATE YOUR OWN SPLATTER ART AT HOME

There’s no getting around it, splatter art can be SUPER messy… but that’s part of the fun! So, you need to do a bit of preparation, and definitely ask a grown-up for permission and some help!

The very best way to do it is outside so you can spread your paper out on the ground. If you are inside, paint in a space that you can clean up easily – avoid anywhere with wallpaper or carpets – and wear an apron or old clothes.

The great thing about splatter is that you don’t even need a paintbrush… there are so many possibilities.

It’s really all about THE FLICK! If you’re indoors, use a smaller flick of your wrist. But if you’re outside, go big and use your arms!

You need:

  • Runny paint in pots (or cups or yoghurt cartons or bowls)
  • Paper (or cardboard or an old t-shirt or an unfolded cereal box)
  • A paintbrush (or a spoon or an old toothbrush)

Are you ready? Ok!

Dip your brush or spoon into the paint then FLICK your wrist to splatter the paint across the paper!

Keep splattering with different colours. Try splattering close to the paper, and then further away, for different effects.

Leave your picture lying flat until the paint is dry… unless you want to experiment and see what happens if you don’t!

SHARE YOUR SPLATTER ART WITH US! Email pictures to info@gtgallery.co.uk

Buon viaggio Chiara!


Last week we said farewell to our wonderful Erasmus trainee Chiara Matteucci, as she was finally able to return home to Bologna, Italy after being stranded in Belfast during lockdown. We already miss her so much!

The Covid-19 pandemic restrictions kicked in soon after Chiara’s placement at the GTG began. In the strangest of circumstances she quickly became an invaluable part of the team, taking a pivotal role in delivering our online programme. In addition to carrying out a huge and overdue reorganisation of our exhibition archive, Chiara is our Instagram guru!


We asked her to write about her time with us, and as always it’s great!


Something forever

By Chiara Matteucci

‘When I packed my clothes and I was ready to depart for my Erasmus + traineeship I wasn’t expecting that it would turn out in this way. Well, no one expected that the whole year 2020 would turn out this way, but, let me say, if you decide to go through a worldwide pandemic in a foreign country, far away from home (precisely 1416 miles), things are slightly amplified. I don’t blame anyone, there were a couple of opportunities to fly back home but I considered it safer to stay here in Belfast and keep going with my Erasmus traineeship at the Golden Thread Gallery.

So here we are, at the end of this unique experience, which has unfolded as the most useful experience I’ve ever had – and all the thanks go to the team in the Gallery who supported (and endured) me in these pandemic months. I can’t hide that I would have wanted to have a chance to explore Belfast better (I’m still wondering how drinking a pint of beer in a pub after work would be) instead of knowing only the route to the gallery and back home, which by the way I can do with my eyes closed now.  And, of course, I missed all the beauty of seeing how to install and de-install an exhibition, talking with the artists during the vernissages and dealing with feedback of the public which, if you work with contemporary artworks, can often be incredibly controversial.

But if there’s something that I learned from this lockdown is to focus on the good things (the famous saying “looking at the glass as half full” has always turned out to be right) and, after four months of smart working, even though I exposed myself to an emotional rollercoaster, I can definitely say that I couldn’t have learned more work-wise. Even in a small and open listener team such as the Golden Thread Gallery, there are fixed roles. But during this period things have changed because we all have been exposed to something new, unexpected for the team and for me.  Together, meeting after meeting (God bless Zoom), we have formulated a virtual response to the quarantine, trying to keep the Gallery alive against the uncertain and suspended reality created by the virus. 

I clearly remember what the director Peter told me during one of our conversations about the art system – “If we were in a normal situation, probably me and you would never have met” and this is true. Someone could negatively interpret this sentence but in my case, this is where is hidden my half-full glass: the lockdown gave me the possibility to work in a unique (albeit virtual) environment, to be actively involved in the creation of content and I couldn’t be happier.

PS: Something forever is the title of a 2000 exhibition by Ian Charlesworth and Eoghan McTigue that the Golden Thread Gallery hosted in its old venue on the Crumlin Road. Have a look at the online archive, I proudly re-organised it!’

June 2020, Bologna via Belfast


We cannot wait to watch Chiara’s career in the arts develop, we know there will be so much success ahead for her. And we look forward to welcoming her back to Belfast for a visit someday soon so she can explore our brilliant city… and we can finally buy her that well-deserved pint!

GTG Workshops – Creative Coding with Robin Price

Rainbow

Learn how to use computer coding to create art! Artist, composer and technology superstar Robin Price shows you how to design and code a beautiful rainbow, just like in our picture.

Creative coding is a type of computer programming in which the goal is to create something expressive instead of something functional. It’s an exciting and growing field where art and technology come together.

Coding can be used to create pictures, animation, poems, games and many different kinds of art.



You can see wonderful examples of art created using computers and digital technology on Creative Applications Net (CAN).

And you can learn more about coding at CodeClub. This poetry generator inspired by 19th Century coding pioneer Ada Lovelace is one of our favourites!



GTG Workshops are funded by Community Foundation NI.


GTG Workshops: Easy Weaving with Simon Mills


Today’s online workshop by artist and photographer Simon Mills shows you how to do simple weaving using paper. Once you get the hang of the technique, you can create baskets, placemats, decorations or even very funky headwear!

With a little bit of help, this is an activity for all ages to enjoy.



Did you know that basket-weaving is one of the most ancient crafts in human history? Yet there are many artists using the technique today, such as basketry artist Ferne K. Jacobs or Anna and the Willow who weaves willow rods to create incredible life-size sculptures.

Huntress (c) Anna and the Willow

We’d love to see pictures of your woven creations! Send them to us at info@gtgallery.co.uk


GTG Workshops are funded by Community Foundation NI

GTG Artists Present: Ian Cumberland


This week we’re delighted to work with artist Ian Cumberland, as he shares a new film that looks back at his 2018 exhibition at the GTG, a common fiction. (Please note: the film has sound, but no voiceover).

Ian’s work in this exhibition explored new methods of painting for him; moving towards wider, more immersive installation experiences. Detailed portraiture was staged within the space and extended with fabric, neon and video work. This ‘staging’ framed the paintings in a context that is found within the imagery of the paint itself, bringing the viewer a different perspective of looking at his work. The paintings were expanded, the landscape of each work brought out and into the gallery.


About the artist

Born in Banbridge in Co Down, Ian Cumberland studied at The University of Ulster, where he was awarded the John and Rachael Turner Award for the most outstanding student in 2006. He has established a national and international reputation for his highly realistic portraits.

Ian is perhaps best known for his hyper realistic large oil paintings, including his award winning ‘Heads’ series. The surfaces of Cumberland’s paintings record the innate detail of flesh, pattern and texture in highly detailed precision.

Solo Exhibitions

2019  ‘A Common Fiction/Once removed’, Josef Filipp Gallery, Leipzig, Germany
2018  ‘A Common Fiction’, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, Northern Ireland
2016  ‘Once Removed’, MCAC, Portadown, Northern Ireland
2012  Albemarle Gallery, London, UK
2008 Albemarle Gallery, London, UK

Selected Group Exhibitions

2019 JD Malat Gallery, London, UK
‘I’ll be your mirror’, Josef Filipp Gallery, Leipzig, Germany
Royal Ulster Academy, Ulster Museum, Belfast, UK
‘SAGA’, Paintguide, Hong Kong
2018 ‘A Brand New Darkness’, Abridged, Galway Arts Centre, Ireland
2017 ‘Winter Open’, RUA Red, Dublin, Ireland
‘Delusional’, Jonathan Levine Projects, New Jersey, USA
Royal Ulster Academy, Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland
2016 ‘Portraits of a Nation’, Farmleigh Gallery, Dublin, Ireland
2015 ‘BP Portrait Award’ (Touring Exhibition), The National Portrait Gallery, London, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Ulster Museum, Belfast, UK
2014 ‘Presently’, MCAC, Portadown, Northern Ireland
‘184th Annual Exhibition’, The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Ireland


GTG Artists Present is funded by the Community Foundation NI

GTG Revisits ‘Better Society’


Each week during lockdown, GTG Director Peter Richards revisits one of our past exhibitions on Instagram and shares his personal reflections on the show and its contexts, then and now. This week he looks back to 2000 and the exhibition Better Society, which brought together work by Phil Collins, Daniel Jewesbury and Colin Darke.


Better Society 

Phil Collins, Colin Darke, Daniel Jewesbury

21st September – Sat 28th October 2000

I wouldn’t have started from here

“It’s increasingly appropriate to quote this phrase from Daniel, especially when writing any reflection on our past programme; or indeed, any History of Northern Irish Art; or come to think of it, any history as we understand it, at this moment in time.

Better Society brought together three distinct projects/bodies of work, by the three artists Phil, Daniel and Colin. Phil had just returned from a residency in L.A, Colin from Finland and Daniel, I can’t remember right now, but he was always somewhere or other. Each had developed works in response to observations on related societal models. 

The exhibition didn’t ever set out to offer a model what a Better Society could be, rather it offered an opportunity to confront ways we were engaging with the dominant socio-political models of the day. That proposed action seems ever more relevant today.

Preamble

So, I’ve started from here on this occasion … on another day it could have started from somewhere other…  I’d begun to be involved with the programming of the Golden Thread Gallery after having had a solo exhibition ‘Another Something Other’ there in 1999. 

The gallery was started by Gail Prentice in 1998 as an artist-led project. At the time of this exhibition the gallery was not receipt of any annual funding, it had no paid staff, rather it received sporadic project support and occasional sponsorship. The gallery had a different purpose and played a role different to its current configuration.  Though many of the motivations that informed its approach to programming continue to resonate.

It was a time when we worked predominately with our peer group – fortunately for us, we thought it was a great peer group, and a great time for visual art in Belfast. It felt like Belfast’s Art scene was poised to … or at least in a good place from which to… be at what now feels like a good moment in a perpetual cycle of endlessly differed potential. 

We were working with our knowledge of what our peer group was doing; what they were being paid to do elsewhere; and then creating opportunities to present this work to local audiences. We looked to set up new narratives, dialogues between works, whilst maintaining space for all works to be engaged with on their own. 

Subjects for, approaches to, exhibitions and exhibition making, primarily grew out of conversations. They tended to begin with an invitation to artists to come together with us and test a conversation further over coffee. I remember having lots of coffee with lots of artists…”

Peter Richards, June 2020


GTG Workshops: Salt dough modelling clay with Simon Mills


Today’s online workshop by artist and photographer Simon Mills shows you how to make your own brilliant salt dough modelling clay using basic household ingredients… And it features a very special and adorable guest artist! With a little bit of help, this is an activity for all ages to enjoy!



You can use salt dough to make ornaments, jewellery, picture-frames, the initials of your name, model cars or animals – the possibilities are endless. Once it’s baked, it can last for years if you look after it carefully.

Here’s the worksheet with instructions that you can download and print.

We’d love to see pictures of your salt dough creations! Send them to us at info@gtgallery.co.uk


GTG Workshops are funded by Community Foundation NI

GTG Artists Present: Sinéad O’Donnell


We are very excited to bring you this unique film by acclaimed performance artist Sinéad O’Donnell, in which she looks back at three iconic performance pieces from across her career, exploring themes of isolation: ‘Prerequisite‘ (1999), ‘Headspace: White Cube‘ (2014) which was first performed in Northern Ireland in the GTG in 2015, and ‘Red Clay Twins‘ (2018).



About the Artist

Sinéad O’Donnell has worked in performance, installation, site and time-based art for the past 20 years. Originally from Dublin and based in Belfast, Sinéad studied sculpture at the University of Ulster, textiles in Dublin and visual performance and time-based practices at Dartington College of Arts, graduating with distinction in 2003. Her work has been presented at Art of the Lived Experiment, Bluecoat, Liverpool, UK, Voices Travel, Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan (2014), Asiatopia, Bangkok Arts & Cultural Centre, Thailand (2013), Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb, Croatia, (2013), Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, Northern Ireland, (2012), Southbank Centre, London (2012).

Sinéad was the first performance artist to be awarded a Major Individual Artist award by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2017/18.  

Her work explores identity, borders and barriers through encounters with territory and the territorial. She sets up actions or situations that demonstrate complexities, contradictions or commonality between medium and discipline, timing and spontaneity, intuition and methodology, artist and audience. She uses photography, video, text and collage to record her performances which often reveals an ongoing interest in the co-existence of other women and systems of kinship and identity.

Sinead’s work with the GTG includes the remarkable CAUTION in 2012, the culmination of a two year project commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad to coincide with the London 2012 Paralympics; and ‘Headspace: White Cube’ performed for the first time in Northern Ireland at the GTG as part of the launch of Vanishing Futures: Collective Histories of Northern Irish Art XII.

GTG Artists Present is funded by Community Foundation NI.