Origami is the traditional Japanese art of creating mini-sculptures by folding a flat, square sheet of paper – no scissors or glue required. The crane is one of the most famous designs, and one of the oldest known books about origami from 1797, called Hiden senbazuru origata (The Secret of Folding 1,000 Paper Cranes), contains instructions for making 49 different kinds of crane.
But origami is still being taken to new levels by contemporary artists – like this incredible life-size elephant created by artist Sipho Mabona from a single sheet of paper!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 past. Draw 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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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
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.
In this week’s online workshop, Sophie Daly has a fantastic project for young people aged 12 and up! Sophie was inspired by the the striking neon artwork Sign*Age (2019) by artist Liliane Puthod, which is part of our current exhibition Dissolving Histories: An Unreliable Presence.