Manuela documented her version of ‘Not Alone’ on Instagram, and shared her thoughts on having pieces of Belfast with her again. This is her essay about Sharon Kelly‘s ‘Sutured‘ 2020 piece.
“Among the last activities carried out before the lockdown was a studio visit to the British School at Rome at the newly arrived Sharon Kelly, from Belfast, whose light but rather tough sculpture in scrim and red thread I just set up. The anatomical parts remind me of the ones she was drawing at the studio in Rome. […] she spoke of portions of gestures of caring, of caring for each other and I saw so much disease. ‘Sutured’ is now on a small passing way of my house; portions of fabric are connected to each other to form parts of a body through a fiery red thread, at times the same features of arteries; I still see, in that red thread that joins a real suture, a desire to put back together the shards of a vase broken too many years ago. […] My home is now your home. But my home has become sacred since I missed it more than human contact, since I risked seeing it either a few hundred meters away from me, since I know my parents will never see it again, since I decided to take care of it as if it were full of sutures still red, like those of Sharon’s thread, my first artist met after months of forced separation from my previous life and last contact that preceded a global isolation.”
At the end of this week, Manuela will pack the exhibition up and send it on to the next curator – but it’s not going so far this time, just across the city to curator Micol di Veroli!
The Golden Thread Gallery’s unique touring exhibition ‘Not Alone’ arrived in Bologna on 30th August. Curator Chiara Matteucci unpacked and installed the artworks in her home, and has been sharing her iteration of the exhibition online for the past week on social media. She’s also shared her own perspective on the project, and where she believes it fits in the field of exhibition-making. Chiara writes:
“The title ‘Not Alone” comes from a Police song, Message in a Bottle. During the quarantine, how many of us experienced a sense of alienation without being lost on a remote island? That nostalgia for social life, human contact, and the possibility of seeing live artworks, is the emotion that moves the project at its beginning; in parallel with the necessity to create something different, able to re-enact old mechanisms and to get people used to the wait, to their right of taking their time to do everything, even experience an exhibition.”
“Almost all of the artists involved decided to create something concrete, more traditional (if we can still use this term), albeit all of them were free to create whatever they want, except for one condition: the artwork had to be able to travel in a bottle. The fact that the artists decided to use traditional media, from sculptures to paintings, to printed photographs, make me think… Is this a coincidence? Or is it a stance, a necessity to take a step back from the digital world? If it’s the latter, is it correct to take that distance?”
“The migration of the Art World online has separated intellectuals in two currents: those who are pro digital and those against, who consider the Internet as a short-term solution. But during this unusual period, we’ve all been grateful to the web and its potentialities. All the art members, from institutions to artists and curators, have tried to exploit as much as they can the digital world to keep themself (and us) alive. Instagram takeovers, podcasts, virtual tours, but also online performances were all been ways to share and make art everywhere. This possibility of being connected with people who comes from the other part of the world, that they might never afford to come overseas to see an exhibition, it is definitely something that we can’t neglect, and it is, in my opinion, the best quality of the Web.”
“This democratic aspect of the world wide web, connecting all the public realm with the cultural system – it belongs to the home, too.”
“Before considering it as a cage, the house has been our refuge and sometimes an art space. To demonstrate this, the Art History is full of subversive examples of exhibitions which took place outside the museums and the famous white cube. Digging more, there is a long thread of art exhibitions in houses that starts from 1986 with the famous Chambres d’Amis at Gand, it passed through The Kitchen curated by Olbrist and arrives at nowadays.”
“If the art system has tried to make Art eternal, neutral, and exclusive, the house gave it back to where it belongs: to the real world. In the house indeed the artworks start to live again, the fruition of them changes and merges with the emotional sphere of the house itself, full of the memories of its owner. Inside the house there are no more hierarchies, it is accessible to everyone; the cultural elite is replaced with the mass. Exactly as the digital realm has done from its beginning, and more and more with the arrival of social media, using its devices to make Art available in a click.”
The grant will allow us not only to survive and re-open in these challenging circumstances, but to take a huge step forward in celebrating and protecting Northern Ireland’s legacy of contemporary visual art. The necessity of creating a permanent Collection here in Northern Ireland has been made even more clear to us through the Covid-19 crisis, which hit artists particularly hard. Building on our ten-year project of exhibitions and publications, ‘Collective Histories of Northern Irish Art’, which set out to create a useful historical context from which audiences and educators could engage with the stories of this place through the art of our time, we will now be able to establish the Golden Thread Collection with the highest standard of collection management systems and storage.
The Respond and Reimagine grant will also go towards the post Covid-19 adaptations required to re-open the Golden Thread Gallery safely, and to welcome back and rebuild our audiences, following almost six months of lockdown closure.
Art Fund’s Respond and Reimagine grants offer flexible and responsive funding designed to meet immediate challenges connected to the Covid-19 crisis and reimagine future ways of working. In the first round, 18 grants were given, from a total of 114 applications. Developed in consultation with museums and galleries, the grants meet needs in four priority areas of collections, audiences, digital, and workforce. They may also cover costs to support reopening, as well as encouraging creative and innovative projects as organisations look to reopen with fundamentally different operating models. Respond and Reimagine Grants will provide £1.5m in 2020 to support museums, galleries, historic houses, libraries and archives, and non-venue-based visual arts organisations, and is part of Art Fund’s £2m package of funding to support museums through crisis.
The deadline for the next round of Respond & Reimagine grants is 17 August 2020, and a final round will take place in the autumn.
The Board and Management of the Golden Thread Gallery would like to express our thanks to Art Fund for their generous support.
Saran McAvera, Deputy Director, Golden Thread Gallery
Golden Thread Gallery (GTG) has played an important role in the provision of contemporary visual art in Belfast and Northern Ireland since it was established in 2001. Our mission is to present quality and innovative artistic programmes that capture the diversity of contemporary arts practice, and which engage, educate, challenge and inspire. We strive to build and engage the widest possible audience for contemporary arts, extending the reach of the arts, nurturing a deep understanding and enjoyment of current visual arts practice within the broader community, while developing, supporting and promoting the work of contemporary Northern Irish artists and visual arts practice. The GTG is a recognised charity, and our core funders are the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.
Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. It provides millions of pounds every year to help museums to acquire and share works of art across the UK, further the professional development of their curators, and inspire more people to visit and enjoy their public programmes. Art Fund is independently funded, supported by the 159,000 members who buy the National Art Pass, who enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and receive Art Quarterly magazine. Art Fund also supports museums through its annual prize, Art Fund Museum of the Year, which was won by St Fagan’s National Museum of History, Cardiff, in 2019, and through a range of digital platforms.
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.
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…”
Our scheduled Dissolving Histories: An Unreliable Presence panel discussion couldn’t take place in the gallery due to the current situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily due to the wonders of technology, we were able to record the talk and bring it to you now, while still practicing all the social distancing protocols!
We were joined by co-curators Mary Cremin and Peter Richards and artists Liliane Puthod, Stuart Calvin and Michael Hanna to discuss the process of building the Dissolving Histories exhibition. It’s fascinating to hear the artists discuss the changing context of this exhibition, given our current global situation. The discussion provides a wonderful insight into the way this exhibition came about and also the thoughts behind the origins of the Dissolving Histories series (of which this is the third annual instalment).
Golden Thread Gallery is delighted to announce our unique touring exhibition, Not Alone, created for our strange, new, transformed world. With isolation measures, travel restrictions and quarantine rules affecting art exhibitions and collaborations in every way, GTG Director Peter Richards...