From the mountains of Iceland to the sea at Galway
Today is the last chance to tke in the superb selection of work at Tulca 2012 in Galway. writes AIDAN DUNNE
For its 10th birthday, Tulca, Galway’s late-season visual-arts festival, enlisted Gregory McCartney as curator. He has a good track record, not least for his involvement in Abridged, the innovative “poetry, art and design” magazine based in Derry.
His Tulca title poses a question: “What became of the people we used to be?” It’s derived, prosaically enough, from the theme song of the 1970s sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?
In his introduction to the exhibitions and related events that make up Tulca 2012, McCartney elaborates on his intentions. The choices we make change not only the world around us, he points out, but ourselves as well. He quotes Lewis Carroll’s Alice: “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” The artists he has invited to take part in Tulca “all articulate or create a particular landscape; subtle little worlds”. If visitors can immerse themselves in “the environments these artists create”, they can perhaps gain something usable, something that will change the world around them a little – and, of course, themselves.
Landscape is a key motif
In the event, Tulca 2012 is terrific, with many fine artists from Ireland and abroad showing very good and for the most part extremely approachable work. The setting, too, is as atmospheric as one could wish for: watery Galway poised at the edge of winter. What of the audience, though? Or, to put it another way, what of the audience beyond the core art audience? This is a general problem for contemporary art in Ireland. The wider public hasn’t bought into contemporary art as it has, to some extent, in London or elsewhere.
This is particularly unfortunate as the potential visitors who might but probably don’t go to Tulca and comparable events would find that they are well equipped to gain from what’s on offer. Fine artists are routinely working in media and forms that are entirely at home in the context of mainstream popular culture. In the work in Tulca, photography, film, television documentary, animation and music video all feature in entirely familiar ways – as do painting and sculpture, incidentally, which is not a given these days.
One keynote work is Elena Näsänen’s The Spell. It’s a sumptuously delivered video. There’s a flicker of movement, but it’s painterly in effect. In a darkened, richly detailed interior, a group of revellers are slumped in the midst of a party that seems to have fizzled out. It can be read as an allegory of Europe’s economic unravelling, or indeed much more.
That unravelling is specifically treated in Duncan Campbell’s film Arbeit (Work), which is styled as a pastiche of a television documentary but, it becomes clear, has a serious intent. It brings us to where we are now by tracing the story of one of the architects of European monetary union, the German economist Hans Tietmeyer. Archive footage and other elements are used in conventional ways, but we gradually realise that something is awry as the narration develops.
Aftermaths of one kind and another recur throughout Tulca. Emily Richardson’s film Over the Horizon explores the desolate landscape and crumbling interior of an abandoned Cold War facility in Suffolk. Louise Manifold’s photograph of a crumbling dwelling in the west of Ireland is scarred by gunshot damage sustained, strangely enough, during its exhibition history. Even stranger, the bullet pierced the image at the point where a shattered window features.