Fire Station: a space that helps artists think big
The Dublin studio has offered generous residencies for artists to live and work for 20 years. As former resident Jesse Jones puts it, ‘the space demands more of you’
Portrait of artist Jesse Jones
Art by Jesse Jones
Flock, a self-portrait by Alice Maher
‘The studio means artists can focus on their careers.’ Clodagh Kenny, director of Fire Station Artists’ Studios. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
People have always lived in the 100-year-old large, functional red-brick building on Dublin’s Buckingham Street that is announced with the words, in clay relief, “Fire Brigade Station”. In the days when many jobs came with a home, fire-service families resided on the top floor and singles slept on the one below.
“A friend of one board member was born in this building,” says Clodagh Kenny, director of Fire Station Artists’ Studios, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. We are standing on an upper balcony, waving at a small child who lives in one of the living/working spaces where artists spend nearly three years on coveted Arts Council-funded residencies.
Since opening in 1993, Fire Station has been home to more than 80 artists, including Corban Walker, Sean Hillen, Patrick Graham, Sarah Browne, Alice Maher (see panel) and Jesse Jones. The generous length of its residencies sets Fire Station apart. “It’s a massive support,” says Kenny. “It means artists can focus on their careers. There’s no need to teach. It is not project-based, it is career-based,” with the aim that artists emerge “even more determined”.
The board periodically discusses the length of the residencies, and, says Kenny, it always comes back to the artists, who say that one year, say, would be too short, as they are only getting going at that stage.
Of course, each residency is hugely oversubscribed. Kenny says the selection process is unbiased and rigorous, with external assessors joining Fire Station staff to make a panel of six. Typically 50 people apply for two places at any given time.
So how are they chosen? “Quality of work is the first thing,” says Kenny, “as well as commitment to practise and the artist’s desire to use those two years and nine months actively.”
Ones to watch
Artists to look out for, she says, are Nina Canell; Kennedy Browne, comprising Sarah Browne, who is just finishing a residency, and Gareth Kennedy, who is about to start; and Jesse Jones. “I’m not the only one to say that about Jesse; getting a solo show at Redcat in Los Angeles is massive.”
Jones, who teaches part-time at the Crawford College of Art in Cork, had a residency at Fire Station from 2005 to 2008. “I had just come out of a master’s at IADT [Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology],” she says. “It was kind of wonderful. I had never had a proper studio. I worked at college or from my bedroom. I had a sense of expanding straight away, walking in the space. It expanded the possibilities in my mind about what you could make. You couldn’t be discreet: the space demanded more of you. I spent the first couple of weeks making massive drawings; looking at work in a totally different way.”
As well as the eight living/working units (expanding to 10 as they move into the building next door, provided, like this one, by Dublin City Council for just under €7 a year) there is a large room with bare walls in which to display work and have meetings, while across a courtyard is a sculpture shed.
The domestic front
“It was great to always be in your studio, even when getting out of bed and making toast,” says Jones. “When you are an artist, work meshes into your life so much that it doesn’t feel like work and not-work.
“The domestic side of being an artist is a really interesting thing that nobody thinks about. Where artists wash their clothes is not kind of sexy. Fire Station looks at the whole spectrum of life, not just somebody who puts stuff on a wall or makes a video: it supports artists as human beings. It takes that pressure off just surviving and gives you the confidence to do this. It feels as if you are being endorsed as an artist.”