O’Malley takes on Mayo: five galleries, one vision
Niamh O’Malley has taken on an ambitious project that amounts to five exhibitions of her recent work in venues across Co Mayo
Quarry, showing at Áras Inis Gluaire, Belmullet
Bridge, showing at Ballina Arts Centre
Window by Niamh O’Malley
In one of those projects that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, Niamh O’Malley has taken on the challenge of staging five solo exhibitions, making up a composite survey of her recent work, at widely divergent locations throughout Co Mayo.
It’s a big county, and who knew that it contains at least five really good visual-arts venues, from Westport Quay to Castlebar, Ballina on to Ballycastle, and then to Áras Inis Gluaire in Belmullet, a place that can feel like the edge of the world.
All will feature O’Malley’s work throughout September. One of the shows, at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in Ballycastle, consists of drawings. Another, at the Custom House Gallery, Westport, features two installations. The latter, and the remaining three, which involve very precisely designed video projections, are tricky enough to set up and need careful maintenance once running.
Just before embarking on the marathon installation process, O’Malley appeared a little apprehensive but was also very positive. “Patrick Murphy [RHA director and the project’s curator] is going to ferry me around, and there’s actually a lot of curatorial expertise in each gallery.”
Murphy is based in Mayo, and O’Malley is herself a local. She was brought up on a farm near Crossmolina, though she has lived away from home since she went to study art in Belfast aged 17. She lives in Dublin.
Her work draws us into the ambiguity and strangeness of perception. One of its virtues is that, while it’s clearly heavy-duty enough to excite the kind of hyperbole that goes with critical theory, it doesn’t remotely depend on theoretical justification. You just have to trust your eyes to appreciate it. Or, come to think of it, realise that you can’t really trust your eyes.
Abstract to literal learning
When O’Malley first went to Belfast: “I was making large, abstract expressionist paintings, six-by-eight feet. There was a lot of that going on. The YBAs were just appearing. “Then I worked at Catalyst Arts [a pioneering, artist-run gallery in Belfast] for a couple of years. Eoghan McTigue and Susan Philipsz were there. That was brilliant. It was my real art education, I think.”
She won a year’s fellowship to the British School in Rome. It was a tremendous experience, but she was dissatisfied with the work she did there: “It was too literal.”
The real turning point came when she won a PS1 fellowship to New York in 2003. “That was when I shifted into using video.”
Animated Central Park
In a landmark installation, The dene “vignette”, she made a painting of a location in Central Park. As you look at the painted image, it flickers into life, as people walk the paths, and other slight shifts of light and air animate the scene. As Tim Maul wrote at the time of its first exhibition, part of its odd but enduring fascination was that it allowed “this fragment of cinema to operate in the space of painting”.