Life on the edge gives the best view

 

Galway’s annual visual arts festival focuses this year on themes surrounding living on the edge. The inventive, varied projects, curated by Michelle Browne, prove that sometimes, being on the periphery offers a useful vantage point

SOME TITLES choose themselves. Take this year’s Tulca, Galway’s annual visual arts festival. From the West, but long based in Dublin, artist-curator Michelle Browne was enlisted to devise a programme. Ireland is at the edge of Europe, she reflected, and of course the West of Ireland is at the edge of the edge. Furthermore, as a country we’ve found ourselves living very precariously on the edge these past couple of years, now more than ever. So to her title, and her theme, for Tulca: Living on the Edge: People, Place & Possibility.

There’s a continuity between Browne’s work as an artist, which is centred on performance, and as a curator, relating to her interest in social, public spaces, and the enactment of identity and interrelationships in these spaces. If that sounds a bit rarefied, it’s not in practice. The Possibilityin the title is important, because Browne’s projects as both artist and curator have usually aspired to generating awareness and change.

One student piece saw her cycling around with her own portable bicycle lane, a humorous, clear enough comment on the lack of facilities for cyclists. Another had women in overalls out cleaning Cork St as though it were an office or a hotel room.

Browne doesn’t see living on the edge as a negative position to be in. Alluding to the old centre-periphery debate, she goes with the view that the periphery offers a useful vantage point. Tulca is not a generously resourced project and, it should be said right away, she and everyone else involved have done a really good job in gathering and organising bodies of work and events that really do prompt us to look at things from the edge.

Sometimes dramatically so. American artist Andrea Zittel, “using herself as a guinea pig”, and living in a self-designed dwelling in the Californian desert (part of the time), shows a kind of Powerpoint diary. She takes nothing for granted, questioning every single detail of daily life and routine, trying to devise new, improvised ways to do everything, from dressing to cooking to building. There’s something comical about her continual, Heath-Robinsonish attempts to reinvent the wheel, but her efforts are also curiously fascinating.

Closer to home and more symbolically, Aoife Desmond and Seoidín O’Sullivan’s Trespassproject had unfolded over four years. During this time, they’ve sought out and revisited several neglected, usually abandoned sites in Dublin city, those spaces behind hoardings that have become ecologically diverse niches in the urban fabric, but remain out of bounds. Not to them. The closed off sites, and their boundary walls, become performative spaces for the artists, evoking the possibility of a fruitful, communal engagement rather than private ownership and exclusion.

There’s a comparably tentative utopian note to Emma Houlihan’s Aughty Walk: Rural Futures,an account of a seven-day walk through the East-Galway, East-Clare Aughty region, inviting local reflections on hopes and expectations. As part of the same sequence of Aughty Public Art Projects, Marie Connole compares plant and human migration, combining images of the invasive Japanese knotweed that has proliferated in the area with postcards from various parts of the globe, sent back by emigrants.

Anthony Haughey’s Prospectlooks at the fortunes of three individuals attempting to move from the periphery to the centre: from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. In 20 years, he points out, some 6,000 people have lost their lives attempting the trip. Two of the three immigrants featured are stalled in a refugee centre on Malta; the third has found his way to Dublin, from one periphery to another. Haughey and Susanne Bosch’s Progress IIlets a number of immigrants speak for themselves on exactly that predicament, over the dinner table.

One of the strangest pieces is Mira. Mar y Otros, a collaborative video by artist Filip Van Dingenan and dancer-choreographer Barbara Pereyra. Grafting the text of William Bulfin’s idyllic Rambles in Éireannonto “a fictional tour” of the last pulperias (or local bar-cum-grocery stores-come post-offices) on the Argentinian Pampas. It’s very disorientating but atmospheric and visually rich, full of beautiful narrative possibilities, and Pereyra has a brilliant screen presence.

There’s a lot more to encounter in Tulca that’s engrossing and rewarding, including substantial contributions from David Eager Maher, Rhona Byrne, Jennifer Brady, Niall Dooley, Jennifer Cunningham, Alex Boyd, Mary Noonan and Ruby Wallis, who tapes individual recollections of the Salthill promenade. This thoughtful work, like Ollie Comerford’s painting and video, reminds us that the edge is a psychological state as much as a geographical or economic one. Comerford’s melancholy evocation of being on the move, in that odd, neutral, nowhere, in-between space. It could symbolise not only this year’s Tulca, but this year’s Ireland as well.

Tulca: Living on the Edge — People, Places and PossibilityCurated by Michelle Browne

Venues include Galway Arts Centre, Nun’s Island Theatre, The Fairgreen Building, 126, the Spanish Arch, the Niland Gallery, Galway City Hall, Galway City Museum and more. Runs until Sunday. Details at venues and at tulca.ie