Looks like team spirit at Tulca

Visual Arts Reviewed: Tulca Season of Visual Arts 2005: Galway Arts Centre, Nun's Island Studio, Barons Self Storage, Norman…

Visual ArtsReviewed:Tulca Season of Visual Arts 2005: Galway Arts Centre, Nun's Island Studio, Barons Self Storage, Norman Villa Gallery, Ard Bia Artspace, Kenny Gallery, NUIG Art Gallery, City Hall, White Room Gallery and other venues.

Full details, dates and venues are listed in the Tulca programme and at www.tulca.ie

The visual arts have tended to be a minor strand of the Galway Arts Festival, which excels in other areas, and apart from a couple of honourable exceptions, Galway has over the years felt the lack of a distinctive, thriving visual arts scene. This despite the rise and rise of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) visual arts department, which means there is a large number of younger artists in and around the city.

The honourable exceptions include Galway Arts Centre, which since its overhaul boasts some fine spaces, and its adjunct, the Nun's Island Studio, a black-box space of real potential, not to mention the excellently run Norman Villa Gallery, an invaluable addition to the long-serving Kenny Gallery.


Now Ard Bia, which has built up a visual arts programme in its thriving restaurant, has made the leap with the Ard Bia Arts Space in William Street, just down the road from Galway Arts Centre. Ard Bia has a consciously youthful, innovative approach, and has already hosted several good shows. In any case, the context indicates that there is a rationale for the existence of Tulca, in addressing an area of responsibility outside the ambit of the arts festival, as a focus for the interest in contemporary visual arts that is obviously there, and, potentially, as a catalyst for the development of the visual arts in Galway.

This year, for the first time, the latter purpose was particularly evident. The season has engendered several outstanding initiatives, attained a high curatorial standard and nurtured a genuinely impressive esprit de corps among the dozens of artists and others involved. It's a vital point: that artists meet and work with others, exchange ideas and develop a sense of community is at least as, if not more, important than their formal educational experiences.

A fringe event such as 126 is a case in point. Artists Austin Ivers and Ben Geoghegan have given over part of the house they share at 126 Laurel Park to serve as a gallery space. In this suburban setting, you can see work by several well-established artists, including Amy O'Riordan, Tom Molloy, Blaise Drummond, Ruth McHugh, Desmond Short and Fiona Murray. Furthermore, the suburban gallery will extend beyond Tulca for a trial six months or so.

While the official Tulca season incorporates a range of solid shows and events, two significant compendiums stand out: Tulca Live, at Nun's Island Studio, curated by Aine Phillips, and Interim, a formidable group show ingeniously located in Barons Self Storage at Riverside Industrial Estate. The latter, too, is exceptionally well curated, by Ben Roosevelt and Emma Houlihan. It's notable that Phillips, Roosevelt, Houlihan, and indeed Tulca's chairman, Michael Dempsey, are themselves all artists.

Houlihan's contribution to Interim is particularly apposite. In the pristine, surreal setting of ranks of blank, padlocked storage spaces in Barons, she set up her Special Offer, a variant on English artist Michael Landy's systematic destruction of all his possessions. Houlihan, less drastically, individually packaged a mass of her own stuff (books, records, clothes, objects), produced an illustrated brochure and offered them to anyone who wanted them, with the sole proviso that she be allowed one visit to her erstwhile possessions in their new homes. She was cleared out in no time.

Anne Cleary and Denis Connolly's mischievous vignettes of city life as glimpsed in passing, Aideen Barry's ghostly wanderings through Venice, Austin Ivers's simplified generic figures (enlargements of tiny rubber stamps), Roosevelt's eerily effective soap opera-like installation, a succession of other individual exhibits, plus a substantial GMIT student show in one huge space, made Interim (which ended at the weekend) a striking success and a brilliant piece of siting.

The Nun's Island Studio is very much a studio; that is, a space charged with potential. Aine Phillips makes the most of this quality. While there are other venues, the studio is the heart of Tulca Live, which runs until November 27th. Phillips programmed a succession of Irish and international artists and invited them to use the space, which they are doing, with the exceptional level of commitment that live art demands. Phillips points to Galway's strong contemporary theatrical tradition, seeing performance as a natural adjunct to it.

More than this, though, she is interested in acoustic, video and film art in their own right, arguing that video is more than a record of a performance, for example. Hence the strong presence of video per se, including Billy McCannon's striking installation, Walls Behind Walls, adding dimension to our understanding of the personal stories of republican prisoners in Portlaoise Prison.

Phillips's proposal of a common ground between theatre and performance has to be encouraged by the impressive track record of local artist Aideen Barry, whose water torture is scheduled for November 21st. Word of mouth on Tom Flanagan's experimental film, Sleeping With Narcissus, is also very good.

One of the centrepiece events, Brian Maguire's Fairgreen Project, at Galway Arts Centre, is a little underwhelming, though what we see is, presumably, not the sum total and conclusion of it, given that the artist has embarked on an "extended period of research" into the memories of the homeless people who have died in the area of Eyre Square over the last five years.

Maguire has considered the way people disappear, the way memories and traces of them fade to nothing, and he has tried to go about reviving a sense of these people as real, living individuals. A worthy aim. Drawing, the product of making and erasing marks, he sees as a metaphor for human evanescence. While the small series of tentative portrait drawings suggest the fleeting and fragile, they somehow stop short of anything more. Perhaps there is something else to come.

Upstairs at Galway Arts Centre, Ben Geoghegan's '-scape', as with his contribution to Interim, are fine photographic works which, by their structure and subject matter, question our habitual responses to landscape, prompting us to look beyond standard pictorial formulas.

At NUI Galway, there is more strong photography from Jim Vaughan in the form of a series of portrait images of people in the west. Paradoxically, this time the rigorously repeated formula of Chance Encounter has the same effect as Geoghegan's work, encouraging us to look more closely at the details of a reiterated format.

Alannah Robbins's Between the Sheets, at the UCG Gallery, is a persuasive, meditative installation that works through the rhythm of domestic routine to a universally recognisable moment of stillness and satisfaction.

At the White Room Gallery in Liosban Industrial Estate, Jennifer Cunningham's evocations of a suburban-industrial Wasteland are beautifully made and atmospheric, at least in print form. She is a gifted printmaker, though the many drawings on view here do not come up to the same high standard. In fact, the show is easily substantial enough in terms of her print work alone.

Ard Bia features Gabriella Kiss's nostalgic but unsentimental exploration of memories of family, togetherness and belonging in The Swings and Paula Naughton's ethereal evocation of two radically different environments, rural Roscommon and urban New York, as recalled through a lens, darkly.

Artspace Studios artists Erwann Tirilly, Trish Bushe and Catherine O'Leanachain are comfortably installed in the Norman Villa Gallery and are making the most of it. There are punchy solos by Michael Flaherty (Kenny Gallery) and Helen Comerford (City Hall), and would any Tulca be complete without a contribution by Brian Bourke? Here, he shows a sequence of portraits of John McGahern, commissioned by NUI Galway earlier this year.

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne is visual arts critic and contributor to The Irish Times