Plenty of talent in the class of 2009

VISUAL ART : MUCH LIKE Dún Laoghaire’s IADT, DIT boasts an exceptionally strong photography department

VISUAL ART: MUCH LIKE Dún Laoghaire's IADT, DIT boasts an exceptionally strong photography department. It is based in Temple Bar, and for several years now its graduation shows have been exemplary in terms of technique and the breadth of subject matter and approach. This year's show is no exception, but it's worth mentioning that the fine art strand of DIT, based on Portland Row, also had a particularly good year in terms of its graduate show: presentation was sharp and professional, and the individual quality of the artists' work was high.

There is a standard format to photography, but there is enormous variety within it. The format is that everyone produces a thematic body of work built around a single project and, this year, a related book as well. The project can be as general as the contemporary Irish landscape, very refreshingly treated by Peter Murray this year, or as specific as the community and locality of Moyross in Limerick, as explored by Angela Horsfall in work that challenges our preconceptions.

Una Spain’s Marking Time comes together when you look through her book together with the photographs hanging on the wall. She considers in detail three erstwhile premises in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, depicting in situ people formerly associated with them. They are the Mercy Convent, closed wards in St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital and the former AT Cross pen factory. The result is a brilliant, composite insight into the social and psychological reality of change on a local scale in contemporary Ireland.

Quite different in every way – but as compelling – are Steven Nestor’s documentation of the sites of maritime tragedies, Edel O’Malley’s superbly designed and executed exploration of self-image, Margaret Byrne’s simple but ingenious record of a succession of subjects produced via couch surfing, and Orla Sloyan’s wry contemporary take on traditional postcard views of Ireland. Leah Reynolds’s poetic evocation of everyday routine interrupted by uninvited memories is challenging to visualise, but she manages it. These are some of the highlights, but there isn’t a weak note in the show, which is saying something.


At Portland Row, Nora Duggan’s subtle interventions drew on the character of the building with great sensitivity. She clearly has great potential for working with specific architectural settings.

Deirdre Mullen’s look at celebrity culture, in which she slipped into the guise of several celebrity icons herself, was funny and incisive. Also incisive was Nikki Sergison, who interviewed herself playing three very different types of young woman. Aspiration and reality clashed in Fiona Coleman’s version of televised aerobics.

Gerard Erraught’s installation of playground swings was about time passing, but was also creepily atmospheric. Emily Symes allowed us glimpses into spaces charged with history and details that hinted at unexplained meanings. In a generally lively, interesting show, Fiona Marron stood out for a trio of visually striking videos, each devoted to an architectural setting with layers of social and economic implications.

THIS YEAR’S GMIT graduate exhibition at the Cluain Mhuire Campus was just that – a graduate show – and it was the better for it.

Heretofore, third-year diploma work was also displayed and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, given the sheer numbers involved and the limitations of space, it did dilute the overall effect. The show was put together by a 10-strong student committee, and they deserve great credit. In terms of exhibition design, the most impressive achievement was certainly the two spaces devoted to sculpture. The rooms were completely transformed by pieces that must have taken an immense amount of individual effort on the part of each artist.

A sequence of works by Tim Acheson, Pearl Henegan and Brigid Marie Mulligan made up a museum-standard exhibition in itself. Given the west of Ireland setting, Acheson’s multi-part installation seemed particularly pertinent. It was a psychologically complex exploration of the experience of being out in the landscape. It took on the tradition of landscape art in a vital and provocative way, drawing several disparate elements together with great skill.

Recalling JG Ballard’s Crash and the Cronenberg film adaptation of it, Siobhán McGibbon’s disturbing animal-machine hybrids are “based on the fantasy of the car crash”. McGibbon says that her fascination stems from a childhood memory and, unfortunately, from her own more recent personal experience. Also very effective in sculpture were Susan Lynch’s infrared video footage of foxes by night, David Kelliher’s planetary mass, like a cluster of iron filings held together by a magnetic charge, but on a huge scale. It’s a beautiful object.

Print was also outstanding overall, with a number of very strong artists. They included Emma Grice, who used the idea of a motif repeated indefinitely to create a form or an image quite removed from the source. Hair, magpies, butterflies and even chicken legs mutate into intricately patterned forms in her remarkably accomplished drawings, prints and etchings. Diarmuid Purcell took one of the most prosaic forms of print, the linocut, and pushed it to produce an intriguing series of figurative images.

Other exhibits also stood out, including Linda Fergus’s schematic renderings of hypothetical devices; Graham Carton’s portrait images, made in a plain, direct manner and incorporating full figure and close-up head studies of their subjects; Sarah Burke’s exploration of obsessive repetition; and Emma Casey’s paean to shopping and labels.

It’s striking that the best of the print work, including Grice’s, for example, embraced the strengths of the medium and also tested its limits.

Painting didn’t fare as well, which might have something to do with the law of averages: there were just too many painters graduating. Memory, childhood, adolescence, personal identity and potential were all recurrent themes. What was too often lacking was a sense of these preoccupations being translated into a viable artistic form, and without that, there is the ever-present risk of self-indulgence. Not to say that no one managed to avoid the pitfalls. Monica Collins promisingly transformed family photographs. Diane McCabe went some way to visualising the moody introspection of teenage life.

Grainne McHale opted bravely for film, attempting an ambitious drama about a young woman who declines to enter into the “universal patriarchal language” that society demands. Despite its rather schlock conclusion, it recalled the somber mood of Agnes Varda’s extraordinary film Vagabond. And there were good painters per se, including Mary Trait, whose very accomplished work echoed Sigmar Polke and David Godbold; Patrick Carroll, whose tending-towards- monochrome compositions are really promising; Gemma Ruddy, who made William Kentridge-style animations; Vida Pain; and Eimear Twomey.

It’s nominally outside the ambit of fine art, but the textile department at GMIT impresses every year for the diversity and strength of character of its students and their sheer enthusiasm for what they’re doing.

DIT BA Photography Exhibition, Gallery of Photography and National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Until June 21.

DIT Fine Art Graduate Exhibition, Portland Row.

GMIT Fine Art Graduate Degree Show, Cluain Mhuire, Galway.

Aidan Dunne

Aidan Dunne

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