The Visual Artists’ News Sheet
May – June 2014
Spark & Grit RGKSKSRG (RACHAEL GILBOURNE & KATE STRAIN) DISCUSS ‘TONIGHT, YOU CAN CALL ME TRISH’, AN EXHIBITION AT THE LAB, DUBLIN (7 FEBRUARY – 22 MARCH), DEVELOPED FOR THE DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL / THE LAB EMERGING CURATOR AWARD 2013 / 2014.
created by Mary-Jo and James have no physical presence in the gallery, while the work of other artists, such as Alan Butler, manage to take over the entire sensory experience. Pilvi, Rachel, Oliver and Brenna have a staged presence – but you two devised this. In some ways your work is the entire show, and in others your work is the stage upon which the show is displayed. Can you talk us through finding a balance for all of that? MD: It required a duality of thinking. On one hand we wanted to show the artists’ works in a way that they would never have anticipated – but to elucidate materially and spatially some of the values we drew from our experiences of those works. On the other hand, we looked at the works as raw materials for our larger installation, to make something of value for ourselves. So, we felt respect and empathy, while at the same being self-centred and strategic. There’s fertility in a contradiction like this: occupying many ways of thinking and feeling at the same time while being true to them all seems to produce complex and rich results. EM: For me this kind of duel state is what we were aiming for. If there is confusion and ambiguity about the visual result then it means that the ecosystem of our work is healthy. Everything works in tandem, fuses and reflects back on each other. If you were to take any of the works out, the whole show would fall apart. The works rely on each other to create the environment they inhabit.
‘Tonight, you can call me Trish’, installation by Eilis McDonald and Mark Durkan, with sculptures by Brenna Murphy and video by Rachel Maclean, curated by RGKSKSRG; photo by Denis Mortell
In late 2012 we established RGKSKSRG, our joint curatorial practice. Core activities include commissioning, presenting and contextualising contemporary art. Through our mobile working model we devise experimental projects, acknowledging the significance of the institution whilst also, in some ways, challenging it. Our recent project, ‘Tonight, you can call me Trish’, was developed with the support of the Dublin City Council / The LAB Emerging Curator Award 2013 / 2014.1 Following the open submission process in February 2013 and an interview in May, we were notified that our application had been successful. The award offered us the opportunity to present an exhibition at The LAB, with administrative, technical and marketing support from the venue, together with financing for artist fees, production, design and artwork transportation. Mentoring from Clíodhna Shaffrey (Director, TBG+S, Dublin), and assistance from Sheena Barrett (Curator, The LAB) were key elements of the award. We secured additional support from Irish Art Courier and Kunstverein Dusseldorf.2 Our proposal considered the spatial challenges of the gallery; through exploring ideas around performance and precarious labour, the show developed into a layering of roles, works, practices and encounters. The group exhibition featured an audio piece by Alan Butler, sculptures by Brenna Murphy and videos by Rachel Maclean, Oliver Laric and Pilvi Takala. Newly commissioned ephemeral works by Dublin-based artists Mary-Jo Gilligan and James Ó hAodha extended the possibility for engagement, with an audio-walk through the city and an exhibition tour designed for birds. The exhibition’s scenography was devised by Dublin-based artists Eilis McDonald and Mark Durkan, who arranged the artworks in the space on and around a selection of tailor-made platforms or islands. Some of these structures had been elements of ‘I’m astonished, wall, that you haven’t collapsed into ruins’, Durkan’s exhibition at The LAB, which preceded ‘Trish’. As key players within the exhibition, we decided to pose McDonald and Durkan a set of questions, in the hope of untangling some of the core concerns of the show. And, vice versa, they returned some to us… RGKSKSRG: You have collaborated before … what’s the difference in your individual and collaborative approaches? Eilis McDonald: We have very different aesthetics and ways of working. We’re almost complete opposites. I like to leave a lot to chance and
work quite loosely but I’m strict and exact in the smaller details. I find starting with a detailed plan and an expected outcome can be quite stifling. But I think Mark flourishes in the planning and imagining process. Knowing we can pick up each other’s slack and use each other’s strengths means we can be freer in our approach. RGKSKSRG: Were you familiar with the other artists in the show? How did our discussions work for you in describing the ideas behind the exhibition and the potential for staging these through your scenographic interventions? Mark Durkan: We were familiar with all the artists bar Rachel Maclean and we were delighted to be introduced to her work. You provided a lot of reading material and background information on your thought processes and what you wanted to achieve. One of our first group conversations made an impression on me – we went from talking about layers and exhibitions-within-exhibitions to role-playing and identity crises. These were exciting conversations. EM: We also talked about how collaborating and taking on a combined role as artist-cum-interior designer / merchandiser could be liberating… RGKSKSRG: Eilis, you’ve incorporated other artists’ work into your installations, but usually they would be of your choosing, right? Was it difficult to work with someone else’s selection? EM: I started developing this way of working in 2011 for a show called ‘Offline’ at TBG+S, Dublin, curated by Rayne Booth. I worked with the selections Rayne had made to incorporate the whole show into my installation. So for me, the immediate practicalities of ‘Trish’ were quite similar. The main difference was my formal collaboration with Mark and how that changed and opened my ideas about the concepts and possibilities. Your selections were objects for us to work with, like a bedrock of context on which our world could evolve. MD: It was important for us to consider how each artwork would relate to the others and how those relationships would help build a narrative. At times certain works become really intimate with each other and at other times they seem conflicting or even adversarial. RGKSKSRG: There are strange hierarchies at play in any group show, but in this one they’re keenly felt. The ephemeral events
EM & MD: As curators, how was it to give over much control over how RGKSKSRG would look and feel? Is it something you would do again? RGKSKSRG: We trust the artists that we work with and likewise, ideally, the artists trust us. In this sense, it is a core part of curatorial practice to give over control and enter into a conversation – otherwise it would be the curators making the art, right? We are passionate about the concepts, the aesthetic and the attitude of the projects we develop, yet ultimately it is about what happens in the creative space, which our ideas and research can conjure through supporting the artists to produce work and the discussions that can occur in between. In this way, the exhibition is built upon a common vision. Trust is inherent. Of course, there is always risk, but this is what makes the spark and the grit that can create something richer than purely working in isolation either as curators or as artists. EM & MD: Working as a team on your projects, do you find that you divide jobs or roles according to your individual strengths and experience? Is this something that happens for you naturally or tactically? Or is it something you avoid? RGKSKSRG: We first met and worked together professionally at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, as the visual arts team for 2012 (covering curator Tessa Giblin’s maternity leave). To some degree many of the roles and tasks that each of us gravitates toward now developed organically during our time there. We’ve never discussed this, or tactically divided these roles up, and they tend to be unfixed, switching back and forth depending on what is happening at particular times. It is also a strength that each of us knows that there is an inherent flexibility – trust in one another’s ability to succeed in any one task – but there is also the knowledge of what is best for each of us at a given time. EM & MD: Where does the role of curator end and the role of artist begin? RGKSKSRG: We’ve been asked this question before and as far as we can recall we’ve given a slightly different answer each time. For us, there is always a line between the role of the artist and the curator. This line may break, blur or vanish for a moment, but it is always fixed back in place again, since it’s always there in the first place. That’s not to say that it’s an open-shut black-and-white case. Now, ask us this question again, so we can offer up a new answer… Notes 1. ‘Tonight, you can call me Trish’ was the first major manifestation of RGKSKSRG’s practice. Upcoming projects include a nine-month residency award at studio 468, Dublin, to culminate in a solo project by artist Emma Haugh at NCAD Gallery, Dublin in 2015. Recent projects include: ‘a choreographed performance through gesture to music’ at ‘(((O)))’, Clonlea Studios, Dublin (2013); various text-based pieces including for The Naked (NL); and a year-long experiment in retro-programming at Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2013 – 2014) 2. The sculptural works of Brenna Murphy were commissioned and first shown at Kunstverein Dusseldorf in 2013