Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Visit to Edinburgh - 4

Although the end of June seems ages ago at this point, there is still so much that I haven't described regarding my short break in Edinburgh! The trip coincided with a holiday by Canadian friends who were on this side of the Atlantic. They had rented a car and before leaving Scotland they wanted to go to Stirling Castle. I was invited to come along with them, and since it was horsing down rain in Edinburgh, a road trip was definitely more palatable than wandering wet city streets.

This trip ended up being a highlight for me! A few years ago I had seen pictures of Andy Scott's sculpture "The Kelpies" and was amazed by it. I knew it was sited somewhere in the UK, not in London where I was most likely to make an art trip, so I figured I would never get to see it live. I was so excited when I saw the horseheads peeping over the highway wall on the way to Stirling!

Even just as a drive-by view the sculpture is amazing. The monumental horse heads are 30 metres high each! The sculpture is near Falkirk, so I looked forward to seeing them on the highway back to Edinburgh too.

At Stirling Castle a guided tour was enjoyable, despite the relentless rain. The Wallace Monument in the distance was atmospheric.

The Stirling Castle complex is huge!

There is plenty to see indoors too (for those moments when one preferred to dry off a bit). There were costumed historical interpreters taking on specific personae scattered throughout -- making history come to life in an enjoyable way.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Visit to Ediburgh - 3

We were up fairly early on our second day in Edinburgh, and went for breakfast with our friends at a smally and lovely Italian café in the Grassmarket area - Caffé Piccolo was delicious! We  could easily have lingered over coffee, but we wanted to get to the castle relatively early and hopefully avoid huge crowds. After climbing about a million steps up to the castle, we did have to wait in a queue for tickets and there was a big crowd, but as we realised later, NOT as big as the later crowd was.

We enjoyed the castle, especially the views of the city.

We were wondering about what appeared to be a Roman viaduct in the distance. A tour guide on a walking tour later in the week referred to it as the "shame of Edinburgh": an unfinished monument, but not a Roman ruin.

After our castle explorations we went for a coffee and treat on the Royal Mile before embarking on our Ghost & Underground Vaults walking tour. The tour lasts about an hour and is a pleasant way to see a bit of the city and learn a bit about its history.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Visit to Edinburgh - 2 - Rose St

Walking around after dinner on the first evening in Edinburgh, I came across the lovely pedestrian Rose St. The street was full of patio restaurants, cafés and bars and I imagined that it must be really lively during the day, later in the evening and on weekends. Obviously my timing was off, it being a Tuesday early evening.

Rose St obviously celebrated poetry as there was a large board with a print featuring "poem of the month".

Since the street was not busy, it was great to have the opportunity to get a closer look at things. Most magnificently, there were a series of gorgeous laser-cut screens, illustrating a days-of-the-week poem.

The poem is Beachcomber by Scottish poet George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) and the screens were designed by Edinburgh based artist Astrid Jaekel. Her website can be seen here.

Mackay Brown was part of a group of poets who met regularly at pubs in Rose St in the late 1950s. They are known as "The Rose St Poets".

This series is a permanent feature of the street, whereas one may presume that "poem of the month" is temporary. Astrid Jaekel designed the mural and billboard for the changing poem also (first picture above).

Saturday screen!

Sunday screen!

An end screen.

An end screen that includes a plaque giving artist and poet details, as well as the poem Beachcomber in full.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Visit to Edinburgh - Part 1 - Trainspotting Tour of Leith

Last January I was the winner of a Trainspotting T2 promotion on Radio Nova 100 (a Dublin radio station). The prize included a walking tour of Leith, site of Irvine Welsh's novel Trainspotting and it's sequel Porno (films Trainspotting and Trainspotting T2). The  totally enjoyable "psycho-geographical" walking tour was led by Tim Bell of Leith Walks (

The tour was, as expected from seeing the film, a walk around some of the grittier areas of Leith, but Tim/Mr Bell gave a fabulous background to Welsh's fictional characters through historical and contemporary references. Cables Wynd House, dubbed "Banana Flats", is where "Sick Boy" hails from.

The Percy pub features in a spectacularly racist/bigot scene in Trainspotting.

I had not read the books, only seen the films, so Tim Bell gave great explanations of the fundamental difference: while the focus of the films was addiction, the focus of the books was loss of community with addiction being one of the results.

Leith was and is a working class town. On the tour we were also shown reproductions of historic prints showing its former glory as a harbour town. Some buildings survive to show this tale, as this architecture signifying ropemakers shows.

The carved stone decoration is magnificent.

Persevere is the motto of Leith.

Outside the Workman's Club, Tim Bell shows us the mural celebrating the port heritage of Leith. The mural was unveiled by Irvine Welsh.

I highly recommend the Leith tour and Tim Bell as a guide full of knowledge, humour and passion for history, literature and social pyschology. What a great start to a short holiday!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Grad show - IADT - Part 3

I feel like "Define the Line", IADT graduate exhibition, could provide a blog subject for some weeks to come. However, I will only discuss a few more artists and their works and leave Dún Laoghaire's art students till next year.

In the sculpture room display, one could not help but notice the huge, spider-like sculpture that imposed itself on the room. Spider sculptures have changed the art world forevermore, after Louise Bourgeois created enormous bronze works as symbols of the maternal instinct in all its ferocity and elegance.

 Ali Kemal Ali's "spider" is entitled Mind Map and speaks nothing of maternity. It sprawls, it moves (or has the potential to move), it seems more mechanically alien than natural despite the mix of well-crafted materials. Above all, it is beautifully made; a three-dimensional representation of thought processes.

I was drawn away from the imposing Mind Map by curiosity: small boxes were justting from a nearby wall and I wondered what they were.

On closer inspection I realised that these intimate sculptures were only partial "boxes" -- tiny tableaux spaced along the wall so that one could engage with each individually.

Tiziana Prigent-Piussi created tableaux that were meticulous, miniature sets; in my imagination they spoke of unknown stories. One of the sets was even devoid of furnishing such that it exuded the loneliness of an empty stage. When I returned to the exhibition a few days later for the student-guided tour I found out that these pieces, while strong enough as sculptures, were also used as sets for animations by Prigent-Piussi and I was somewhat disappointed  that none were on display.

Another piece that I thought straddled dimensions of thought and theatre, was Trudie Mitchell's predominantly wall installation, Teaghrán.

Difficult to photograph, this piece must have been created most impressively in situ, white cotton thread winding over the wall, creating permanence with glue (but a temporary piece!) it's patterns suggesting landscape contours, weather mapping, ley lines:  demarcations to represent meanings that are not visible to the eye, yet understood and known.

 I had to look up the meaning of the Irish word used for the title and came up with "string" and "tether". While the first may be obvious in the material used, the second has more nuance to it as both a noun and a verb.

As I said at the start, I  have barely touched on the work that was exhibited at the IADT grad show. The work coming out of the art college is exciting and inspiring. The grad show is always worth seeing and exploring; an annual event to look forward to on the art calendar!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Grad show - part 2

It seems like ages ago now, but there was quite a bit of good work at the IADT grad show "Define the Line" so I can't just let the blog last week be the sole representative of my musings! Although there was so much work worthy of discussion, I am just going to focus on three artists whose work straddles that in-between area of painting and sculpture, becoming installations in their own right. I was also especially interested in the materials used.

Sorcha Carey's work explored a variety of media (muslin, porcelain, paper) and architecture itself. I particularly was taken by her muslin works - material formed around a door and corner of a door. A complete ghost door hung from the ceiling as a challenge: did this apparition lead somewhere ethereal? What could it be a door to? The corner of a door frame formed on another piece of muslin was strewn on the floor, as if discarded. A fragment of an opening or closure.

Suzanne Daly painted portraits of friends and family on translucent cloth that hung from the ceiling, banner-like. The portraits were stylised and engaging. Familiar as banners, they were celebratory in their ordinariness.

Zunaira Khursid painted motifs based on Persian floral designs. This installation of polythene is part of her Hijab series. Khursid works beautifully within the limitations of Islamic art in a contemporary fashion. The draping of the large piece of plastic across the room from the ceiling and continuing along the floor expresses a welcoming fleibility; the translucent material is like a modern veil - not a barrier - arousing curiosity for what is beyond but not clear.

This is a temporary work - I have painted on plastic in the past myself: as the sun heats the floral designs, they will dry and crack and come away from the plastic ground. There is an element of pre-planned obsolescence and self-destruction in this work that is intriguing.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Grad show -- IADT, Dún Laoghaire Part 1

I attended the opening night of "Define the Line", the grad show of IADT Dún Laoghaire art students. As with most art opening nights, it is difficult to spend time with the work; one simply gets an overview. I was back at the college a few days later to attend a curatorial event, which included an optional tour of the show. I was happy to go on the tour, curious to hear what students would say about fellow students' work.

Given my return to some ceramic work in recent days, I was delighted that my "guide" was Emma McKeagney, who was sourcing clay for her sculptural installations and experimentations from her local area of Shankill (the next village north of where I am located). Though her work was collectively entitled "Glacial Till; removed, refined, dissolved, 2017" as if it were one installation with several elements, I had more of a sense that they were related works with similar concerns of time -- history lost and found. That is a big theme, but her clay works provide lots of meat for discussion; for instance, how the artefacts are moulded when left alone, their use, what they tell us, etc. There are material differences between the wet clay and the structure that shapes it (mild steel, white jersey, white yarn) but there are interesting differences between the wet clay in the mould and the dried bowl-form, which had been previously made in such a manner.

As McKeagney's work showed, time-based work does not have to take the expected media form one usually associates with it, i.e., film, video and photography. Several students were tackling the concepts of time and movement through sculpture.

Lorcan McGeough also added sound into the mix of his interests. He had several large sculptures that resembled inner ear shapes, but I was intrigued by works that incorporated blocks of ice suspended over well-like structures: the ice would slowly melt and drips would create quiet, sporadic sounds that were dependant on how much melt had preceded them.

"Define the Line" was an exciting show of graduate art student work. There was much good work in the exhibition and I will discuss a few more of my favourite works in next week's blog!