Independent Curators Maria Tanner and Deidre Southey outline their project ‘Idionumina’ @ No.15, which took place from 16 – 18 November 2012 in Graignamanagh, Co Kilkenny.
‘Idionumina’ was a site specific, multi-disciplinary exhibition of contemporary visual art that ran from 16 – 18 November 2012 at No. 15 ‘Hughes’, Graignamanagh, Co Kilkenny. The exhibition presented the work of 17 artists from across Ireland. The participating artists were: Ben Reilly, Kate O’Kelly, Andrea Cleary, Kieran Healy, Cliona Ni Laoi, Alison Cronin, Nina Tanis, Lynda Conroy, Mary-Jo Gilligan, Becky Coffee, Marie Brett and John McHarg, Sharon Mc Carthy, Aoife Banville, Julie Moorehouse, Rachel Healy and Andrew Carroll.
Built in the 1800s, this former home, small commercial hotel with pub and grocery business, was laden with a residual character long past. In our view, the large scale of the building and its importance as a repository of social memory in the town made it a unique space for art to function in context. Given that the building had been standing vacant for almost a decade, we had to roll up our sleeves to bring it back from the grip of decay and dereliction and reveal the potential of the space.
Issue and Experiments
‘Idionumina’ stemmed from a number of conversations Deirdre Southey and I had about the possibility of critically engaging with specific structural symptoms of the current Irish cultural and economic climate. We ultimately focused on the limits and possibilities surrounding three main issues. Firstly, the urban decay resulting from the number of vacant buildings evident in rural towns. Secondly, the effects this has had on the experience of local communities. Thirdly, the challenges that have developed relating to professional mobility and more immediate intervention by artists and cultural workers, where institutional funding is inaccessible. ‘Idionumina’ came together as an experiment in countering these prevailing issues affecting artists and the local community.
A Tangible Beginning
In June of 2012, a building known as No.15 Hughes on Main Street Graignamanagh, was made available to us under bare licence[VA1] , established with the building’s owner, Frank Hughes. The bare licence, though less protective of occupancy rights held in a lease agreement, took the form of a verbal agreement with the buildings owner declaring that an exhibition could take place in the building over a said period.
There was no certainty that we would gain funding through official lines, so we made a focused enquiry into alternative funding mechanisms and turned to the crowd funding sitefundit.ie. For this next phase, we needed a concrete proposal and website so that pledges could be made online. We also began to meet with local business and community members to discuss our intention to host an exhibition in Graignamanagh. These were very important interactions, which were aimed at building local alliances and facilitating an understanding of contemporary art in context, as a purveyor of new economies within the locality. Having discerned genuine interest and support from the community, we were then in position to propose a curatorial frame for the exhibition. One of our primary concerns was that this frame be inclusive and reach out to new audiences of contemporary art within Graignamanagh.
In early July 2012, through the VAI ebulletin, we posted an open call for submissions. This included images of the space and presented potential participants with the curatorial framework, which ruminated on a site-specific unfolding of space and an open-ended reconnaissance into local historical narratives. At its core, ‘Idionumina’ proposed an experimental ground where private space (oikos) and public space (polis) underwent a critical transformation in the development of new social relations.
We received 40 submissions in total and 17 artists were invited to form part of ‘Idionumina’. On the 25 August 2012, an open day for artists was held in the building. This provided an opportunity to meet with the curators, the other artists and to discuss the possibilities for work within the allocated installation spaces. Artists were also brought through the building by Mr Hughes as a form of introduction to the social history and family narratives particular to each room.
Once the space, the concept and the artists had been selected and defined we then proceeded to build a website where both the project and the artists were profiled. This was a necessary step in order to launch our Fundit campaign. Based on a rewards system for pledges made, our Fundit rewards featured art works donated to the campaign by a number of the ‘Idionumina’ artists and also art works of our own. Our campaign ran for a set period 28 days, during which time we tirelessly promoted the project through, for example, a radio interview with KCLFM’s Weekly Arts Show, by rallying local support in the town of Graignamanagh and also through our ‘Idionumina’ Facebook page. Through enormous help from local businesses, philanthropists, family and friends we approximated our target amount. By adjusting our financial reality to need, Fundit enabled us to install electricity throughout the building, meet the cost of public liability insurance, meet fire safety requirements, provide accommodation for our artists and to produce an ‘Idionumina’ catalogue after the exhibition had closed.
No 15: A Hub of Activity
Leading on from the opening day on the 25 August, artists worked off-site in their own studios and some artists made visits to the site at their own discression. During the period from August to November 2012, as curators we maintained continual contact with our artists via email and phone, discussing conceptual possibilities and concerns around the processes involved in each installation. In the week leading up to the official launch of ‘Idionumina’, electricity was finally installed and the once dark and neglected No 15 became a glowing hub of activity. Availing of the accommodation provided, artists had the opportunity, over the course of a week, to fully immerse themselves in their production processes and in the building itself. Artistic engagement with the space culminated in a series of live performances, installation and new media works.
Mary-Jo Gilligan’s The Inexpressible Experience of Dampness was sited in the kitchen space on the ground floor of No 15. Gilligan channelled the elusive qualities of dampness in a choreographed live performance. Cliona Ni Laoi’s Blackout, a looped video projection, resonated with sounds taken from VCR recordings of the house’s former inhabitants. The piece was sited underneath the stairs of the building and reflected on emotionally-charged histories and environments. You Came Back to See Me, a piece by Nina Tanis, was brought together through the use of water and light, where an old room was subtly mirrored back on itself. Situated in the bar area of No15, Kieran Healy’s Untitled piece humorously commented on the idiosyncrasies of pub culture, comprising an oversized and unstable wooden bar table, propped up by hundreds of beer mats.
To the back of the building, Ben Reilly installation The Man traces of an obscure character that may have resided at No15. The piece consisted of various cast wax objects such as grenades, rifles, a hybrid dog form and the cast head of a man, arranged alongside an old record player that sounded out the music of Joseph Locke. She Took to the Bed, the installation by Marie Brett and John McHarg located in one of the back bedrooms, reflected upon the idea that, irrespective of time, latent memories and energies continue to exist and accumulate in lived spaces. Sharon Mc Carthy’s Paint Peel occupied Peggy Hughes’ former painting studio and questioned the artistic process of painting by foregrounding paint in its minimalist materiality. Located in a loft space on the first floor, Andrew Carroll installed his work Curtains (We Followed the Yellow Brick Road). A miniature model of the emerald city was constructed and silhouetted onto a film still fromThe Wizard of Oz. The piece reflected on contemporary points of convergence in time through play on historical narratives. In a sitting room to the back of the house, Aoife Banville created an aesthetically impactive installation by attaching over 2000 hydrangeas to the ceiling of the room. Banville worked with the colourful variations of each hydrangea in a way that could be likened to a painter working on canvas.
The unique nature of the domestic dwelling space at No15 was integral to the framing and subsequent success of ‘Idionumina’. Over the three days of the exhibition there was a constant stream of visitors, from local people intrigued as to what was going in the old Hughes building to art audiences that had travelled from different parts of the country to
experience the experimental nature of alternative exhibition-making practices. We would like to take this opportunity to extend a special thank you to our artists and everybody who helped to make ‘Idionumina’ the unique and unforgettable experience.