Kathleen Furey on Artspace’s silver anniversary

Kathleen Furey. 
Pic:- Mike Shaughnessy

Kathleen Furey. Pic:- Mike Shaughnessy

GALWAY’S ARTSPACE Studios artists’ collective is currently celebrating its 25th year of operation and, to mark the occasion, an exhibition of the group’s work is running at Galway Arts Centre in 47 Dominick Street.

First established in 1986, Artspace’s inclusive and supportive ethos has attracted emerging and mid-career artists from around the world. Of the 21 artists currently based at studios in the Liosbán Estate and The Black Box, many have enjoyed residencies in America, Germany, and China.

This summer the city’s most established artist-led collective abandons suburbia and returns to the city centre for a month long exhibition and residency, entitled Collective Consciousness, at the arts centre.

In this exhibition, 17 Artspace members respond both individually and collaboratively to the idea of a collective consciousness exhibiting pieces of varying sensibilities and media, including painting, sculpture, and photography.

Among the exhibiting artists is Artspace founder member Kathleen Furey and, over an afternoon coffee, she reflected on the past 25 years and talked about the current show.

“We weren’t thinking far ahead, it was just such a new idea in itself, just to have a space for us all to work in,” she recalls of the group’s initial formation. “Tom Conroy [award-winning designer of TV series The Tudors], who was involved with Macnas at the time, sent out the first letter saying there was a group of artists here looking for a space.

“Funnily enough when Maeve Mulrennan at the Arts Centre was looking through our archive in connection with mounting this show she commented that his letter could have been written yesterday, a lot of the same issues are still relevant. We were all living in flats at the time and we knew we needed a place to work. We got an SES scheme in our first year and that was a huge help in getting us off the ground.”

From those modest beginnings Artspace went on to establish itself as a permanent fixture on Galway’s arts scene and today has studios located in both Liosbán Industrial Estate and The Black Box.

“We’ve expanded a lot over the years,” Furey observes. “What started out as a very small group of artists has grown. Liosbán is a nice secure place to work, with heating and lighting and so on.

“Artspace member Catherine O’Leanachain was an architect and she designed the layout of the space in Liosbán so it’s properly designed and those kind of things free you to concentrate on your work. Our board is entirely made up of artists from the collective so we govern ourselves in that way and we can keep our independence in that way also.”

Furey readily admits that being part of the Artspace collective has had a beneficial effect on her own work as an artist down the years.

“It was a great help,” she says. “I moved out to Oughterard after our first year and I had small children at the time so I was spending a lot of time at home and you could become very isolated and lose heart but through regular contact and encouragement from the likes of Catherine and Marja van Kampen I was made to feel work was still a possibility.

“Over time people became friends and were so helpful in different ways. Artspace has always felt like a home to me.”

Furey goes on to talk about the elements that go into the present exhibition.

“Our first ever Artspace show was in the Galway Arts Centre and, so it’s nice to come back here for this exhibition,” she says. “Maeve Mulrennan feels strongly that artists should be in the centre of town, that’s what gives them heart and life and this exhibition gives us opportunity of coming back into city centre for August and we’re delighted with that.

“We have responded in various ways to the theme of ‘Collective Consciousness’ so there are collaborative pieces of work for instance. The upstairs front gallery will be a working studio for the month and there will always be someone from Artspace there any day.

“It’ll be a place where we invite members of the public in to do some workshops, which are free, and come in and meet the artist. We also looked at the archive and decided to commission a non-Artspace artist, Michael Fortune, to make a short film about Artspace and we got funding for that.”

Other events include a series of free workshops and discussions in the Studio including Sumi Ink sessions, life drawing, and a collaborative discussion with Kathleen Furey and local historian Mary Clancy entitled Public Memories in Art and Archives, while Cathriona Naughton hosts a discussion entitled Between Apathy and Anarchy, a Gap-fill Exercise, which considers the relationship between the arts and government.

An Artspace fanzine will be distributed in early August. Edited by Isabelle Gaborit, it will be a collection of interviews, images, and comments from members with only 100 copies being printed.

Artists exhibiting in the show are Laura Brennan, Juliette De la Mer, David Finn, Simon Fleming, Kathleen Furey, Isabelle Gaborit, Ben Geoghegan, Mariann Hughes Browne, Mark Kelly, Triona Mac Giolla Rí, Louise Manifold, Paul Maye, Mara Sola, Lisa O’Donnell, Lisa Sweeney, Catherine Ó Leanacháin and Anne O’Byrne.

Collective Consciousness runs at Galway Arts Centre throughout August.

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