Megs Morley - artist and curator of the 2011 TULCA visual arts festival

Allowing art to let in the light on why the Celtic Tiger fled

Megs Morley — Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

Megs Morley — Photo: Mike Shaughnessy

Art has always been an abiding passion for Megs Morley, from drawing pictures of Jim Morrison for schoolfriends in her teens, to later hosting her own exhibitions and working with arts groups such as Enso, to more recently commissioning public art for Galway.

Curating exhibitions is her other passion, though, and her greatest curatorial duty to date is the 2011 TULCA Festival of Visual Arts, which is currently taking place throughout the city. So what is Megs approach to art and what are the ideas which lie behind the work she has chosen to become part of this year’s TULCA?

An artist at work

Megs grew up in Claremorris in south east Mayo and from the very start art was always a great love and pastime.

“I was obsessed doing drawings and making things as a child,” she tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. “It carried on into school and I remember making a an extra few pounds by drawing portraits of rock stars like Jim Morrison for my classmates. I knew I wanted to do art in college and I went to the Limerick School of Art and Design where my practice changed from just painting and drawing to incorporate film and photography as well.”

Her exposure to film and photography, during those student days in Limerick, has stayed with her as evidenced by her most recent exhibition in Galway; Post-Fordlândia, the joint show with her husband Tom Flanagan, which was held in the Galway Arts Centre this summer

Post-Fordlândia was a filmic exploration of the now abandoned city in Brazil which Henry Ford created in 1928 for the purpose of securing a source of cultivated rubber for the Ford Motor Company in the US.

“In my work there is an obsession with enquiry and investigation into a subject,” she says. “I suppose it comes from my experience of the world itself and its mechanisms; how things work in economics, politics, and society, and culture; why things are the way they are; and asking how do we know what we know.”

Megs has been living in Galway for the last seven years and during that time she has become a prominent member of Galway’s visual art scene, first coming to attention as part of the Enso Live Art Initiative, which exhibited at the Galway Arts Festival, Project 06, and NUI, Galway’s Muscailt. It was during Enso that her interest in curating exhibitions was sparked.

“Getting involved in artist led initiatives like Enso was important as it developed my interest in organising arts events and how people experience the arts,” she says.

While Megs’ art has received a number of awards - first prize in the 2005 Claremorris Open Exhibition; the Tyrone Guthrie Award in 2005; and the Thomas Dammann Award in 2006 - she added curatorial qualifications to her CV in 2007 by completing a Master in Visual Arts Practices in the IADT.

For Megs, curating is not simply a matter of selecting a few works to put on display in a gallery, it is also about what works you select, why you select them, and what, once they are assembled together, these works can say both collectively and individually, about the chosen theme of the show.

“It’s about creating a context for the works and recognising what is the context right now as artists respond to the society around them,” she says. “It’s about creating a clear concept so that the works on show can transmit a message to the viewer, as curating is also about creating an experience for the audience.”

Megs was able to put many of these ideas into practice during her time as Public Arts Officer for the Galway City Council from 2008 to 2010. During her time in the role she commissioned a series of significant multi-disciplinary and participatory public art projects across the city.

Then in January of this year, she was asked to become the curator of the 2011 TULCA Festival of Visual Arts and in terms of contents, themes, and inspirations, there was only one obvious choice - the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and Ireland’s plunge into recession.

Post-Communism, Post- Celtic Tiger

The theme of this year’s TULCA festival, which runs until November 20 and will see numerous different exhibits, talks, screenings, and events take place in eight galleries and 12 locations across Galway city, is ‘After The Fall’.

“The last number of years have marked a period of many overlapping crises, and ‘falls, both national and international,” Megs has written in the TULCA festival programme. “The deepening recession, political collapse and social upheaval have exposed the porousness between the logics of society, economy, politics, and capital. And, if exhibition-making is the representation and staging of a discourse, then, as an Irish exhibition with an international remit, TULCA is uniquely positioned to reflect and query this context in Ireland.”

Megs asked the various artists taking part to reflect on the theme and what has been assembled is a diverse, challenging, and wide ranging series of exhibitions for this year’s TULCA. Fascinatingly, one of the most noticeable aspects of this year’s festival is how many of the exhibitions deal with Communist and post-Communist societies.

Russian collective Chto Delat?’s work is inspired by Communist murals; Amie Segal’s film DDR/DDR, examines different experience of East Germany; Joanne Richardson and David Rych’s documentary Red Tours looks at how eastern European countries have dealt with the legacy of Communist industry, art, imagery, and ideology; while Kristina Norman’s film After War looks at the riots that took place in the Estonian capital of Tallinn when the government attempted to remove a statue of a Soviet WWII soldier from a public park.

“The fall of Communism took place 20 years ago and over that time eastern European artists have had a chance to reflect in detail on what those changes mean to them and their society,” says Megs. “They are also looking at the kind of things we in Ireland are having to look at now - what is official knowledge, how was it disseminated, why are some things only coming to light now, and why was everything not as it seemed at the time?”

Megs is particularly excited by Amie Segal’s DDR/DDR, which will be will be screened in the Nuns Island Theatre at 11am, 1.15pm, and 3.30pm every day, up to and including November 20.

“DDR/DDR is a fantastic film,” she says. “It works as both a straight documentary and as a work of art. Amie’s work is shown in both art galleries and film festivals. They are excellent documentaries, but also the composition and colour she brings to her work, that’s done with a painter’s eye. It is a fascinating exploration of East Germany and her own connections to it.”

Megs is also proud of having secured the successful Russian artists collective Chto Delat? to create a work specifically for TULCA, which will be displayed in the TULCA festival gallery in the Galway Shopping Centre. “It’s a visually striking work, “ she says, “but very, very pointed in its political content.”

Galwegians at TULCA

The Irish situation will also be explored, most pointedly in the work of Galway artist Jennifer Cunningham, and her exhibition International Monetary Field Day in the Space Invaders gallery in The Cornstore, in Middle Street.

“Jennifer’s exhibition is inspired by the joke about Ireland and Iceland’s financial fall in 2008: ‘What’s the difference between Iceland and Ireland? One letter and six months’,” says Megs, “as well as the phenomenon of ghost estates.

“Her drawings are exquisite and they pack a punch. You’ll see these beautiful drawings of horses in a field and they are eating these clubs made from bits of the Icelandic Kroner and the old Irish Punt.”

As well as Jennifer, TULCA will also host the work of two other Galway artists - Marielle MacLeman and Marie Hannon - who will be exhibiting in the TULCA gallery in the Galway Shopping Centre.

“Marielle’s Final Reductions is made from thousands of ‘For Sale’ and ‘Final Reductions’ posters which have been crafted and woven into collages the fill a huge space in the gallery,” says Megs. “The use of anagrams and satire is explicit throughout the piece.

“Marie’s Suspended Matter is a powerful work which uses industrial/telegraph poles with mattresses impaled on them. Something personal and comforting like a mattress being invaded like that speaks volumes about issues like secrets and shame and the public verses the private.”

The artworks which form the exhibitions at TULCA are challenging installations, videoworks, photography, murals, and films, and are not the traditional landscape ‘oil on canvas’. As such many might find them difficult or hard to fathom, but Megs is encouraging all Galwegians to come along and view, experience, and form their own opinions on the works.

“I would encourage people to leave their preconceptions of what is art behind,” says Megs. “If you don’t get involved in the medium you will find them accessible and understandable. Because of what we have been through in Ireland with the collapse of the economy, the concepts of the work will come through and is something we can relate to.”

For more information on all TULCA exhibitions see www.tulca.ie

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