WHY SHOULD there be only one interpretation of a artwork - be it a painting, a play, a song, a film, a poem? By opening such works to multiple perspectives is possibly the only way art can effectively take in the diversity of human experience.
“Art is about creating an environment and little worlds and ambiguities,” says Gregory McCartney, the curator of this year’s TULCA Festival of Visual Art, which begins tomorrow. “People can make up their own mind when viewing a work. Preaching about what a work of art ‘is’ only limits the public’s response to it.”
All the way from Derry
Gregory brings a wealth of experience to his role as curator of TULCA. He is the founder and project coordinator/editor of the Abridged poetry and art magazine; a former director of the Context Gallery; and currently a member of the Void curatorial committee. He is also a poet and freelance visual arts and archive co-ordinator.
Gregory is originally from Derry, a city he describes as having a “really big influence” on his subsequent roles as a curator of exhibitions and a writer on the arts.
“You can’t escape your influences,” he tells me during our Monday afternoon conversation, “and some of mine are appropriate to this year’s TULCA. I come from a council estate in Derry and so I cannot escape pebbledash and tarmac and in George Shaw and David Hepher at the Galway Arts Centre, their paintings operate with the same obsession. I tend to go with themes that appeal to me in terms of things I recognise and that other people will recognise.”
So what is the role and task of a curator for a festival like TULCA?
“Ask a group of curators and you’ll get different answers from everyone,” he laughs. “I’m an ‘old skool’ curator. I learned on the job in galleries by helping out, painting walls, answering phones, as opposed to now where there are college courses and graduates come with their heads filled with theory.
“In concrete terms being a curator involves contacting artists, hanging the works, overseeing the festival, but I don’t want to just put things on walls and people just come and look at them. For me, I like to work with a theme that people can relate to - the past, memory, desire, emotions - I like work that echoes with people.
“I also like to try and create an environment people can lose themselves in or find themselves in. Nicky Keogh’s video for TULCA is about demolishing a house and it will be interesting to see people’s reactions to that.”
Gregory is also keen to dispel any notion of the curator as some kind of auteur, and emphasises that putting together the festival has been a team effort. “I also must say that TULCA has a brilliant team this year, all the volunteers, so it’s not just one voice,” he says. “I pick the art but it’s impossible without a whole load of voices and I’d like that to be recognised.”
What Became Of The People We Used To Be?
The TULCA festival theme and title is ‘What Became Of The People We Used To Be?, prompting immediate thoughts of the recession, the past we had, the present difficulties, and the uncertain future. However Gregory, who enjoys references to Goth rockers The Sisters of Mercy and classic TV shows as much as French philosophy and Irish poetry, sees the theme as also encompassing personal questions of identity, hopes, disappointments, and memory.
“The title comes from the theme tune to the TV programme Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, it was kind of the Men Behaving Badly of the 1980s,” he says. “The song had a cheesy, jolly tune but the lyrics were downbeat, ‘Nothing to look forward to but the past’. It was about two characters, aware of where they were in life and wondering how they got there.
“The works in TULCA can be seen as asking ‘Where did we go wrong? It was the bankers fault’ or it can be about those moments people have when they wake up, look around, and ask themselves, like in the Talking Heads song, ‘Once In A Lifetime’: “How did I get here?...You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong? You may say to yourself, Among the TULCA works which embodies all this are prints by Belfast artist Lisa Malone in the Galway Arts Centre. In one, a tiny man is falling from the sky while below people are riding a rollercoaster; in the second he has fallen further; and in the last has landed splat on the ground, while the rollercoaster goes on.
A seemingly simple work, it has so much to say. It could be interpreted as being about the impact of the recession - some have fallen from grace while others continue to get away with it (politicians/bankers/business elite ); the falling man could represent ordinary people suffering most from the recession while those on the rollercoaster are hanging on for dear life. And yet it could simply be an exercise in black humour, a comment on the human condition, the frailty of life, or, to quote George Harrison, how “life goes on within you and without you”.
“That’s what I love, it can be seen as positive or negative,” says Gregory. “Someone like David Hepher denies his work is political, he says ‘I’m a landscape painter, it’s for others to interpret it’.”
This year’s TULCA catalogue is also an impressive offering, as it is large magazine size format and includes poems and prose by writers Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Gerald Dawe, and Gerard Smyth. “I wanted something more poetic, and drawing on my work with Abridged, I wanted to create something that people might like to read and keep,” says Gregory.
TULCA will exhibit paintings, sculpture, installations, photography, and video, by almost 40 artists in the Galway Arts Centre, the NUI Galway gallery, the Niland Gallery, the Nuns Island Theatre, The Shed at the Galway Harbour, the 126 gallery, and at the TULCA Festival Gallery on the Fairgreen Road.
“I think the public is used to contemporary art more than the art world tends to give them credit for,” says Gregory. “There are many things in these works they will recognise from their day to day lives, and all the exhibitions are free admission. I encourage people to go with an open mind and if they come away liking a couple of pieces, and feel it gives them food for thought, then I will be happy.”
The 2012 TULCA Festival of Visual Art opens tomorrow with a reception in the Fairgreen Gallery at 8pm with an after party at The Foster Court Hotel at 9.30pm. TULCA runs until November 23. For more information see www.tulca.ie