The MART Gallery Review 2015 – 2016

"The last two years have seen so much activity done in the name of MART"


MART team photo summer 2016

Article By Lynda Phelan

September 2016

Since 2013, when Ciara Scanlan & Matthew Nevin seriously put down roots in the busy suburb of Rathmines, MART has grown exponentially. From their consolidated vision back in 2006 and the subsequent coming into being of MART, the partnership – named, to the light-bulb moment which led to a real hands-on restoration project behind the iconic red doors of an old fire station 25 years closed, MART has now become so much more than the sum of its parts. The tenacity of Ciara & Matthew paired with their overall experimental ethos, makes MART today one hell of a cultural catalyst, one that is continually reshaping the notion of a self-sustaining arts organisation using similar creative processes to that of the self-determining artist who is never fearful of failure ending only in closed doors.

The last two years have seen so much activity done in the name of MART. So where does MART stand now? Forgive the quick flashback: September 2013 – The old firestation @ 190a Rathmines Road Lower re-opens as The MART Gallery & Studios, consisting of two Gallery Spaces, eight Artist Studios + one Office. The following year [Year One] sees the opening of The MARTCADE & MART House Studios just down the road @ 46 Rathmines Road Lower, adding a further 15 Artist Studios, A Café + Event Space.

As well as providing a constant turnover of art exhibits plus a variety of events at The MART Gallery, along with a large number of events also held at The MARTCADE; between September 2014 & September 2015 [Year Two], we also see the addition of 3 more Studio Buildings. Across the road from The MART Gallery – The MART Casino Studios with eight Artist Studios. Also in the heart of Rathmines: The MART Parker Hill with 11 more Studios. Venturing slightly further afield to Lennox Street, Portobello: six Studios + Café 34 run by HOMEBEAT. All the while, MART continued to play host, not just to artists seeking studios, but also to the exhibition of art, and to those more commercially minded. The MARTCADE, for example, held anything from Record Fairs, Upcycle Fairs and Art & Crafts Fairs, to Spoken Word, Music and Film Events etc.

September 2015, however, saw The MARTCADE close up shop, so to speak; no more Café(s) or one-off events, offering instead the use of a substantial Project Space downstairs with the 15 Artist Studios still operating from above. A shrewd decision that allowed MART to function much more efficiently by cutting down on all the extra out-of-office-hours required for the constant management and overseeing of events. These money-making attempts were essentially a drain on resources well seen by the Directors. An example of MART implementing its fearless experimental ethos while learning on the job some good old agility training.

For less than one year, The Project Space offered a dynamic new platform from which to cultivate experimentation and create new work. MART saw The Project Space as operating somewhere between Studio, Residency and Exhibition. With collaboration its intention, and experimentation its mode of operation, the selected group of artists worked together alongside an established curator in an intensive, live and supportive space, one that helped foster creative partnerships, new ideas, plus the realisation and exhibition of new work. The Project Space gave birth to three group projects, and ceased artistic operations by 2016, giving way finally to the easier-to-manage shared Artist Studio. Yet another example of the agility required for the sculpting of a viable self-sustaining arts organisation; along with building up and out, one must be able to hack away at that which does not work at feeding the overall whole.

This constant ‘agility training’ paid off in July 2016, when Ciara & Matthew faced their most difficult situation to date. With a few days notice, MART were asked to quickly vacate The Casino Studios due to a problem with the landlord’s lease with a receivership lease. Immediately they had to arrange for the removal and temporary storage of all studio contents, while at the same time, look to re-house a large number of artists asap. In the seemingly impenetrable world of property management there is always something to learn; and the Directors of MART have once again showed no fear as they continue to improve upon this new language of landlords and property. This very same year [Year Three], MART is plus three Studio Buildings: eight studios in Kilmainham, six Studios in Malpas Street, and a newly acquired building in Crumlin hosting 12 studios. MART can now be seen to stand for provision as well as artistic vision, providing studios for over 100+ Studio Members, across 68 Artist Studios / seven Studio Buildings.

With the introduction of The International Residency Space in an old coach house to the rear of the fire station, MART projects the number of artists engaging in the organisation will significantly increase over the coming years. The Residency Space works as an ongoing collaborative model between one international artist on one month’s residency and three Irish artists on six month’s residency. From July – December 2016, MART has three NCAD MFA Graduates (Austin Hearne, Mags O’Dea & Celina Muldoon) on site along with a different international artist each month. This continuous turnover of artistic dialogue by way of cultural exchange makes for an exciting new direction for MART, culminating with an an End of Residency Exhibition every six months.

MART has seen such growth within a relatively short space of time, and with this comes much need. A reliable and committed workforce is definitely a requirement for the smooth running of any developing organisation. While the scope of Ciara & Matthew has significantly increased the breadth of MART over the past two years, how, might you ask, is all of this possible for a Non-Profit Organisation? First, let us acknowledge the humble beginnings of any such operation: loans from friends, credit cards and the bank allowed Ciara & Matthew to get those big red doors open initially. They were by then, of course, reputable providers of a curatorial partnership (since 2006) which made it easier no doubt to trust in their resilience when it came to the crunching of numbers. And with The MART Gallery & Studios now open for business (2013), along with The MARTCADE (2014 – 2015), plus one Studio Building after another, all income/profit went straight back into the business and love affairs of MART. It seems simple but I’m in no doubt of the stress involved in balancing the books. On the one hand you’ve got rent payable on an ever increasing number of buildings + rent increases + maintenance + overheads + property charges etc., not to mention original debts owed; and on the other hand: rent payable from studio members, rent payable from the various gallery/event/project spaces, commission on all artworks sold at exhibition, tickets for various events etc. With a lot of hard work and ingenuity, the eventual paying back of some of those initial debts owed (2015) meant some cash now flowed as basic wages, meaning full steam ahead for MART. Instead of relying on a voluntary workforce, MART in 2016 employs its two Directors full-time and a selection of part-time staff: a Financial Manager, House Cleaner, Studio Manager and Gallery Manager.

MART is showing signs of financial stability, and in these uncertain times, this smacks of hard work and a lot of it. MART it seems is getting to grips with such things as finance, property management, event/project management etc., things that wouldn’t necessarily roll off the tongue when it comes to thinking about a grass roots arts organisation. But MART is just that, an arts organisation and a developing one at that, continuously evolving from strength to strength. With any and all funding from Dublin City Council, Arts Council Ireland, or Culture Ireland being awarded for the special purpose of carrying out specific curatorial projects both Nationally and Internationally, MART remains for the most part an independent body of the arts, strengthening its role within the local community year upon year. A recent I HEART MART survey conducted by MART shows that out of 594 people, 493 deemed MART to be ‘very important’ to the locale. 2017 will see MART unveil a fully curated exhibition programme for the first time. No longer will MART have to rely on open call/gallery hire to make ends meet, necessarily colouring in the artistic calendar around a hand-full of their own curated exhibitions.

According to Co-Director, Matthew Nevin, “MART’s primary aim is to create a platform for new media, installation, sculpture, experimental film and performance artists.” And over the past two years, MART has really begun to carve deep into the seemingly already reserved art-spaces of Ireland. By way of exhibition, events/seminars and workshops, MART tells of the contemporary and of what lies ahead, representing art and artists as not a thing of the past but as here now for the future. “Not only is [contemporary art] [or MART] merely ‘of’ the times, it basically bestows value upon these times simply by… wanting to infiltrate, inhabit, and if possible even shape it” (Roelstraete 2010:194).

Since its inception, MART lends to experimentation, most recently with the creation of The MART EXPERIMENTS SERIES setup (2014) in order to allow emerging artists and curators the use of a gallery for play, somewhere between the lines of both exhibition and event, pushing boundaries of illusion relative to permanence and ephemerality. 2015 saw Feedback (27+28 April), a mini-retrospective by artist John Conway, curated by Siobhan Mooney. This two day exhibition considered Conway’s artistic development through the medium of the ‘artist statement’. Audience participation was also encouraged through the use of ‘the survey’. An Experiment in Life Drawing (13+14 June) was conducted as a type of socio-psychological experiment, which took the traditional life-drawing setting as its form, while actively observing this tradition as a potential site (given the right conditions) for a ‘short-circuit’ to occur. 2016 saw yet another two experiments take place in the name of MART: Offer (2–7 May) was an exhibition by day (1–6pm) and an event/performance by night (7–10pm). The MART Gallery was offered up as new testing ground to approach the artistic practice of Claire McCluskey in a new way. Curated by Siobhan Mooney, Offer encouraged audience participation by way of invitation: what do we have to offer the artist and what does the artist offer as experience. FORCED 2 (with your permission, Of Course!) An Experiment in the Art of Viewing [VIDeoART] (11–16 July) juxtaposed the artist’s private collection against that which is deemed fit for public consumption. Contributing artists included: Tony Red (ROU), Luke Byrne (IRL), Johnny Welch (AUS), Darren Caffrey (IRL) & John Russell (GBR).

The Project Space provided us with three collective projects in 2015. The first group of artists worked on site for two months between May and June under the curatorial eye of Jonathan Carroll (Art Lot): Jason Dunne, Paul Hallahan, Jennifer Kidd and Sarah Wilson. Their working together culminated in opening the doors of their incubation space as an invitation to the public to enter in. Too Soon, Too Late (25–29 June) turned our thoughts to questions around notions of the finished piece, and surrounding influences of environmental and artistic energies. In fact, these questions were raised throughout all three projects regardless of the diverse range of artistic practices involved and mediums of choice. The subsequent project took July and August as an incubation period to investigate future possibilities in performance as a means of artistic engagement. Curator Francis Fay (Livestock) employed his skills as overseer to correlate multiple trends in the working relationships of eight different artists: Lisa Freeman, Sharon Murphy, Bryan Duffy, Brian Gregory, Samuel Bachy, Riin Kaljurand, Derek Smith and Neil Dunne. Project three took place between September and November, and concluded in an open showing of their findings entitled unFold (12 – 20 November). Artists Paddy Joe Rickard, Varvara Shavrova, Stephanie Deady, worked alongside curator Peter Prendergast (Monster Truck).

MART is now the go-to-name in multimedia and digital art installation. Glitch is an annual Interactive Digital Arts Festival. And for the last two years running, Ciara Scanlan & Matthew Nevin [MART] have been invited to curate Ireland’s only Digital Art Arts Festival: Glitch @ RUA RED, Tallaght, while also, on each occasion, curating a satellite exhibition on home turf @ The MART Gallery, Rathmines. The last two years saw MART cultivate a land of new media and technology with artists from far and wide, artists that seek to plough and upturn our pre-conceived relationship to technology, its possible limitations and future reach. For Glitch 2015 (30 May – 06 June), MART asked: Adam Gibney, Anne Cleary & Denis Connolly, Bonnie Begusch, Brian Duggan, Cecily Brennan, David Stalling, Jonathan Mayhew, Katherine Nolan, Louise Brady, Marie Farrington, Mark Clare, Sam Jury, Stephanie Golden & Moya Clarken and Stephen Maybury, the question: how can technology activate a more visceral connectivity from a virtual standpoint?

Glitch 2016 (30 May – 11 June) begged for a Risk Assessment. MART employed their usual experimental modus operandi for their curatorial remit in 2016, which ended in the surprise of having selected only female artists: Margaret O’Brien, Elaine Leader, Helen Mac Mahon, Janna Kemperman{Algorithm}, Sinead McDonald and Aileen Drohan. Glitch 2016 focused on live durational events and collaboration between digital and live processes. The participating artists produced live experiential artworks and performances around the idea of risk and danger and the seemingly safe space of the gallery. MART, it seems, also wanted to challenge these ideas relative to gender roles. For Glitch 2016, Dr. Katherine Nolan led a seminar entitled: Women’s Work: Undoing the Gender of Media, whereby she invited many an esteemed perspective from Valerie Connor, Leah Hilliard, Dr. Kylie Jarret and Dr. Paula Quigley. With the support of Arts Council Ireland, MART were able to present a high-end visual art exhibition alongside the customary seminar and creative workshop: Introduction to Processing – Learn to Code a Slit Scan Camera & Explore Light and Sound with Basic Electronics.

Over the years, MART has sought to travel upon its curatorial impulses. This is a core objective for MART: to increase awareness and circulate the excellence of Irish visual art abroad, in turn, deepening connections and strengthening the axis from which to rotate their creative energies. This is a core cultural objective widely seen as vital and therefore generously supported by the likes of Culture Ireland. In 2015, MART travelled to Los Angeles with the work of 18 emerging and established Irish Visual Artists and Designers: Dominic Thorpe, Liam O’Callaghan, Margaret O’Brien, Katherine Nolan, Terence Erraught, Eleanor Lawler, Francis Fay, Aidan Smyth, Olga Criado Monleon, Kayleigh Forsythe, Marie Farrington, Róisín de Buitléar, Gearoid O’Dea, Grainne Tynan, Ida Mitrani, Patricia Douglas, Karen Vaughan, Christina O’Donovan. Instinct, curated by MART’s Co-Director, Matthew Nevin, took the form of 3 cross-disciplinary exhibitions, with the Irish Instinct put on display thrice @ three different LA Galleries (The Santa Monica Art Studios Gallery, The Los Angeles Center for Digital Art & The Hive Gallery) and once @ The MART Gallery between July – September 2015. Instinct questioned the role of human instinct in the production of art and it was good old Irish instinct that led Nevin to LA in the first place, resulting in hard-line curatorial ties being made in the process.

MART were back in LA not before long with a show entitled: Activating Pangea @ DAC Gallery (16 April – 06 May 2016). Activating Pangea, curated by both Scanlan & Nevin this time, presented the work of four leading Irish artists (Sophie Loscher, Jonathan Mayhew, Margaret O’Brien & Gearoid O’Dea) to an anything-Irish all-consuming American audience. The exhibition sought to activate Pangea; in other words, to imagine our pre-human world, the supercontinent of many a day gone by where there were no borders or cultural barriers in order to reflect upon identity, geopolitics and culture relative to time and space. Kindly supported by Culture Ireland, Activating Pangea is the first of a three year series of exhibitions produced by MART, showcasing leading Irish Contemporary Visual Artists abroad. Activating Pangea, therefore, looks to solidify and promote the future of MART along with MART’s International agenda.

While Activating Pangea was actively seeking to engage an American audience, MART was simultaneously representing Ireland in Supermarket (21 – 24 April 2016), an International artist-run art fair in Stockholm dedicated to showing the best from artist-run galleries, artist collectives and other artistic initiatives from around the world. Curated by Scanlan & Nevin with on-site support from Dr. Katherine Nolan & Deirdre Morrissey, five Irish artists (James L Hayes, Adam Gibney, Ruby Wallis, Margaret O’Brien & Katherine Nolan) exhibited their unique artistic positions within this global artistic market. Thanks to the continued support of Culture Ireland, MART were capable of being in two places at once on an International level. Coinciding with Activating Pangea in LA & Supermarket in Stockholm, The MART Gallery in Rathmines issued a warning about The State We’re In (21 – 30 April 2016), calling our attention to issues affecting the modern social and political landscape in Ireland, through works by Mayo based artists Jo Killalea, Bryan Gerard Duffy and Conor O’Grady.

MART also seeks out the lone artist whose work is mature enough to hold its own in the form of a solo show. Without a Future (02 – 24 October 2015), a solo exhibition by Irish artist Margaret O’Brien, took to looking into human things from the point of view of our physical makeup and the phenomenon of what charges us. Without a Future is artistic evidence of O’Brien’s research into the wonderful world of electricity, sculpture and form. In February 2016, the wall-based sculptural work of Irish artist Jason Dunne, took to the walls of the old fire station to communicate certain unseen aspects of the human condition: emotion, aspiration, an awareness of the senses. Primes (12 – 27 February 2016) held a formidable position in The MART Gallery whilst attempting to also look beneath human things, beneath the skin of human things.

Every year, MART also invites a curator to oversee their annual Members Show. Independent Curator, Writer & Researcher, Anne Mullee got her hands on the 2016 show. Motley focused on the curatorial quest: work that accepts the agency to perform self-determining acts. Motley featured a large troupe of studio members: Varvara Shavrova, Coilin O’Connell, Una Kavanagh, tag Beckett, Eimear Tynan, David Lunney, Eva O’Donovan, Robert Lumezi, Tadhg O’Cuirrin, Guillaume Cugnet, Nessa Finnegan, Jennifer Madden, Stephanie Golden, Grainne Tynan, Ivan Matancevic, Tommy Flavin, Seamus Bradley and Terence Erraught. 

I am sure in the coming years MART will continue to provide many multifarious platforms for artists to showcase their work, whilst managing to balance the act of provision with artistic vision.  

Lynda Phelan

https://phelanlynda.wordpress.com/

September 2016