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Saturday 21 April 2012

Interview with Satis House Project Space Belfast curators Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese

Over the next two years contemporary art in Northern Ireland will experience developments progressively on par to other successful regions in the UK. In 2013 the prestigious Turner Prize will be hosted by a select venue in the first UK Capital of Culture Derry/Londonderry. In Belfast the much anticipated multi-functional Metropolitan Arts Centre (The MAC) will open to the public this month. Adding to this sense of growth a unique project space entitled Satis House launched its inaugural exhibition last month. This initiative has been instigated by two former Catalysts Arts Directors, Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese. Dara is also curatorial assistant at The MAC and McAleese spent three months on a curatorial residency at SOMArts in San Francisco last year. Their intentions for the space states that they will be showcasing "...both emerging and established artists, inviting them to respond directly to this unique environment."

The selected artists Claire Hall, David Frederick Mahon, Ricki O’Rawe and Anne Marie Taggart all individually engendered thought provoking outcomes to this curatorial challenge. As one ascends the stairwell to the main gallery Claire Hall’s emotive vignette of sounds transcends quiet, soft waves punctuated by louder, brasher, harder undulating notes. Hall’s intention here was to "...play with the idea of memory, looking into a mirror and you see something different from the person who looked into it before you although it's the same mirror..." On entering the gallery space this same sense of introspection was collectively evident in the hauntingly forlorn sculptural installation by Anne Marie Taggart, the poignantly melancholic text piece by Ricki O’Rawe and the reflective performance interactions by David Frederick Mahon.

Angela Darby interviewed the Satis House curators Eoin Dara and Kim McAleese to gain further insight into their intentions and future plans for the project space.

AD: What is the impetus for establishing this new project space in Belfast?

ED/KM :We have been involved, both collaboratively and independently, in curating art projects in Belfast and further afield over the past couple of years. Satis House has stemmed from our shared desire to completely immerse ourselves in current contemporary art practice. We want to create a further platform for local artists to exhibit work without limitations or constraints, as well as bringing significant international work to the city. The decision to locate the project on the Ormeau Road was also important to us, as there is a huge number of artists living in this area with no official venue for artistic presentation near by.We also wish to create opportunities for ourselves in order to advance our own curatorial expertise through working with these artists and establishing connections with our international peers.

AD: What type of artistic practice will Satis House profile?

ED/KM: We feel it is of the utmost importance that we involve the wealth of talented artists in our immediate vicinity; to exhibit the best of this work in a solo capacity, as well as alongside other international pieces in curated group shows. We aim to create an environment where artists will feel comfortable and confident to develop more experimental work – work that perhaps would not be considered for inclusion in other exhibition spaces.

Also, we don’t particularly want to limit the scope of the projects in the house to a visual art format – our opening exhibition included an experimental soundscape by Claire Louise Hall, a local musician and DJ, and a text piece by Dr Ricki O’Rawe, a literature scholar at Queens University. So really, our curatorial interests are broad in terms of artistic disciplines, but are currently focused on the presentation of work in alternative spaces. In the coming months, we’d also like to facilitate screenings, talks, and debates in the space, specific to the exhibitions on display, or responding to relevant cultural happenings in our area.

AD: In terms of the inaugural exhibition, how did the sculptural installation by Anne Marie Taggart relate to the performances by David Frederick Mahon?

ED/KM: The inaugural exhibition was developed slowly over the past few months with all of the artists meeting in the space on a regular basis – whether it be for dinner, tea, or simply a quick chat. We wanted all of the work to come together in a cohesive and complementary manner, and for the artists to feed off each other in terms of thought processes and ideas. Therefore, both Taggart’s installation and Mahon’s performances were inextricably linked from the outset.

Taggart’s response to the space and the literary connotations of Satis House resulted in a sombre exploration of loss, creating a display that referenced both human presence and absence simultaneously. When performing in these surroundings, Mahon drew attention to his physical occupation of this room, using the mirror to duplicate images of his body, and spoken word to flesh out the suggested fictions in Taggart’s sculptures.

However, central to Mahon’s performative practice is an almost unwavering focus on the immediate present, and so external factors such as the audience members in attendance on a particular day, or indeed insects flying in from an open window become just as important as other inanimate objects in the room.

AD: Do you feel the site specific nature of SH project space will challenge the future selected artists?

ED/KM: Absolutely, yes. We at no stage want the space to become a blank canvas for artists to simply exhibit existing work – we wish to encourage at all times the development of new ideas specific to this unique environment.

The reception of art in a domestic context is entirely different to that of a professional gallery setting, and we want to celebrate this at Satis House – we want to focus on the present and future potential of the space as a site for contemporary art whilst always being acutely aware of its previous varied identities.

This project will (hopefully) be an exciting challenge for future artists and audiences, as well as for ourselves as curators .

AD: What other projects have you planned for the upcoming year?

ED/KM: The next exhibition will launch on 26 April and will be the first solo presentation in Ireland of Scottish artist Liam Crichton’s work.

Then, as we head into the summer months we hope to take part in a curatorial exchange with Outland Arts, a new contemporary art organisation based in Fermanagh, as well as exhibiting exciting new work by a recent graduate of the BA programme at the University of Ulster.

We are also currently working with Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Ciara Hickey, and Alissa Kleist to develop a larger showcase of contemporary art in domestic spaces, which will culminate in a weekend of artistic activity in the broader Ormeau area at the end of August.

An open call for proposals to exhibit in Satis House will be announced in the coming weeks via our Facebook page, and we hope to have a website for the project up and running within the next month.

The inaugural exhibition at Satis House Project Space, 86 Deramore Avenue, Belfast, took place from 30/03/2012 - 14/04/2012. Their next exhibition will launch on 26 April. Further details are available on their Facebook

Ricki O'Rawe
Photography: Simon Mills


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