To get familiar with different artists' work, you visit their exhibitions and become familiar with their processes and visual imagery.

Yet if you visit without knowing the idea behind the current exhibition in QSS Queen Street Studios Gallery, you might wonder why Joy Gerrard, known for her demonstration paintings in black and white, had suddenly decided to pierce her paintings with large eyelets and do a kind of voodoo on them with pins.

 

Or why Sharon Kelly, who has just finished a large solo exhibition in the FE McWilliams' Gallery, suddenly freed herself from the flat page and created a large floating waxed paper sculpture with crayon, jute yarn and masking tape.

The answer is that this exhibition – Future Forward – is the first in a series of three exhibitions curated by Jane Morrow which was developed over 80 studio visits, discussions and presentations which will culminate in three exhibitions, two in Belfast and one in Dublin.   

Ironically, but not surprisingly considering how studio groups get moved around by property speculation, the Queen Street Gallery is currently in the Arches Centre on Bloomfield Avenue.

Conceived as a response to the Pandemic, the programme behind the latest exhibition paired 35 artists together to create experimental work and to bring the studio artists together after the Covid disruption of the past two years.

Artists developed work together in twos and threes and the result is fascinating. You witness strong statements of different people's work, but when you recognise something, you find a kind of a departure. The 'why?' to Sharon Kelly’s free-floating wax paper work is that she has been collaborating with performance artist Amanda Coogan. Joy Gerrard, meanwhile, has been working with Vasiliki Stapinski and Frédéric Huska.  

The energy at the opening was impressive. Artists and visitors alike could hardly contain their excitement at seeing the finished result. The talk among viewers was that the process has in fact helped galvanise the studio community — and I suspect helped a few artistic departures to continue to grow.

Future Forward continues until June 23, open Tuesday to Thursday 10am to 5pm or by appointment. The second exhibition in the series starts June 30 and runs to July 28.

Our Place in Space opens on Divis and Black Mountain on Saturday, June 11. This is a sculpture trail of the solar system designed by North Belfast’s Oliver Jeffers and is open from 9am to 7pm until July 10.

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There are lots of activities planned from solstice solar gazing with the Irish Astrological Association to film screenings, Chelsea Clinton in Conversation, meteorites workshops and contributions from the great and the good of the astronomical world.

There will be opportunities for schools and groups to have tours with lots of free educational materials encouraging pupils to think about their place in space. If you have never been on Divis and Black Mountain before you may wish to check out the free buses from City Hall. 

The Belfast Book Festival includes a number of interesting events from poets to fiction writers and conversations about inspiring books.  Mary Ellen Campbell (Here NI), Leo Lardie (The Rainbow Project) and Alexa Moore (former Transgender NI) get asked about their favourite reads, how these relate to their work in the LGBTQIA+ sector, its struggles, its needs and its prospects. Workshops include writing your memoirs and self-publishing and making swift boxes in there for good measure. Many events are pay what you want. The Belfast  Book Festival runs from June 10 to 19.

Docs Ireland documentary film festival programme is out with a wide selection of films from Nothing Compares about Sinead O'Connor to the official short documentary selection which looks interesting.

The programme includes a profile of Frankie Quinn, described as an East Belfast veteran photographer. There is also a short on the Belfast drag scene and a woman trying to stop an illegal cure for autism. Eclectic to say the least and always an entertaining place to spot new talent. Docs Ireland runs from June 29 to July 3.

Lastly, is anyone is interested in  Landscape Artist of the Year on Sky Arts? The show will be filming in the National Trust Castle Ward on Thursday, June 23. It's a beautiful landscape and one which was the location of my teenage summer job. That walk home was hard after serving tea and scones all day in the tearooms, but it taught me the importance of the world of work: one scone at a time — and don't get me started about the barmbrack.