IN a post-conflict society there is a need for people who think outside the box to be supported to help shape new ways of being and doing.
Many artists find this difficult as we rub up against the structures of trauma formed over the period of the conflict. Then we try and leap over the nepotism and erratic funding available maybe only to find what's at the end of the rainbow elusive.
Deirdre McKenna is well known in the arts eco system for her work with Catalyst Arts, the Golden Thread gallery and University of Atypical. She's taking up a new role with Black Box as outreach person, working in particular with their award-winning programme for adults with learning difficulties, Moon Base. She also has a retrospective of her work at Pssquared gallery – Mundane again, again...
Deirdre remembers her time at Catalyst Arts as "The best education on the possibilities of an artist. It's still going 30 years on and as the artistic community volunteer their time to run it, that's no small thing considering the organisation never has a constant."
Of her time at The Golden Tread she says: "I loved working with a gallery that was not afraid to take risks and had a maverick spirit at its core."
As a member of Flax Art Studios she studied fine art painting in Sligo before coming to Belfast for her BA and MFA.
Her intention was to stay in Belfast one year and get her degree but she says: "The city had a healthy collaborative nature that seduced me and harmonised with my nature for a DIY approach to how art is made and exhibited."
The retrospective shows some of the breadth of her work from video to more sculptural pieces. One piece represents her version of the beginning of the world, captured in a glass box with shadowed crows flying around, the inner light of the box casting shadows out beyond the box, as if life itself was flying beyond the reaches of what was previously known.
A captured image of the body of her mother at her wake can bring up many memories for those who identify with the tradition of an open coffin. The video pieces made from film footage taken on a residency in Taiwan shed light on the open street shops that many Asian countries have, high up on concrete steps to defeat the heavy rains.
She has mostly selected smaller works that are easy to transport and install. A glimpse of birds coming to a window, a little too close, the noise of a pecking beak familiar against the window pane. It's as if you're inside her house.
During the Take Back the City policy of Belfast City Council and the flag protests Deirdre took to the streets with an amazing, sparky mobile sculpture called 'You Are Here'. Asked what the barriers are to getting this made a permanent sculpture she says if anyone wants to help her make this a reality to get in touch. In my opinion it would be recognised as a significant piece of public art if it was commissioned. Like many artists with great potential and talent she requires a budget to realise some of her large-scale potential.
A master organiser and art worker, her presence has been felt in many communities within the city and we look forward to seeing what artistic mischief she gets up to next.
Mundane again, again... a Retrospective is at Pssquared 11 Rosemary Street until May 20, open Tuesday tp Saturday noon to 5pm.
Meanwhile the Northern Ireland Mental Health Festival is in full swing with events all over. If you're not to sure where and when 2 Royal Avenue has a lot of events on and is a good central point.
Stephen Millar and Méabh Meir facilitated a great Array Studios workshop called Myth and Melt at the Ulster Museum where we got to delve a little further into some of the imagery in the Sibín and then make our own clay piece. Both artists are also art therapists and with Méabh a singing teacher with Tradfest, we got to make sounds as well which seemed to fill the atrium. NIMHF runs May 11-21. Many events are free or pay what you can.
Lastly, the 120 artists in Vault Artists studios have managed to temporarily secure two buildings, one being the old Mission building on the Shankill Road and the second being Marlborough House in Victoria street. It's exhausting for all of these change-makers in the city to have to live with the constant threat of closure and hopefully this will give them some breathing space.