Midsummer Moments: Seeing Cork in a New Light

With restrictions still in place for galleries, the Glucksman hit on the idea of using billboards todisplay work by local artists, writes Ellie O’Byrne
Midsummer Moments: Seeing Cork in a New Light
Some of the New Light billboards commissioned from Cork artists by the Glucksman. Picture: Clare Keogh

With restrictions still in place for galleries, the Glucksman hit on the idea of using billboards todisplay work by local artists, writes Ellie O’Byrne

FROM a new appreciation of birdsong, to feelings of claustrophobia and mundanity, to hopes for a different world to re-emerge into, Cork’s artists have been having similar lockdown experiences to the rest of us.

Now an open-air billboard tour of the city gives art-lovers the opportunity to see artists’ work exhibited while still observing social distancing guidelines.

New Light, featuring paintings, drawings and prints by eight Cork city and county artists, has been curated by UCC’s Glucksman gallery as part of Cork Midsummer Festival’s Midsummer Moments programme, which features numerous creative social distancing solutions to viewing art, theatre, film and music.

“A really challenging thing about the whole Covid situation has been to find ways to support artists based here in Cork,” Glucksman director Fiona Kearney says.

“The eight works can be viewed through five different walks, so hopefully they will be viewed individually and that people start to see them as a collection of a range of different practices, and a range of work by artists living here in Cork.”

The artists taking part in the Glucksman's New Light even for Midsummer Moments. Picture: Clare Keogh
The artists taking part in the Glucksman's New Light even for Midsummer Moments. Picture: Clare Keogh

The exhibition’s theme and title have generated responses to the whole idea of ‘New Light, Kearney says. “Peter Nash’s beautifully observed birds came from him being in his house and seeing all the bird life, and wondering if the birds noticed that everyone was in lockdown. People have been talking a lot about the extraordinary prevalence of birdsong in lockdown because the sounds of industry had disappeared.”

She also points to Emma O’Hara’s print work for its exploration of this strange new world we find ourselves in.

Billboard art is by no means a new concept, and has frequently been used by artists as a way to subvert and interrogate the realm of commercial advertising.

“Billboard sites are very interesting spaces of display because people read them as somewhere they’re about to be sold something,” Kearney says. “Although billboard advertising campaigns can be hugely imaginative, you’re always waiting for the reveal; what’s the thing I’m supposed to buy?”

Padraig Spillane's piece for the New Light billboard exhibition.
Padraig Spillane's piece for the New Light billboard exhibition.

At the moment, Kearney points out, the billboard spaces New Light will occupy may well be vacant due to the widespre ad cancellations of other arts events due to Covid-19 restrictions.

“We were able to get a lot of billboards in the city that we wouldn’t normally have been able to get, because unfortunately there’s been huge cancellation of events,” she says. “It felt right to fill those spaces with artworks and to remind people of the joy and discovery of art.”

Billboards are also a way of reaching new audiences who don’t normally frequent galleries, Kearney says.

But while some people may happen upon the billboards, for others, who are still housebound, a set of postcards of the artworks and an accompanying audio guide on the Glucksman’s website can still bring the exhibition into peoples’ homes.

Leanne McDonagh with her artwork for New Light.  Picture: Clare Keogh
Leanne McDonagh with her artwork for New Light.  Picture: Clare Keogh

“It’s fabulous seeing retail open up again and the streets being busy, but for a lot of people that’s still not possible, maybe for older people but also for people who have underlying health conditions that put them in high risk categories,” Kearney says.

“Those people are going to have to continue to be incredibly careful in coming months.

“We’re working now to re-open the building, but we’ve always had a focus on audiences who wouldn’t normally access art.

“Hopefully at some point, this will also bring them into the gallery to enjoy the work of all the artists in our spaces again.”

New Light is on display as part of Midsummer Moments up until June 24. Postcards are available for purchase in various outlets in the city. For map and audio guides: glucksman.org/exhibitions/newlight

A selection of work

Leanne McDonagh: A a CIT Crawford graduate who lives in North Cork, and is mother to two little boys, four and two. Her photography- derived abstract artworks pay homage to her Traveller heritage.

“I had this image already,” she explains. “I took it at a horsefair a number of years ago. The idea behind the title is that when Travellers come to town, they’re not always wanted and the presence of Travellers is not viewed in a favourable way.

“I always try to see the best in people and get to know people for who they are before making judgements on them. After this period of isolation and quarantine, once people begin emerging, they might have a new outlook on life. I hope it will open people’s eyes up to the fact that not everybody lives in the same way.

“I know that locally here in Cork there’ve been many Traveller families that have lived through lockdown in very overcrowded conditions and that it must have been very hard for them.

“We’re lucky because we’re out on our own so we’ve plenty of space, but the first couple of weeks was really hard for me because I like routine. I ended up finding a better balance between work and home life, though. I’ve always been active with the kids, but we got out walking every day and I did all the baking and everything; I got in touch with my inner Nigella Lawson.”

Pádraig Spillane: Cork-based artist and a lecturer in CIT Crawford College of Art and Design.

“I live with my mum who was cocooning, and in college there was a lot of work in relation to getting up to speed with delivering things online, so that was a bit of pressure. I was so stressed out from being on the screen all the time, and a lot of my work is also made on the screen.

“The idea of using billboards not to actually advertise a product but to advertise new ways of looking at the world really inspired me and I was very excited by that.”

“My collage piece brings two images together, one of a solar eclipse and one of a wild cat. In relation to the theme of New Light and getting back out from behind screens again after collectively self-isolating, I was interested in showing an image that talks about our relationship with and responsibility to the world.”

Emma O’Hara: Wexford-born printmaker Emma O’Hara explores themes about the human relationship to the natural world.

“I wanted to make something new that represented how I felt during lockdown. We were confined to the city for three months and I really felt the need for air, sun, water: just a bit of nature.

“Making work, and the use of colour, is really important for my mental health, as well as engaging with the natural environment. When the studio shut down, I just grabbed a few bits and came home, because I thought, if I don’t do something I won’t be able to function. I gathered images I had in my archive and started to collage them together to make a new piece.”

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