Even in phase two, much of Ireland still resembles a ghost town. All the more reason to support “The Positive Space”, an outdoor art exhibition showcasing works by some of the country’s leading photographers
Not so long ago our city centres with daubed with billboards and posters advertising concerts, clubs, festivals, theatre and new film releases. But when performance venues and cinemas closed for the lockdown, so too did the nation’s live entertainment industry, leaving ageing, or blank, ad space in its wake (and a profound absence in our hearts).
With consumer confidence low and slow, it’ll be a long while before the Next Big Things start competing for our attention again, however, with a bit of ingenuity – and a dash of community spirit – we’ll soon see new life breathed into these vacant relics.
Enter “The Positive Space”, the brainchild of freelance stylist Corina Gaffey, her photographer sister Naomi Gaffey and DJ, club promoter and hospitality consultant Anthony Remedy, which will see works by 20 Irish photographers plastered around 500 advertising sites across Dublin city between June 22 and July 12. “It’s about turning a negative into a positive,” says Corina, “and bringing life, colour and vibrancy back into the city.”
Remedy applied his experience working with mass advertising by approaching Irish Poster Advertising, who were supportive from the outset, while We do Printing and designer Mariane Picard completed the dream team. All that’s left is for the GoFund campaign to raise €10k to cover the costs of printing and postering, and the public art project will be complete.
With regards to image selection, there was no brief, theme or restrictions; the one request was that photographers submit images that inspire them. One such photographer is Rich Gilligan, who made his name in Ireland before moving to New York in 2015 with his designer/artist wife Petria Lenehan.
“Anthony dropped me an email out of the blue, through my friend Lorna O’Brien, who I studied photography with in Sallynoggin, Newport and Belfast,” he says. “We’d never met, but I figured a friend of Lorna's is probably a friend of mine, so I immediately got involved as I loved the idea he presented. It feels like an important time to be giving back to the city.”
Gilligan chose two images, one a detail from The Brooklyn Banks, an historical skateboarding spot in Manhattan that’s “currently under threat of being redeveloped into more retail spaces, which NYC obviously doesn't need…” He created the work a few years ago but found himself redrawn to it.
“I grew up watching skate videos that often featured footage from this particular location, so visiting this spot is almost like a kind of pilgrimage for most skaters. I first visited NYC in September 2001 – a week to the day before 9/11 – and the first place I visited on my arrival was the banks, so it’s a location that means a lot to me, especially now that it’s under threat.
“The other image is a photograph of a man plastering a wall in the city of Newburgh in the Hudson Valley, NY where I now reside [with their two young daughters]. The images seemed to pair well together for some reason.”
Other big names include Enda Bowe – recipient of last year’s Zurich Portrait Prize and on-set photographer for the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People – Linda Brownlee, Conor Clinch, Liam Murphy and Boo George, with more to be announced over the coming weeks.
The idea for the project started forming while Naomi was documenting empty billboard sites across town. “Anthony had noticed the new spaces too, and suggested reaching out to photographers to curate an exhibition and bring some joy to these empty spaces.”
Adds Corina: “During the lockdown, we had a death in the family, and photos became a considerable source of comfort. Whether it was looking back at old pictures or documenting our new normal, we relied heavily on imagery, and this inspired Anthony and I to come together with Naomi and reach out to other photographers for The Positive Space exhibition.”
Paths to recovery
The Irish arts sector – populated primarily by the self-employed – has been hit infamously hard by the pandemic, with widespread criticism of the “Ireland Performs” online campaign in particular. How hopeful are you of its recovery and support in the long term?
“A pandemic like we’re experiencing is a chance for creatives to reset, reimagine and rediscover, as well as document the now and future,” says Naomi. “It won’t be easy, not just for the arts sector, but for many businesses. That’s why we need the support of the people to invest in art and give it a platform – we set up the Gofundme page as it brings a sense of community and helps recovery in the creative sector.”
Despite the arts’ lack of state funding even before the pandemic, the lockdown has identified an elemental, societal need for creativity. “Just as we’ve found comfort in photography through the lockdown,” says Corina, “a lot of people have sought creative pursuits, proving there is a real appetite for the arts, including fashion, design, poetry, etc. Once there is demand we can thrive and recover as a community.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I’m pleased to have curated “The Positive Space” project, which simply wouldn’t have been possible without a lockdown – it’s always about looking forward, not backward.”
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