Elisabeth Rochford speaks to Cliodhna Timoney, artist and member of the board of directors for 126 Gallery, an artist led gallery in Galway. Cliodhna is due to start a residency in Firestation Studios in May.
Tell me a little about your own background in visual arts.
The interest in art was always there from a young age and after finishing up secondary school it felt natural for me to do a foundation course in art and design in NWRC Limavady. I fell in love with it as it was the first time I put all my attention on it and I continued to IADT to study Visual Arts Practice. Entering into college I still didn’t believe that I would become a practicing artist as there is a pressure and a voice telling you it’s not stable or practical. I was convinced I would become a teacher or designer and I’m not writing those off, but the longer I was in college the more I realized I wanted to give being a professional artist a go. The last year two years of my undergrad were amazing and left me with an appetite and excitement to keep making and be around other makers, which brought me to Galway.
How would you describe your own work?
A mish-mash of sculpture, painting, colour and drawing. Drawing introduces spontaneity and chance into my practice. The objective is to keep these drawings provisional with a humorous quality. The drawings can be seen as an accumulation of data and information deriving from a variation of sources, for example the history of painting/pop culture. However, I endeavour to embody this info through a language of gestural abstraction. Principally, the objects and sculptures are extensions of these drawings – allowing drawing to enrich the object and contrariwise. Gathering often overlooked materials, I attempt to translate the transitory nature of the drawings into a sculptural setting. Chancing failure and accidents I permit the materials to manifest themselves into tactile, haptic almost delectable objects. I want to create works that respond to flux without representing this. I try to attain tension between preciousness and garishness, resonating daintiness against the unfinished. I particularly aim to highlight the encounter between manufactured materials and the handmade creating a jarring quality within them. I cover the objects with gestural marks and strokes causing them to verge on the gaudy but only just.
You are a board member for 126 Gallery. What is it and how did you get involved?
126 Artist Run Gallery is a non-profit organization based off the structure of Transmission Gallery in Glasgow and originally founded in a living room in 2005. 126 is supported annually by funding and the continued support of our 180 members. Our members pay a nominal fee to support us and this also allows them opportunities to apply for our residencies and open calls. The constitution we uphold in 126 states that there is a rollover Board of Directors, so each board member can contribute up to two years and then they will be replaced with a fresh face! As one of our board members Lucy Elvis says ‘Well we don’t make any money. We do pay the artists, but we don’t pay ourselves. It somehow works because people are committed to the ideas’. Currently there are seven of us on the Board. It’s quite fast-paced and messy at times as everyone is contributing time out of their lives between work, family and studying but this is what makes it so wonderful and unique.
I wouldn’t have pictured myself in Galway this time two years ago, but I stumbled upon an open call 126 had for new interns. I saw it as a support network outside of college and a gateway to understanding how a professional gallery space operates. The internship was 6 months with an opportunity at the end to curate an exhibition. It finished in January and I joined the Board of Directors in February 2016. I am currently the secretary but I also help out with a jumble of things like installation, PR, fundraising, and open calls.
How important are artist led spaces?
I can’t speak on behalf of other artist led spaces but here in 126 our priority is to support contemporary art that is not commercial – art that needs a professional platform that wouldn’t necessarily be exhibited in a commercial space, like site specific work or performance art. This art is invaluable as it is creates new discussions and discourses around society and art. This may not seem so different from other spaces initially but I believe there’s a gap in Ireland between graduates/emerging artists and established artists. 126 is an example of the in-between. We are the kind of space that may offer someone their first residency or their first solo show. That to me is super important. We try to recognize someone who needs a stage and provide that for them.
Do you think there is a lack of platforms in Ireland for experimental arts? What role does 126 Gallery play in rectifying this?
Absolutely. I love going up and down to Dublin because there is always some an event or show I can visit, but even then it’s in very established galleries like the Douglas Hyde, Kerlin or Project Arts. Some of the main artist led spaces in our capital were forced to close over the last few years and that’s a serious issue within the arts.
126 Gallery’s FOOTFALL report attempted to question how you might articulate the non-economic yet distinct value of what you do. Did you find any answers?
The FOOTFALL report brought to light a lot of what we knew already, but articulated how understandably significant these spaces are. Essentially the main values these spaces carry is the support for emerging artists, the innovative ways of curating and presenting work and the ability to establish effective networks between the local community and contemporary art. Artist led organizations reclaim a space for critical thinking, they highlight and invest in new artists that then provide the established intuitions with new talent and yet the only value they receive is a reputational one. The exhibiting artists receive a platform but not only that; the board members gain insight and experience into organisational support, teamwork and empowerment. And the spaces are signifiers of cultural diversity in the local communities.
FOOTFALL is the difficulty when key policy makers don’t engage in the conversation around artist-led spaces. The report led to some great self-understanding for 126 and the spaces they collaborated with for the research, but the non-attendance by local and national policy makers means progress is in a sense limited.
The positive result of the report demonstrates that we must acknowledge artist led spaces as part of the arts sector, that we must defend ourselves from funding cuts and that these spaces showcase a legitimate occupation of professional artists.
Your residency in Firestation Studios starts in May. What do you hope to get out of the experience?
During my time in college I was primarily in the painting department and slowly branched into working with other materials. This all manifested into a more 3D practice. Unfortunately I didn’t get the opportunity to work in ceramics before I left and I am eager to get back into a workshop and gain some positive conclusions in my practice. Up until now I have worked mainly in foam, styrofoam, wood, plastics and various other materials but for some time now I have hoped to make ceramics. I believe clay/glasses will garner the right medium between sculpture and painting that I am trying to achieve.