Project history: Unit was the third in a series of visual art projects in County Laois. The first took place in 2006 when Laois Arts Service developed an Artists’ Symposium held at Emo Court, a beautiful rural country estate and parkland. Artists were asked to respond and to make new work in this rural environment of over a number of weeks. The artists included Barbara Nealon, James Hayes, Julie Merriman and Lisa Fingleton.
In 2007 Laois Arts service commissioned Finding Portlaoise, curated by Maria Kerin, this project focused on a number of urban interventions, which encouraged artists to address the changing context and growth of Portlaoise town. Which at the time, had experienced significant social and infrastructural changes. Further details of both these projects are available on request from Laois Art Service.
Unit the project, 2008/09 was led by Sarah Searson and commissioned by Laois Arts service as a residency project. The project asked artists to spend time working within the physical and material sphere of the town, exploring its social, economic and geographical aspects. Artists and curators worked together to highlight everyday concerns that might be apparent and of interest them. Curators and artists worked closely together throughout the project. Four curators were invited to nominate four artists; the key participants were; Padraic E Moore and Theresa Nanigian, Sally Timmons and Ruth Lyons, Cliodhna Shaffrey and Vera Klute, Sarah Searson and Hope Inherent.
The Unit project was designed to offer an alternative way of commissioning public art projects in the town and surrounds of Portlaoise. The projects structure was designed to be supportive of thinking, making and writing. The ethos of the project was to work by mutually investing in the key participants. Inviting artists and curators/writers to work alongside each other while thinking of their practice in relation to context and place rather than be asked to respond to it.
The artists had in-depth support from the writers/curators along the time frame of about five or six months. The local authority financially and administratively supported the project and worked with the lead curator Sarah Searson on the development of its structure.
At the time of developing a context for the project in early July of 2008, Sarah Searson began to research into the stirrings of economic stresses which were beginning to splinter into the town. So it was from this point of research she began to develop a number of briefing documents for the artist / curator parings. Four projects manifested themselves in very different ways, with both tangible and intangible outcomes.
- The curator and writer Cliodhna Shaffrey nominated the artist Vera Klute. Vera took the hospital in the town as her point of reference, taking ideas of invasion, replication and micro, from medical machinery such as x-rays and scanners. She was also looking at commuting and the way we live and its affects. She made a series of animations which were on view in the town, seen by a wide audience, but the work was also very much about her own interests and practices at the time.
- The curator and writer Padraic E Moore asked the artist Theresa Nanigian worked with students of English who were new to living in Portlaoise and who had moved to the County from non-English speaking countries. Responding to a text she found, were the poet John Betjemam describes a parlour game which encourages participants to imagine a private Eden. She worked with students exploring their dreams and aspirations of their own perfected world. The outcomes of the discussions and writings were published as book designed as a portable art in itself.
- Hope Inherent (artists Tara Kennedy and Jennie Moran) were invited to the project by Sarah Searson, their examined the idea of the prison as a starting point for their research. Previous work project explored necessity of hope for the human spirit, through ideas of exchange and gifts. As the project developed into a series of research questionnaires and thoughts evolved over the term of the project, direct access into the prison became less important as a methods of direct communication, the context of the residency funelled Hope Inherent’s research and project into an inverted position which emerged as an interesting resource from which to develop lateral connections rather than direct action into the prison. The practical and tangible resolve to mark the end of the project became gift or object that could be used both inside and outside the prison context, it was offered as a solution, a fun and game-like gift, a viewfinder from which to be in a place of reflection, making and action, which highlighted the idea of prison as a place to pass time. A small model of a sundial was placed in various locations in the town.
- Ruth Lyons, was selected by artist and curator Sally Timmons, who work closely together on initial research for the project and how it might be orientated. Ruth for the duration of the project moved from her studio at the Good Hatchery which she co-founded in Co Offaly and relocated to Portlaoise town centre where she opened a temporary studio. Using imagery based on research of the many new housing complexes and estates she used the window of the studio as a point of access into her work, she made a model using painting and projection as medium for expressing her delicate and beautiful response to the town.
Public discussion about the _Unit project was held at the Dunamaise Theatre, Portlaoise on Friday 5th December 2008
Artists and the curators from the project presented and discussed aspects of their practice and their research experiences for the project.
Two booklets were published with writings about the unit project in 2008 and 2009 with the following commissioned writings
Padraic E Moore’s essay The Other Eden contextualises Theresa Nanigian’s Seeker Project
Sarah Searson’s writes about the prison context and Hope Inherent’s research intentions in her essay Dwelling Time.
Cliodhna Shaffrey’s essay Pantoffeltier explores the imagery in Vera Klute’s animation trilogy
Sally Timmons and Ruth Lyons converse about research and working on the project in a transcribed interview.
A public exhibition took place in various locations in the town from the 19th-23rd of May 2009.
Artists workshops were run in association with the project in the Dunamaise Theatre, on the following themes.
Written Representation: selection and curatorial processes with both public and private bodies place increasing expectations on artists to represent themselves with clearly and articulately written proposals. This informal workshop lead by Sarah Searson was intended to give participants time and space to review and revise their artists statements and biography. The workshop was supported by reading material and suggestions for further research.
Visual Representation: The workshop lead by Claire Nidecker suggested ways of organizing your digital portfolio and understanding available technology. The focus was on the importance of understanding digital imagery, compatibility, and how this knowledge makes it easier to upgrade representation. The workshop was informal and handouts suggested areas for further research.