Artist Johanna Nulty's playful first solo show breathes new life into long since discarded items.
‘A Portrait of this Region' sees the emerging Cavan artist exhibit ten works which appear as loosely “reconfigured sculpture bodyforms”, as she describes them when we meet in Townhall Cavan.
One of the works, entitled 'Nulty', brings together a metal shopping basket torso, rubber glove lungs and bicycle chain innards. Tights fleshed out with a strip of carpet and a bin liner become arms cocked on hips, adopting a confrontational, 'what are you looking at!' stance. It could work as a comment on Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated ‘basket of deplorables’ jibe at Trump’s supporters.
In a piece called 'Smyth' a hanging basket becomes almost a pelvis generously filled with green insulation foam with coat hanger thighs jutting downwards at a knock-kneed angle. Imagining some of the furrowed brows that may greet the works, the Celt wonders if Cavan is ready for Johanna's art?
“I hope so,” she says, before conceding, “it's completely different from what they are used to.”
“People who don't really understand art would be like, 'Oh what are you doing with it again?'” she says in a quizzical tone.
Johanna jokes that some people may think she's “crazy – watch out for your junk!”
However, she has attracted support from a number of artists and people whose opinions she respects. The work was undertaken through the Bullock Lane residency, funded by Cavan Arts Office, and is being curated by artist Sally O'Dowd.
“Other artists find it really interesting. It's not the first time using found objects – one big inspiration is Sarah Lucas.”
She likes the liberating, can-do sense that Lucas brings to her at times, provocative work.
“You can actually do anything you want, and don't care what people think, just do what you want to do,” says Johanna.
The 24-year-old had started out with a more traditional approach as an artist, with a particular passion for drawing.
“Then I got into graffiti and I thought, this is what I want to do – graffiti but using different materials, curtains.
“But one day I was in the backyard and I was gathering all these materials, and I brought them into the studio, and just started playing around with them. I got really interested in that; the way some people have such an attachment to an object and will keep it, and some people don't care and throw it out for so long it loses its meaning, but when you bring it into your studio or gallery it brings a whole new meaning to the object.”
In selecting objects she seeks items which can stand as signifiers of how we live, but they must also look “really interesting and would be fun to play around with”.
This project formed a key part in Johanna’s fine art degree in Sligo IT, and she has modified the concept to inject a local flavour, most obviously in the common Cavan surnames she has allocated to the pieces. As a jumping off point Johanna spoke to friends and family of their interests, career and lives; she even approached random strangers in the street - “whoever would stop,” says Johanna with a laugh.
Whatever they spoke about became the focus of her search for related odds-and-ends. For instance, a modified ab-toner matched neatly with one gym-enthusiast's passion for working out, and with the addition of a lampshade became the work entitled, 'Sheridan'.
The shopping basket piece, 'Nulty' tied in with the feedback from a young woman she canvassed who was working in Dunnes. The ‘Nulty’ name was attributed because she found the various items in her grandmother’s shed.
The Celt suggests that once the show's three week run draws to a close the artworks could be dismantled into their component parts, and thus revert back to their inglorious state, bringing a nice symmetry to the work. Understandably Johanna's more heavily invested in it and hopes the collection might be displayed elsewhere. She agrees that it's hard to imagine someone buying these works to display in their home.
“Unless you had a great room for it, and someone who collects everything and anything,” she says with a laugh.
She sees herself staying with this form of contemporary art, and maybe also video works, when she commences her two year Masters at Belfast School of Art in September.
Renowned Irish visual artist Aideen Barry, was impressed enough by what she has seen of Johanna's work that she agreed to come north to launch the exhibition.
“She's really committed to students and young artists,” says Johanna admiringly. And the prospect of Aideen coming to Cavan for the launch, well, “It's exciting to see; nerve wrecking.”
Johanna Nulty's ‘A Portrait of this Region’ continues at Townhall Cavan Arts Space. For more insight into Johanna’s work, she will give a free talk on her practice and artworks in the venue at 7pm tonight, Tuesday, April 11.
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