November is an odd month to be sitting outside drinking coffee – in Belfast anyhow – but sometimes CultureNorthernIreland has to suffer for art. Luckily, the barista did give us some napkins to dry the seat.
‘It’s such a beautiful day,’ visual artist Deirdre McKenna enthuses. Perhaps a little over-generously, it has stopped raining but the puddles haven't dried. ‘I spend all day inside, I have to get out for some fresh air at lunch-time.’
We pause for a second as a truck reverses into the street – beeping all the way – and an old man admonishes us to ‘Smile!’ on the way past.
McKenna is one of the artists contributing to Model Realities, the latest show at the PS2 gallery. The show doesn’t open until December 1, but construction of the set has already begun. (During the search for a parking space, I saw them carrying wood into the gallery).
‘It’s about, well, what the title suggests,’ McKenna says brightly. ‘Model realities. Artist and model makers, or artists who use model making techniques and miniature-scapes in their work, coming together.’
There is something oddly Christmassy about models. People who wouldn’t even glue a propeller on a model airplane the rest of the year start putting together Christmas villages, nativity scenes and ‘helping’ their children build Lego spaceships. How many people remember childhood Christmas’ spent turning sofas and cushions into landscape for a model farm or battle field?
In fact, it was Christmas Special that inspired the exhibition. The BBC NI’s Super 8 Stories – Christmas Special. about department store Christmas displays filmed and made by Comber based brother Noel and Roy Spence. However, inspiration isn’t all the brothers are providing the show.
‘Can I just say something? I am really excited, because apparently the Spence brothers videos are going to be shown in it. I think they are great, amazing,’ McKenna enthuses. ‘I am just chuffed that I am going to be a show with the Spence brothers.’
The piece that McKenna is exhibiting in Model Realities is called ‘Looking for Venus in the Night Sky’ and was inspired by the landscape she drove through on her way to Derry. It is a glass-framed diorama of a pylon and a lightning struck tree in a dimly lit field.‘The pylon represents man-made power and the tree is obviously nature.’ McKenna pauses, then adds with a giggle. ‘Nature power, man.’
Fibre-optic cables stud the inside of the box and bristle around the sides in medusine tangles, trailing down and over the floor.
‘I don’t hide the mechanism for lighting the piece. It is visible, it is part of it. The fibre-optic cables almost act like shooting stars. Well, they do in my head anyhow,’ McKenna says. ‘I guess it depends on whether or not it makes sense to the viewer.’
Not all the models on display are as conceptual as McKenna’s. As well as artists, the exhibition is going to be showing models created by model enthusiasts from clubs around Northern Ireland.
‘There are going to model-makers and people who build props or make maquettes to use in movies,’ McKenna explains. ‘People who don’t consider themselves to be making sculptural works.’