How we view and consume art is changing. White box gallery spaces which are silent and beautifully lit will, of course, always have their place in the art world. But these days, curators are beginning to broaden their horizons to show work outside of conventional settings.
The inaugural Household Belfast is an example of this new trend towards a DIY aesthetic. It takes place over three days, from August 24-26, in more than two dozen locations in and around the Ormeau Road. According to its website, Household Belfast seeks to 'de-institutionalise and de-commercialise art by presenting it in the homes of the people who’ve made it'.
The remit may be a mouthful, but the main goal of the festival’s five curators – Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Eoin Dara, Ciara Hickey, Alissa Kleist and Kim McAleese – is to show art in a new context, away from the sterile background of a gallery space, one that connects the art with the place in which it was made.
'The history in a house makes it a really interesting space to show work in because there’s already so much going on,' explains Hickey. 'The fabric of the people who’ve lived there previously gives the house a part to play in the viewing experience. We’re all really interested in that mix between the private and the public space.'
The festival’s other main goal is to strengthen ties among the people of south Belfast, not simply amongst the artists that have taken up residence there in the past couple of years, but between all of the communities in the Ormeau Road. The five young curators are taking the lead, unconcerned with the socio-economic and political divisions that exist in the area.
'So many artists live there, and we know each other in the arts community, but there’s this older generation of people who have lived there their whole lives and that’s another community,' adds Bhreathnach-Cashell. 'We’re trying to tap into these different communities and get them all involved.'
Curating the festival was an organic process. Though the five organisers started out with some idea of what they wanted to see happen at Household Belfast, input from the community fundamentally shaped the final programme. In the end, no ideas were turned down.
'It’s a different kettle of fish,' says Bhreathnach-Cashell of the curatorial process as opposed to working for established galleries in town.
'The whole idea behind it is that you’re looking at a particular area and looking at the people who live there and the spaces that are there,' continues Hickey. 'When people started approaching us we went, "Well, it would be a bit weird to say they can’t do it", because it’s in their house and the whole thing is meant to be quite an inclusive sort of festival.'
Household Belfast as a festival of art takes many forms. Branching out from the curators’ backgrounds in visual art, Household Belfast also encompasses performance art, music, lectures, architecture, bike riding and breakfast – a communal Ulster fry will take place on Sunday afternoon.
Within all of the works, the theme of domesticity and community will be present, but the way the festival is structured – the collectivity of the event coupled with the individuality of each space – provides a safe place in which to experiment.
'A lot of people are taking the opportunity to do something outside of their usual practice, exploring something that maybe they’ve always wanted to do but haven’t ever gotten the funding or the space to do it,' confirms Hickey.
'The event doesn’t have a theme running through it, it’s not curated according to a theme we’ve imposed on it,' adds Kleist. 'It’s like having a solo show, but not. And it’s like having a group show, but not. I think it brings out the more experimental side in people because it’s not so clearly defined.'
Though Household focuses on working artists, one of the more interesting ideas brought to light by the festival is how the home itself is an artistic expression for everyone. The way you place your couches in your front room, the art you hang on the walls, the colour you paint your bedroom, all the choices you make about your own domestic space reflect the way you want to be seen by your neighbours and friends.
In addition to the art created specifically for the festival, Household Belfast celebrates the creative drive in all of us. 'In a way it’s an expression of yourself and I think that’s a universal thing,' Kleist concludes. 'For me, it’s about revealing something hidden, all these hidden worlds in the city.'
To locate houses taking part in Household Belfast, look out for those marked by a yellow balloon. Log on to the Household Belfast website below for a full list of artists and participating households, and also to donate toward next year's festival.