An inspired marriage of the old and the new at Ormeau Baths Gallery. Watch an online exhibition with education officer Ciara Hickey and Craft NI director Joe Kelly below
‘It’s meant to be like a mouth,’ explains Ciara Hickey, education officer at the Ormeau Baths Gallery. ‘Climb in. You’re the tongue.’
The huge metal ball on stilts (a disused septic tank) is not what I expected from a craft exhibition. Wires trail from a laptop to speakers. Inside, recordings mimic the noises that one would hear – apparently – if one was inside a human mouth. It’s quirky, interactive, unusual. What you might expect of an exhibition at Ormeau Baths Gallery.
All around are examples of conceptual work – various installations involving bricks and drums and plastic bottles, an interactive glass and light display, paintings, prints and other things. Young hipsters sip wine and fill the space with noise. Where are the ceramics?
In the corner stands Joe Kelly, director of Craft NI. He’s sweating, perturbed. ‘I’ve never done so much press coverage in my life,’ he huffs with a smile. ‘I was on BBC, GMTV this morning, all over the place.’
IEver helpful, Hickey puts me in the picture. Tonight is the launch of two separate, unrelated exhibitions. Downstairs, Arrivals features work by emerging Northern Irish artists (the hipsters), loosely inspired by environmental issues.
Upstairs, in Gallery Two, is an exhibition of work by master ceramicist Jack Doherty. This exhibit is part of Craft NI's August Craft Month, what Mr Kelly has been busting a gut to promote. I leave him to his sparkling white and take a look around, downstairs, then up.
An installation by Fiona Nimhaoilir, entitled ‘Of Bricks and Mortar’, is first to catch the eye: white bricks hang by strings from the ceiling, but it's not as precarious as it seems. The piece is deceptive – the bricks are made of foam and moulded around the word ‘fragile’. 'The eye plays tricks,' says Hickey.
Upstairs, in Gallery Three, more installations, one made up of several drum kits roped together using coloured string – strangely pleasing to the eye – and another of plastic bottles forming a huge, rolling wave.
Put these works together with Christopher McKinnie’s interactive ‘Through the Looking Glass’ downstairs – a copy of a stained glass window from Armagh Cathedral lit from behind, which opens up like a kaleidoscope of separate pieces when you press a button – and you get one of the most exhilarating exhibitions by young Northern Irish artists in some time.
And the crafts? Also in Gallery Three, there's a minimalist example of embroidery, but that's by one of the YNIAs. Curated by Marta Donaghy, Jack Doherty next door takes up the whole of Gallery Two, and shows off Doherty's full range of ceramic oddities.
Some are tubular, long and thin like extraterrestrial cacti or abstract sculptures of meerkats on the prairie. Others appear conventional, cups and bowls fired with some sort of blue resin, made to look like rusting barrels in an industrial warehouse. They’re weird and wonderful. Delicate yet masculine. Hard to pin down.
Kelly, however, doesn't mince his words when describing the work of the Coleraine-born chair of the Craft Potters' Association and lead potter at the renowned Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall. 'It's very distinctive work,' he beams. 'The colours are particularly impressive. There's a subtlety there, but it's a subtlety that brings out the wonder and the glory of the ceramic itself.
'When you see [Doherty's individual works, they] look so gentle. But when they're all together, it has quite a powerful impact.'
An impressive mix of the old and the new, then, at OBG. Whether climbing inside a work, worshipping at the feet of another, or imaging which bowl would better suit your fruit (all of Doherty's works are for sale), there's certainly something for everyone.
Arrivals/Jack Doherty runs at the Ormeau Baths Gallery until September 11.