Exhibition Preview: Degrees of Separation

Ten artists discuss the individual works created for Creative Exchange's new large-scale exhibition, as part of the Eastside Arts Festival

As east Belfast prepares itself for this year's Eastside Arts Festival, Creative Exchange Artist Studios has pulled out all the stops to generate four exciting visual arts events to be included in the festival programme. The highlight of the showcase, which includes artists' talks and the chance to experience their real life working environments behind-the-scenes, is the large-scale exhibition Degrees of Separation.

The group exhibition features the work of ten Creative Exchange artists in the unique setting of the former Engine Room Gallery, a pop-up venue for this exhibition only, located at and provided by the Portview Trade Centre, a transformed mill on the Newtownards Road.

Artists have been asked to respond to the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away from being connected, from which the show takes its name, with the resulting exhibition presenting an excellent range of artworks including painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video and digital artworks. Below each artist explains what they produced in response to the theme.

Lesley Cherry

This short video work He’s Still Standing There, which is based on real life events, comments on how we remember situations from the past, reflect on how we change as individuals and a perceived way in which others stay the same. There is a mix of tension and hypocrisy in this work, juxtaposed with the reality of a situation remembered.

He's still standing there

There is also an element of black humour to the work – a recollection of how we often see ourselves as better than other’s, how we separate events in our lives and how others remind you of what really happened, often for their own salacious reasons.

The 'degrees of separation' in this work, references how people change and move on, how some stay the same – through circumstance or otherwise – but that often they have a shared connection that can ultimately never be erased. I have reworked this video since shooting it in 2013, concluding what has actually happened in the intervening years, since the narrator in question last saw him, 'still standing there…'

Heather Dornan-Wilson and Alice Clarke

The body of work I am exhibiting is part of the Lime Walk Project, a continuing exchange whereby six artists share their working process in response to the estate at Castle Ward in County Down. My work focuses upon exploring 'mini landscapes' with artist Alice Clarke; in which the degrees of separation between the time based impact of man, nature and time started an observation and response to the present and historical landscape of Castle Ward.

Heather Dornan-Wilson & Alice Clarke

Deirdre Robb

This work provides a visual account of the emotional and physical changes experienced during the female menopause and the degrees of change they go through from birth to death. By concentrating on the menopausal aspects of a woman’s body, I am highlighting the emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms cussed by the separation of estrogen from the body.

To highlight these issues I have created an immersive environment using sculptural and visual works, representing blood, pain, anxiety, danger, tension and beauty. Through this work I want to encourage dialogue about this taboo subject, to make it more open in society, and to challenge this emotional journey that women often go through in isolation.

Deirdre Robb

George Robb

I explored the ‘degrees of separation’ concept by documenting the barriers that exist within the area where I currently live. This has manifested itself into a series of six images that represent physical, mental and invisible obstacles, seen as cultural, protective and divisive, in different ways, by all communities, at the same time.

Through the documentation of these barriers, I noted that although often imposing and solid, the real barriers of separation were often in our own headspace.


Stephen Millar

Continuing my recent theme of collaborating with artists, for this exhibition I'm collaborating with an emerging artist in the shape of my nephew Finn. Finn is six years old and largely works in illustration and painting.

Finn's work often involves a hidden narrative that won't always be apparent for the viewer. Much of his current work is influenced by Star Wars. As a young boy I looked very similar to him and had the same enthusiasm to art making. It will be interesting to see what we come up with together and whether Finn's six year old enthusiasm can have an influence on my 33 year old cynicism.

Stephen Millar

David Fox

There is an element of expectation in the absence of presence in my work, there is in a way a degree of separation. For the viewer’s experience, I imagine that the work is thought provoking; they may anticipate that something is about to happen, something has already happened or maybe that something is missing from these uncanny representations of a world where human presence certainly echoes throughout.

David Fox

Paul Moore

The Conversationists is a perpetual street portrait project, it playfully captures local people mostly in conversation or in some form of communication or expression. It reflects the idea that a portrait is not merely the recording of someone’s features but is about offering a vivid sense of who they are and bringing to the image an awareness of their real presence.

The work attempts to symbolise the rhetoric of political and cultural virtues of contemporary identity, while the composition brings a sense of inner narrative and self-refection.

Paul Moore

Ray Duncan

My paintings in this exhibition are about the relative values of the colours and their separation, disconnection from reality, their abstractness. Though it might also be time that there’s a degree of reflection in the shapes and colours as a consequent of proximity of reality.

Ray Duncan

Ciara O'Malley

Degrees of Separation inspired me to explore my place of work, Holywell Hospital, Antrim, a psychiatric hospital built by Charles Lanyon in 1898. The hospital was once a social venue with dances, concerts and sporting events, which were open to the public. The photos depict the Recreation Hall, once seen in the 1950’s and 60’s as a prolific social venue for the public in the local area.

Monthly dances often attracted crowds of over 500 people and all the well-known ‘show-bands’ of the era played there. The building hasn’t been used in this way for many years and is utilized only sporadically by patients and service users.

To Comfort Always

It is slowly deteriorating, a shadow of it’s former self, standing apart from the local community it used to serve and apart within the hospital. Shadows of the past remain as the hospital is nearing closure. The Rec Hall reflects and resonates these changes with a quiet and melancholy power.

Ruth Gonsalves Moore

The project is a set of images including portraits made in the Holylands area of Belfast (2015), reflecting​ the degrees of separation between ​ 'people and place'. It includes still life's and other 'made' images reflecting 'the seen' and incorporating 'the found'.


Degrees of Separation opens on Thursday, August 20 with music from the Over The Hill Collective as part of the Eastside Arts Festival. The exhibition continues until September 6 and is open from 11am - 1pm each day.