Anchored by the bygone boom of Limerick pork, Simon Fennessy Corcoran questions society's regard for living things with an arresting collection recalling Damien Hirst
The artist of the moment at the Higher Bridges Gallery in Enniskillen is Simon Fennessy Corcoran, a graduate of Limerick’s School of Art and Design and an MA student in curatorial studies. In this his first solo exhibition entitled Pig Shop, Corcoran aims to challenge the way we perceive animals. In his artist’s statement he contends that we imbue objects of beauty with high regard and worth yet place a low value on animals, intelligent beings that are consumed by us for food.
Among the 45 exhibits on display are some arresting though eerily disturbing images of dead pigs. Colour photographs, reproduced as liquid acrylic prints starkly reveal the very texture and colour of scarred pig flesh. In contrast, Corcoran invites us to consider an assemblage of pig skulls dipped in gold or encrusted with precious stones and, alongside them, bottled pig bones and calcified pig toes.
This of course prompts momentary comparison with some famous pieces by Damien Hirst. A series of photo montages elevate the humble pig to places of importance; pig heads appear atop iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty in New York, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and Leonardo da Vinci’s 'David'.
Corcoran is typical of a new wave of young artists who are interested in socially based practise, in localism, in exploring the past through their art. At the heart of his show is a vital piece of writing which dates from 1991. City of Pigs by Frank Corr, a reporter on the Limerick Weekly Echo, describes in vivid detail the once vibrant pig industry that was central to the city's economy in the 20th century.
A framed copy of Corr’s article appears as an exhibit, alongside black and white photographs from the 1960s; scenes such as pigs on Parnell Street, the facade of O’Brien’s butchers shop or workers at O’Mara’s bacon factory. According to Corr, the city boasted not one but several factories including Shaws with its distinctive clock and Mattersons, all producing an impressive range of porcine products from gammons, spare ribs, crubeens, kidneys, pork sausages and puddings to the famed Limerick bacon and ham.
The Limerick Steamship Company carried such pork products to Britain and elsewhere and the Limerick Pork Butchers Society was so influential that its members introduced an annual public holiday during which a special mass was celebrated in their honour.
Corr recalls how well fed city pigs raised in the back yards of houses around St. Mary’s parish, in Thomondgate or on Carey’s Road were considered superior to their country cousins and sold at a premium. He remembers how the city was alive with a raucous cacophony of 'squealing pigs, the rattle of carts and a curious sickly smell of singeing of hair and smoking of bacon.'
On Sunday mornings the Great Pig Trotter sale took place at shops like O’Hallorans or Treacy’s Packet and Tripe Emporium. Corcoran’s work 'Precious Gold' could well have served as a trade sign outside one of those shops. Sprayed in gold chrome it displays a pig skull mounted on a Georgian banister.
Pig Shop includes some beautifully crafted pieces which are more like keepsakes. They include small corked phials filled with four-karat gold flakes and a ceramic piggy bank encased in a chrome embossed glass box.
While acknowledging the influence of the Australian painter, print maker and pioneer of modernism, Dorrit Black, who believed that it is the business of the artist to reveal to mankind a new outlook on life and the world, Corcoran claims to make art for art’s sake and to be self-sufficient.
Unusually, the works on display in this exhibition are not priced but are listed POA (price on application) or NFS (not for sale). A rail of pig merchandising offers pristine t-shirts for him and her, an elegant mug, a canvas shopping bag – each one embossed with a pig motif. These items can also be purchased on the artist’s website.
The curator at the Higher Bridges Gallery, Diane Henshaw, who is keen to support emerging practitioners, has form in spotting talented artists. Jessie Jones, Susan MacWilliam and Sean Lynch, all of whom have represented Northern Ireland/Ireland at the Venice Biennale, have shown their work at the gallery. Henshaw first saw Corcoran’s potential when he submitted a work for the Enniskillen Visual Arts Open in 2011 and she clearly feels that he is a young man to watch.
Pig Shop runs at the Higher Bridges Gallery, Enniskillen until Saturday, July 2. Opening times are 10am - 4pm between Tuesdays and Fridays, 11am - 3pm on Saturdays.