Venice@the Golden Thread

Psychic art, séance cabinets and globalisation with chair of the Golden Thread Gallery, Fionola Meredith

If you weren’t able to catch them last year in their original Venetian context, Venice@the Golden Thread Gallery offers a unique opportunity to see the art exhibitions that represented Ireland and Northern Ireland at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

The Biennale is widely recognised as the world’s most prestigious visual art showcase. In the words of arts critic Charlotte Higgins, it’s a 'big, baggy beast of an event' that also serves as the defining barometer of the ebb and flow of global artistic trends.

So, no gondolas, gelati or cappuccinos here, but visitors to the Golden Thread can still get to grips with a selection of work from Susan MacWilliam (who represented Northern Ireland), Sarah Browne and Gareth Kennedy (the Republic’s representatives).

The Venice exhibition is especially exciting for me, because it’s the first big show since I stepped into the role of chair of the Golden Thread. One of the things that drew me to get involved with the gallery is the extraordinary diversity of its output.

It not only offers visitors the chance to see the very highest quality local and international art – as in the Venice show – but it’s also deeply engaged with pressing social issues, maintaining a vibrant programme of challenging and innovative outreach work with youth and community groups across the city.

I think this unique breadth of vision and imagination is the gallery’s greatest strength. Where else would you get groups of local youngsters paint-bombing the gallery walls one week, and an exhibition of important international art the next?

What’s more, we pride ourselves on offering a friendly, open space where everyone is welcome. For those who have never visited the Golden Thread before, as well for all our friends who hold the gallery in great affection, the Venice show is the perfect opportunity to get a flavour of what we do.

Floating somewhere between the worlds of art and psychic research,

Susan MacWilliam’s F-L-A-M-M-A-R-I-O-N is a satisfyingly strange video installation. MacWilliam - who has spent over ten years exploring the world of the paranormal, from x-ray vision to table-tilting - was inspired by a 1931 Canadian séance, where a ‘teleplasmic text’ spelling the name Flammarion was said to have mysteriously appeared on a wall.

Camille Flammarion was a 19th century French astronomer and psychical researcher, and F-L-A-M-M-A-R-I-O-N features a reconstruction of the original séance cabinet, as well as weaving together narratives from Belfast poet Ciaran Carson and Atlanta-based Danish-American poltergeist investigator Dr William G Roll.

Meanwhile, the work of Dublin art graduates Sarah Browne and Gareth Kennedy, both separately and under their joint aegis Kennedy Browne, explores contemporary themes of identity, language, labour and globalisation. Serious issues – but the result has a surprisingly playful side, and it’s refreshingly free of hubris. Sources for their previous works include an advertising jingle from 1969, a Hollywood film from 1977 and a script excerpt from a 1987 episode of the US TV show Dallas.

By turns revealing and diffuse, humorous and menacing, playful and intense, Venice @ the Golden Thread is a fascinating insight into the preoccupations of three of Ireland’s leading artists. What’s more, I believe this important show underlines the Golden Thread’s position as the leading contemporary visual arts space in Northern Ireland. Rooted in the local, connected to the global, the Golden Thread is a pretty special place. Why not come and find us and see for yourself?

Venice @ Golden Thread Gallery continues until 24th July 2010