Limerick’s visual art festival eva goes back to the future after revamp

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

ON the tenth floor of Riverpoint, a small city is being constructed that will soon be doused in paint. Meanwhile, across the city, a gigantic X made out of cargo containers is being assembled in Arthur’s Quay Park, which is clearly visible from the dizzy heights of the iconic, towering office block.

ON the tenth floor of Riverpoint, a small city is being constructed that will soon be doused in paint. Meanwhile, across the city, a gigantic X made out of cargo containers is being assembled in Arthur’s Quay Park, which is clearly visible from the dizzy heights of the iconic, towering office block.

These are the new and the old of eva International, the exhibition of visual art once known as Ev+a, returning for a 35th staging in Limerick this summer.

Annie Fletcher, the curator of eva 2012, is showing the Limerick Leader around the installation on Riverpoint’s tenth floor, an unused office space now home to a collection of small scale models of some of Ireland’s most iconic buildings, which visitors will be able to douse in graffiti when they visit. Áras an Uachtaráin is there, as is the Limerick Social Welfare office, which many people might relish a chance to douse in paint.

Fletcher, a curator in the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, thinks this piece will have the “wow factor”.

“It is about understanding the role of real estate in what has been going globally and also the symbolic power of different institutions,” she explains. “Part of it will be really fun to try and identify and recognise everything. What I love so much is that the city almost becomes part of it as well, you can see everything up here and it is extraordinary to look out.”

Later, we move on to 103/104 O’Connell Street, another unused commercial space located in the very heart of the city, beside the Brazen Head, making this two very different empty spaces in the city being brought to life by eva, which returns this year after a two-year layoff.

Considered the pre-eminent exhibition of visual art in Ireland for more than 30 years, at the Arts Council’s behest, eva was revamped and a formal structure put in place to run it on a biennial basis. Belfast-born artist Woodrow Kernohan has been appointed as the full-time director on a three year contract, while a board has been appointed with architect and long-time eva committee member Hugh Murray at its head.

The feeling is of a more professional, notably streamlined and certainly more credible festival that can truly contend against the finest contemporary art exhibitions across Ireland and indeed even Europe.

Kernohan speaks of Limerick as an “amazing place”, boldly declaring that “there is a sense that Limerick is the Berlin of Ireland” in terms of the bustling, almost ‘indie-art’ scene that has sprung up despite eva’s absence. This is a sentiment echoed by Fletcher, who has thematically based the exhibition around the concept, ‘After the Future’, a nod to the post-futurist manifesto written by Franco Beradi. That’s the idea at least.

The collection, which will showcase work from 40 Irish and international artists, who were selected from over 2,000 proposals submitted from 76 countries, is informed by thoughts of ailing global economies, an obsession with the future and a forced re-reading of the past.

“Obviously things have changed dramatically in terms of the economy. But what really interested me was the activity of artists and in Limerick there is such a level of organisation; it just felt like there was a confidence of a generation of artists, who had probably grown up within the economic downturn and yet have a real can-do spirit,” explains Annie.

“I started to think ‘what is it about this generation, what is the capacity of artists to interpret what is going on in Ireland right now’. This show is a rallying cry to that capacity of artists to interpret the world. The whole point about art is that it is speculative, we can imagine things differently, it not about legalese or economics or politics - it is a separate space where we can actually think things differently. I wanted to tap into that energy, hear what people had to say, not just from Ireland, but all over the world.”

As such the exhibition focuses very much on Limerick City Gallery of Art - which was under construction in 2010, the last time eva was held - Riverpoint and the building on O’Connell Street, next to the Brazen Head, giving it a high-street presence.

“We wanted to make an effort to make good, concise exhibition conditions, so I didn’t invite 100 artists, which often eva can, I only invited 40,” she explains. “I wanted to try and be really precise and up the ante on the level of presentation.

“I wanted to mark the footprint of the exhibition. I wanted to create consolidated spaces instead of celebrating the city historically, I wanted to say something with this exhibition and create a mass that people can experience. I didn’t want to create a sense of lament, but I did want to point to the fact that there is a lot of empty commercial space in the city, what are we doing with it, what could we do with it, and galvanize those possibilities at the highest level.”

Fletcher accepts that many people struggle with the idea of contemporary art and the repeated complaint levelled at eva is that it is too high-brow, too difficult to comprehend. The Carlow-born curator, who has been to many previous eva shows and indeed curated a seminar at a previous iteration, has a message for those put off by eva’s perceived reputation.

“The thing about eva is that it is free in, but also I would say is that anyone who is interested or thinking about coming is, take your time, you are not going to like everything, there are really elaborate explanations beside every single work in situ, there are lots of possibilities to read them and think about whether you enjoy it or not,” she explains.

“At worst you can come up to the tenth floor and see your extraordinary city. I think you have to be open to a new experience, but don’t feel like you have to like everything, it is a hugely diverse experience and that is the point.”

Kernohan, for his part, feels like the formal structures forcibly put in place by the Arts Council will ensure eva’s survival.

“I guess it evolved from being one man in van and has become a much more established organisation working with curators and artists of international reputation and status,” he explains. “The organisation had been historically quite informal and is now more formal, we have evolved our relationship with Limerick City Council, Limerick City Gallery of Art and the Arts Council. And so we are confident about the future of the eva moving forward.”

Locally, eva has engaged Faber Studios and Arts Links Limerick to partake in the exhibition, while the Belltable will host guest curators during the period of the festival and the Milk Market will see a 24-hour project curated within its walls in August.

“It was key for me to have people involved who are engaged and busy in the city,” says Fletcher. “What I have tried to do is showcase a lot of young practice, really interesting and different methodologies - that has been really great - and also to tap into eva’s heritage, it has always been so important for young Irish artists. I wanted to mark the amazing history of eva and remind people of the city of their ownership of eva.”

As a nod to this legacy, Luc Deleu’s Construction X - a massive exhibit of storage containers assembled into a giant X - that featured in the 1994 exhibition, will return to Arthur’s Quay Park where it was located some 18 years before.

This is a way of referencing the exhibition’s past as well as its evolving future.

“Sometimes eva probably feels a bit domestic and it is hidden in spaces and maybe the people of Limerick don’t know about it, whereas they used to, I think,” says Fletcher. “One of things everyone remembers is Construction X, so it is maybe a nice way of reminding the city what it is has and what it has engendered over the past 35 years.”

eva International opens this Friday in Limerick City Gallery of Art and runs until August 12. See www.eva.ie for full details.