Maolíosa Boyle // Director of Rua Red 

Published in Visual Artists' News Sheet, 2019. 

Philip Kavanagh: I understand you are very busy at Rua Red right now?

Maolíosa Boyle: Yes, we have just launched ‘The Second Coming (Do What Thou Wilt)’, by South African artist Kendell Geers on 14 June. The exhibition is curated by Sylwia Serafinowicz of a/political. The show brings together a number of the artist’s interests: the occult, mysticism, magic, spirituality and Yeats, and the work also engages with the stories and myths that surround the Hell Fire Club located on Montpellier Hill, just outside of Tallaght. Geers makes connections with the site, the ghost of Leo Africanus a 16th-century Berber diplomat/cartographer and William Butler Yeats. Rua Red and a/political embrace ambitious projects and this installation has completely transformed the gallery space with the presence of a huge metal pyramid that visitors are encouraged to enter. We have also just completed a conference in Latvia, ‘Reality Turns’, which was the conclusion to our three-year Creative Europe project EUCIDA – European Connections in Digital Art. EUCIDA supports artists’ development by providing opportunities to expand their practice through travel, international exhibitions, residencies and symposiums. It is a three-year project funded by Creative Europe, led by Rua Red in partnership with Le Département du Territoire de Belfort (France) and Rezeknes Novada Pasvaldiba (Lativa). Over the last three years, we have installed seven exhibitions, disseminated twenty-one artist travel awards and provided nine artist residencies, between the three partner countries. The programme has enabled Rua Red to expand internationally as an organisation and develop deep connections towards future projects.

PK: As the EUCIDA project draws to a close, what sort of emerging mobilities have you observed and how have they manifested?

MB: EUCIDA has evolved in directions that we couldn’t have envisaged at the start of the project. One of the unplanned outcomes was the impact on our Latvian partners in Rēzekne, a city in the Latgale region of eastern Latvia near the Russian border. The project has transformed the region’s engagement with digital and contemporary art practice, which has in turn impacted the syllabus of the local art college. The students’ work was presented as part of exhibitions and conferences over the last two years. EUCIDA is influencing a new generation of young artists and impacting their career choices. The EUCIDA conference was based in Lūznava Manor, a beautiful art nouveau building. After it was built in 1905, the manor became an artist’s retreat centre; however, in 1915, it became the headquarters of the Imperial Russian army and the home of the Soviet Union Authorities from 1917 to 1919. Only within the last few years has the manor been restored to an arts and cultural centre and EUCIDA has been a big part of this.

PK: The ongoing collaboration between Rua Red and a/political has been a prominent aspect of Rua Red’s programming since you started as executive director in 2017. Can you explain the evolution of this collaborative programme?

MB: I wanted to build a programme that would reflect the concerns of the communities of Tallaght and South Dublin County; a programme that is relevant to this place and its people. From the start, I was taken by the strong sense of community here and the passion the people have for their locality. People look you straight in the eye and tell you what they think. I have a lot of respect for that. There’s an honesty and generosity of spirit that I immediately relate to, coming from Derry, that made me feel very welcome. I have always believed that galleries should make a difference to their community through engagement and discussion, as places of neutrality where vital and sometimes difficult conversations take place. This is how the ethos of ‘people, politics and place’ came to underpin the programme strategy. I had previously worked with a/political when I was Director of Void and instinctively knew they would be interested in working with Rua Red. I believe in grassroots organisations that are born out of the passion of the people – Rua Red is such a place and a/political share these concerns.

PK: How integral has Rua Red’s role as a community hub been to these exhibitions?

MB: It’s critical that the new work created in Rua Red is influenced by its context. It’s crucial that the artists come and spend time, to get a sense of Tallaght and the community. The work is then produced in response to their understanding of this place, and so the work becomes embedded. Our most recent collaboration with a/political was an exhibition by Kennard/Phillips (Peter Kennard and Cat Phillips) called ‘Finnegan’s Woke’ (25 January – 29 March). They have been collaborating since 2002, when they joined forces to create work in protest to the British invasion in Iraq. ‘Finnegans Woke’ spoke of the hypocrisy, greed and trauma that is driving world politics today. The artists created an open studio – ‘The War on War Room’ in Gallery 2 – where individuals, groups, families and school children could create work that also became part of the exhibition in Gallery 1, forming the sails of a massive raft, representing civil resistance. Groups we worked with included Spirasi, Clondalkin Intercultural Centre, Tallaght Intercultural Centre and New Horizons. The Balgaddy Residents Group created work based on their concerns relating to their housing conditions. At the end of the exhibition, we invited the County Council’s Housing Department to view their work. The exhibition created an alternative avenue for their voices to be heard.

PK: With the fifth a/political exhibition currently showing at Rua Red, how has the collaboration measured up to your expectations?

MB: The collaboration has gone beyond our expectations and is always a fluid, open conversation. We bring together a fresh confluence of ideas and discussions to each piece of work that we undertake. The artist is placed at the centre of everything we do. We are interested in both the process of enquiry and where that leads in art practice. An excellent example of site-specific artistic research was Democracia’s ‘Order’ – a three-part opera that radically critiques the conventions and injustices of capitalism. The opera was presented in three acts: Eat the Rich/Kill the Poor; Konsumentenchor; and Dinner at the Dorchester. All three acts were filmed interventions in public and private sites. The first act was filmed in London and the third in Texas, while the second act was filmed in a shopping centre in Tallaght, commenting on the ills of capitalism and the role that consumerism plays within this. The work was exhibited at Rua Red(27 April – 23 June 2018) and has since been shown at the Spilt Film Festival, Croatia, and is currently installed in the Station Museum in Houston, Texas.

PK: Has your relocation to Tallaght prompted introspection regarding your own curatorial practice?

MB: Change is good, for people and for organisations. In Rua Red, I work on multiple projects. At any given time, I am working with dancers, choreographers, musicians, writers and filmmakers, and this work extends beyond the gallery. It is a different approach and it has expanded my experience, skills and practice. One of our current projects documents a group of MMA fighters – led by retired MMA fighter Paddy Holihan and a group of dancers from Liz Roche Dance Company – who come together in an exchange friendship, ideas and movement. Joyce Dunne from Rua Red conceived this project, which will also involve a TV documentary. This way of working through collaborations and many artforms has expanded my practice in directions that I wouldn’t have envisaged three years ago, which is very rewarding.

PK: Last year, Rua Red announced a series of new commissions inspired by Mary Magdalene that will feature artists Amanda Coogan, Rachel Fallon, Jesse Jones, Alice Maher and Oona Doherty. How did the concept for these commissions come about and how is the work progressing?

MB: Mary Magdalene has fascinated me since I was a child. I think it’s the contrasting qualities in her representation. She is defined as both noble yet humble, strong yet morally weak, beautiful yet haggard, passionate yet penitent, erotic yet reclusive, one who loved many and was yet seen as superficial, a sinner who sought redemption, someone of extreme vanity yet lived in a cave covering herself and hiding from humanity. I’m drawn to how she is symbolised within historical works and texts mainly by men and how she has influenced church and state’s view of women. In the mid-1990s, I undertook a body of photographic research into the Magdalene laundries in Ireland while I was a student at NCAD. At that time, Sean MacDermott Street Laundry (the last laundry in Ireland) was closing. I was a young single mother myself, so I felt very close to the research I was undertaking. I later documented The Good Shepard Laundry in Derry, exhibiting the work at the Orchard Gallery in 1998. Marina Warner’s seminal book, Alone Of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary, had a singular impact on my art practice at that time and remained a reference point that I carry with me into the curation of this programme. The commissions will form a year-long series of exhibitions and interventions starting in mid-2020. The group meet every few months to discuss individual and collective research – a new way of working for all of us, which adds another dimension to the project. We created a reading list and are building a shared collection of books and publications. A few weeks ago, the group had a research day led by Lisa Godson, which was fantastic. These group gatherings are bringing a stimulating openness to the project.

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