A different kind of travelogue. As an avid young traveller I often wondered what would it would be like when I got older, gathered commitments, created children and accrued debt. This is what it's like.
The Art of Belfast. It is there. You can find it if you look.
When we travel we go to markets. We go to all sorts of markets. Lots of food markets. Lots of art markets. In places where tourism is a big part of the economy art markets are everywhere. Fabrics, carpets, baskets, paintings and ceramics. There are metalworkers, woodworkers, leatherworkers. glassworkers and more.
In places where tourism is less dominant, less obvious, the art is not so easily found. We travel to learn, to experience, to see, to feel. So I like to soak up this art. I like to look at photography, watch film, visit museums and art galleries. I appreciate both artisan and artist. I seek them out.
In Belfast we found them somewhere we hadn’t looked for a while. We were invited to see the final exhibition of the graduating students of the Art faculties of the University of Ulster.
A huge thank you to the amazing woman that is Caroline McKeever who encouraged me to go along to the show. Her recommendation turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and unexpected days on our Grand Tour.
It was to be the last show in the fantastic old (but cold) retrofitted building that had housed them for years. New building; better facilities, less soul. Good luck to them. Its’s progress.
From the old building there were tiny patches of blue in the ever overcast sky of Northern Ireland. The roofs of the red brick industrial buildings between the city centre and the docks were like an exhibit themselves. I had never seen the city from this angle. Belfast is tightly hemmed in by hills to the north and west. It has Belfast Lough to the North East and apart from a ribbon of development towards the large town of Lisburn to the South West there are green spaces visible in almost every direction. It’s a beautiful city. Full of history, full of tragedy, full of very funny people. If you’re not laughing in Northern Ireland you probably aren’t talking to a local. There is a way that humour is deployed by northerners that is both revealing and concealing. I love it.
The humour shines through the work of the students too. Some of it works. Some does not. But these are the final projects of students. This represents only the early days in the careers of these artists. Many may not find a living in art. Some will excel. If you could tell which was which you’re doing well. And if you were good at that you could do well to invest in the early works which are often for sale at these shows. The little red dots all over the University of Ulster show suggested that I am not alone in thinking this.
Many of the pieces were not ever conceived of as permanent entities, collectables or even that serious. But some were gorgeous. Some were fascinating. I have never visited a students final art show where I live now. I used to do it a lot when I was living in London. There was often free wine at the openings, which was attractive enough, but I had studied History of Art at university and checking out the creations of the creatives was a regular habit then. Many of my peers have studied the applied arts. Maybe my children will. The day spent looking at art was different from their point of view. The works on show were somehow much more tangible for my 8 & 10 year old than any other gallery. These people were students. My kids understand that they are students too. There wasn’t that much of a gap between these big kids and my own. My children were surprisingly engaged.
Why don’t I visit the equivalent shows when I am back ‘home’ in Australia? It is easy. A simple search will tell me when & where.
(30 seconds searching and here you go; Quiddity. In Melbourne, right now and free at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.)
Art and travel are entwined for me. When I stop travelling I see less art. When you head out on the road there are all sorts of little lessons. You discover how little stuff you actually need. You get by on less. The less we spend the longer we can travel. We are trying to get our collective family head out of the daily grind of process and procedure, consumption and waste. There’s more to life than turning up at school or work everyday and living for the weekend. That for me is like a prison. But I will go home. I will return to work. I may return to old habits.
But I will make a new habit of looking for the student art shows near my home.
It’s a great day out. It’s an insight into a part of the living city that I don’t normally see. Sounds like the sort of thing I should seek out.