At THE LAB

The LAB is located in Foley Street, Dublin 1 (near Connolly station). It is a building dedicated to artists and it is a lot like a science lab in that it is a place for artists to experiment, fuse different skills together, test new ideas and play. The LAB Gallery is a space for visual artists to show new work that asks questions and is sometimes unresolved, moving towards a much bigger conversation. This is the first time The LAB has invited artists to make work for a young audience. Along the way, curators and artists discussed a wide range of issues on childhood, how visual artists make work, how making work for children aligns with the artists’ professional practice, and how to balance the emphasis on artist as maker with the responsibility of valuing the young viewer’s voice in responding to the work presented.

who work with children constantly place them into age categories and assign general characteristics to these groups for a range of purposes: marketing can be counted among these, but so can museum and gallery education. As a point of departure and discussion, we looked at Growing up in Ireland, a study of 8,500 nine year olds living in contemporary Ireland, funded by The Department of Children and Youth Affairs and carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. Although we wished to look closely at this developmental stage we also wanted to acknowledge that each child and grown-up moves on at their own pace and these broad categories can sometimes limit potential scope and freedom for enquiry. The brief for NINE offered the artists the opportunity to explore a new approach to making work for a very particular audience and this carried a weighty sense of responsibility for all involved. It presented challenges as well as raising questions and providing new insights. Luckily, we were able to meet face to face on a regular basis to discuss the work as it was developing and to talk through ideas and tensions. As this was unchartered water for all of us, the collaborative nature of this process supported each professional artist and curator at the table and the skills they had to bring to the exhibition making experience. Throughout this collaborative making process we all have been mindful that nine-year-old children, do not, in general, attend exhibitions on their own, so the vast majority will be accompanied by an adult. It is our hope that the exhibition will create a dialogue between people of all ages about issues which are relevant to all members of society. We especially hope that this dialogue will be led by our viewers, by their insight, wisdom, emotional, and intellectual responses to the work that has been made for them. The best outcome we can hope for the exhibition is that by pressing the pause button and focusing on this specific age we can collectively explore, as artists and audience, the unique and individual experience of being nine.

What is NINE at The LAB Gallery?
Age is important to all of us and is something that we all think about (a lot!). So why choose nine as a specific age to focus on? It’s not because nine is more important than any other age. It’s simply a way of using a lens we can look through to help us to think, feel, and appreciate, more deeply the fleeting, and very precious life stage, called childhood. At nine, children are seeking out independence, expanding their ideas about the world and becoming autonomous human beings who still need lots of security and reassurance from their family group. It is a unique point in a human being’s life: moving from being one number to two, making the transition from child to young person. It is fraught with confusion and anxiety, but also filled with excitement and epiphanies. At the brainstorming stage for this exhibition we looked at what might be the best way to approach the different developmental stages in childhood…. early childhood, 6-8 years, 9-12 years. Should we consider childhood as a series of stages or should we look at it as a continuum? Most of the adults

Where do the artists come in?
There are lots of great visual artists working in exciting ways in Ireland. The curators (Sheena, Liz and Lynn), made a very long list of people who made different types of work in different media. Inviting visual artists to make a new work for children as an audience in its own right is not something that happens very often and we were prepared for trepidations and anxieties on everyone’s part. The artists came back to us with openness and a sense of curiosity that we welcomed and began to build upon. Perhaps more work isn’t made in this way because many visual artists work with children and young people within the facilitative part of their artistic practice but do not transfer this exchange into their broader ‘making’ of artwork? Often visual art exhibitions for children will show work by children, through which their creativity has been expertly supported by a visual artist. This is a valid approach, and can be a revealing insight into the lives of the children and their rich art making approaches, for adult and young audience alike. It is important to say that visual artists do not necessarily make new work while thinking about their audience during the making process. Usually, visual artists select a set of themes that they want to explore and then use a range of media to convey their ideas or responses to a theme. So it is the job of commissioners, such as galleries and arts centres, to invite visual artists to respond to making work for children as an audience and then to mediate this work when children visit and see the work for the first time. There are good examples of this happening in various ways both in Ireland and abroad and an increase in capital development of schools is leading to more calls to artists for Per Cent for Art projects in schools, which offers a very particular context and opportunity for contemporary artists in which to make work.

What do the artists say about NINE?
Aideen Barry
This project has set a unique construct in my brain where I have had to time travel back to when I was my nine year old self. Play was a serious thing for me, somewhere I could work out, understand and deconstruct my worries through the creation of worlds made of coloured paper, cardboard and sellotape. Tracing back how I went about creating pop up books and inanimate life forms out of cardboard that represented me, my friends, my family, the bullies, the outfits I wanted, the maid I had looking after my imaginary children, the mansion I lived in. I used these pop-up forms as a way of working out difficult emotional issues. Not being very well off in real life my parents struggled to feed and clothe the five of us, but with my magic markers I could make my cardboard dolly have 50 different coloured dresses and matching accessories, drive a purple Porsche, and live in a chocolate mansion where bacon and cabbage where never on the menu and my protagonists never ever wore hand-me-downs. What I couldn’t verbalise through language I constructed through imaginary worlds and I think it is from this very seed of play that I developed my language as an artist today. Having read the report Growing up in Ireland, I was struck by the level of bullying which is still very high, the fact that children are aware of huge financial pressures their families face and that healthy eating and lifestyle are big concerns for nine year olds and their parents. The added stress of how their play has moved from the kitchen table or play room to germination of “on-line selves” brings added anxieties. What is extraordinary is how yet again these virtual “monsters” play out the same anxieties, constructing worlds that I would have orchestrated at nine. As a nod to this I have created ‘Ludo’, little cardboard pop-up worlds that my little animated monsters interact with. My creatures employ mischief and curiosity as a way of approaching some of the existential questions on subjects that many nine year olds propagate: healthy eating, fame, peer pressure, bullying; I am not trying to put forward a solution to these anxieties but rather use them as catalyst for humour and ludique1.

Aideen Barry was born in 1979 in Cork, Ireland. The common denominator of her work is an attempt to deal with anxiety. Barry’s means of expression are interchangeable: working in the media of performance, film, animation, drawing, sculpture and installation. More about Aideen can be discovered at: www.aideenbarry.com
1.Ludique, coming from the French work Ludo, to play Ludique is roughly translated as a play of the imagination.

Maeve Clancy
At the beginning of this year, I spent some time on Achill Island in the West of Ireland. While there, I read a book that links childrens’ lack of time spent around nature with a growth in attention deficit disorder and anxiety. As I was growing interested in the possibility of an inherent need to attach to the natural world, I was experiencing exactly that sensation myself, living in a rural environment for the first time since my late teens. I also began to remember and recount stories from my childhood. Living on the slopes of Slievemore in Mayo triggered many memories of growing up on Slievecorragh in Wicklow. Most of these memories are linked to nature, the outdoors, independence and activity. We had great freedom of movement, with the forests and bogs around our house available for constant expeditions. From the early stages of work for this exhibition, I was interested in creating an indoor version of the outdoors: a constructed ‘natural’ space for children to explore and move about in. My memory of working with my siblings to build a crannóg brought together many themes which I wanted to investigate. Recounting the story of the hut’s construction brought many aspects of my own childhood into focus. I became aware that every story I remember begins with ‘we’. As one of a large family, every activity involved at least four of us, none of those people being an adult. In looking at building a mini-version of the crannóg that had captured our imagination, we were making our own space outside of the family home. This piece for NINE uses both to depict experiences from my own life and to potentially create new ones for the children and adults who explore the work. Maeve Clancy (born Dublin 1978) is an artist who works in installation, animation and comics. She creates work for children and adults using cut paper, story and drawings. Her work centres on places and the stories connected with them. She seeks to make a space apart, where the viewer leaves behind the everyday to wander through an environment far removed from reality, immersing themselves in the stories and logic contained within. More about Maeve can be discovered at: www.maeveclancy.com

Alan Butler
From my own childhood memories of politicians or powerful individuals in Ireland, a few images of political characters have stayed with me - Charles Haughey and Ben Dunne still come to mind. I vividly recall photographs and video of Mary Robinson’s face during her acceptance speech in 1990 (when I was nine, incidentally). While I did understand the significance of the event at the time, perhaps it was still partially abstract, since politics was still boring stuff for grown-ups. Nonetheless, images like this remain burnt into the recesses of my mind. I was also very aware that these images were something that the gaze of the entire country was fixed upon. This artwork features press photographs of 15 politicians and notorious figures from Ireland’s history in the last decade. They comprise the leaders of this country now, leaders from the past, IMF/Troika representatives and notorious business figures during the recent boom years (and its inevitable collapse). Nine-yearolds now were born when the Irish property bubble was already through the looking-glass. It is likely that they have lived their entire lives surrounded by adults discussing these issues. Alan Butler was born in Dublin in 1981. He specialised in New Media for his BA from NCAD and went on to take an MAFA at LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore (2008-1009). He remixes cultural artefacts and icons by taking items that have specific meanings to one culture or group of people and combines them with other, more random elements, to create work which construct new meaning, commenting on contemporary society’s relationship with reality and truth and interrogating our love affair with consumption. More about Alan can be discovered at: www.alanbutler.info

Sam Keogh
In this exhibition, I drew on the products of classroom boredom; defaced illustrations in textbooks or mindless doodles in their margins, Blue-Tack stuck into gouged out holes in tables, rubbers coloured in with black ball point pens, toilet paper run under the tap and flung onto the bathroom ceiling. In these gestures, the material of textbooks, bluetack, or tissue paper is used in a way that it is not supposed to be used. Its proper use is ignored, manipulated and exploited for improper effects. Tissue becomes the mess rather than its resolution, rubbers make the marks, and textbooks become distractions. Sam Keogh was born in Ireland in 1985 and now lives and works in London. He is currently studying for his MFA Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London and completed a BA Fine Art Painting, NCAD, Dublin in 2009. He is co-founder of Radical Love, an on going collaboration with Joseph Noonan Ganley exploring new discursive practices. More about Sam can be discovered at: www.samkeogh.net

What do nine year olds say about NINE?
Well, we want to know the answer to that question…..! Mediating is a word we use when talking about what happens after the artist has made the artwork. It is a word that covers all aspects of how the work gets put into a gallery space. Curators, exhibition designers, art educators, tour guides, labelling etc. are all ways in which an artwork can be mediated. This is an important area in the visual arts as it marks the journey of the work from the artists’ private space into a public arena. In terms of NINE, the mediation process considers the children’s voice as central to the viewing and interpreting process of the newly made artwork. In order to deepen our exploration of this process we have looked at two possible journeys that will inform how children encounter the artworks, through family and school visits. For both journeys, the emphasis is on looking and discussing (art criticism, in visual art terms) and making in order to deepen the response experience for children.

OONAGH YOUNG
Writing and the effort to do your best handwriting on clean sheets of paper is something I remember clearly as a child. Starting again, many times, just to get it right. Using the entrance wall as a blackboard in this exhibition for children to write, scribble, draw or graffiti, is an effort to encourage freedom, expression and an openness to the idea of their not being right or wrong when it comes to art. The ‘NINE’ sign is designed to illustrate a process and construction behind all creativity - how seemingly disparate shapes can make something recognisable. The cards and booklet are separate so children can decide what they want and are encouraged to make their own, binding them in their own ‘book’ before they leave. They have something to take away with them that will fit in a pocket. Oonagh Young completed a BA in Visual Communications in IADT, an MA in Anglo Irish Literature and Drama and an MA in Visual Arts Practice as a curator. She has been running DesignHQ, a small independent graphic design company since the late nineties and also runs Oonagh Young Gallery, a contemporary art space, since 2008.

Looking, Discussing & Making
A bit like reading a book, looking at a work of art can be a solitary act involving thinking and feeling. Finding meaning in a work of art involves a wide set of skills ranging from naming what you see to more complex interpretations that can involve fact finding, analysing and categorising, leading to explorations of psychology, philosophy, sociology etc. It can also mark a movement from a personal response to a more objective critical response that starts to consider artistic elements such as line, shape, colour, texture, material, the role of the artist and the wider world. Every idea is important, especially when it is backed up by physical elements present in the work that you are observing. Discussing the work together as a group and what the work is about, what you see in the work, how it has been made, wondering about the technical skills needed to pull it together, considering what your own version would be if you had been the artist and hearing about what other people have to say about

the work deepens our shared understanding. For families and school groups this discussion might happen differently as the nature of family and school is different. Some of the discussion might happen with the work and some might happen long after leaving the exhibition. Making something new is about imagination and ideas and can involve anything – writing, constructing, gathering, assembling, sketching, and role playing. It is another way to express our thinking and feeling. Working out different ways of making over a long time is called process based arts practice. The reason it is called a ‘process’ is because it can take time - days, weeks, months, years, a lifetime. NINE offers space and support for a tiny time and a particular point in the lifetime of making.

Special workshops and talks
For Families August 10 2pm / Family Workshop with Maeve Clancy

September 20 Culture Night / Join us from 4pm to 8pm for two very special family workshops with Niamh Lawlor and Elaine Leader October 5 For Schools Free school tours with a workshop take place every day throughout the exhibition. If you would like to book a tour and your school is in the city of Dublin, please email: nineartexhibition@gmail.com for more information September 19 4pm / Teachers evening – Join us to see the exhibition, meet others teachers and discuss art For Artists and Art Educators September 26 4pm / Artists’ talk. Aideen Barry, Alan Butler, Maeve Clancy, Sam Keogh, and Oonagh Young talk about their work in the exhibition. October 3 October 10 4pm / Panel and group discussion on contemporary art practice and mediation. How are we supporting the aesthetic and critical development of children through an engagement with art practice and gallery education. Curated by Katy Fitzpatrick. 4pm / Keep Your Eye on it Family Club – Discussion about VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) and the family experience of visiting galleries in Dublin. 2pm / In Association with The Irish Architecture Foundation’s Open House, join Blaithin Quinn for a family workshop

The Mezzanine & The Postcards
The mezzanine space upstairs will be a dedicated area for housing supporting material for the looking, discussing and making processes. With school groups and the special family events ‘Keep Your Eye on It’, the visits to NINE will offer an art educator and artist who will help the group to manage the discussion, prompt key questions, and hone the experience of looking and discussing. In the exhibition, children will be invited to select their artist-made postcard that will offer the starting point for continuing the looking, discussing and making process after they leave the exhibition.

Keep Your Eye On It Family Club
As part of NINE, Liz and Lynn set up a family club to further explore two things – the looking and responding methodology called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) and how families explore looking and making processes as a group in a gallery setting. During the course of the exhibition the family group will visit exhibitions in IMMA, The Hugh Lane, The National Gallery, and NINE at The LAB, a shared visual art language and confidence along the way. This group has been enthusiastically supported by the education departments of all the visual art organisations involved. It is intended that the group will share its experience in a public discussion at the end of the process.

What’s Next? The exhibition will travel to Galway Arts Centre and will run from 25th January until March 2014. Events for schools, families and artists will accompany the exhibition.

exhibition team Sheena Barrett is a Dublin City Council Arts Officer and curator at The LAB gallery. Liz Coman is adviser to The Arts Council in the area of Children, Young People and Education. Lynn McGrane works in the areas of visual arts education and currently teachers on the MA in Visual Arts Education at The National College of Art and Design and is Head of Learning for the Turner Prize, 2013. Anne Mullee is assistant curator and coordinator at The Lab gallery. Maeve Mulrennan is curator at the Galway Arts Centre.

thanks Sincere thanks to Dublin City Council, the Arts Council and all of the staff at The LAB, especially the project administrator, Anne Mullee. Thanks also to all of those who gave advice and help, particularly to the education departments of The National Gallery of Ireland and The Irish Museum of Modern Art, who were so generous with their time and resources. A special thanks to Galway Arts Centre, which advised and encouraged from the beginning of the project.

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