Remotely Radical: A Contemporary Drawing Exhibition
Text by Emma Campbell
Artists Charlotte Bosanquet, Sally O’Dowd, and Grace McMurray came together through a shared interest in contemporary drawing to give us, Remotely Radical, an exhibition of new work, in Vault Artist Studios in East Belfast. The artists visited Rathlin Island, on the north coast, where Bosanquet is Harbour Master, to rekindle their emotional and artistic ties, and create drawings in response to the wild times of the last 2 years, Covid, insurrections and all.
There is a lightening of spirit in the show, that may have come from their collective relief at not co-creating via Zoom, the joy of interpersonal interactions or just the experience of making a time and place together that can elicit new considerations of patterns, of place and of time.
Each artist experienced the grind of the pandemic’s induced isolation and the invisible labour of caring and planning for an uncertain future in their respective families and each has a unique link to the rural landscape and culture of the North of Ireland.
“Resilience is used to describe people making their own histories (and geographies) but not under conditions of their own choosing”(MacLeavy et al., 2021, p.1568)
Our present terrain of culture and politics is seemingly always urgent and reactive, leaving little space or place for rumination, for careful looking and even for the kind of daydreaming that can make another world seem more possible. Remotely Radical is a reminder to engage in a purposeful construction of meaning for places that might prefigure a feminist/queer intention to abandon chronological time and ordered space. The work invites wildness.
“Wildness is where the environment speaks back, where communication bows to intensity, where worlds collide, cultures clash, and things fall apart.” (Halberstam, 2018, p.454)
From pencil, charcoal and paint on paper and cardboard, Remotely Radical requests our interaction with the psychogeography of sites of care and of rural space, with the invisibilisation of continuous unpaid labour. The wiggle of lines, twisted curving paper and the freedom of cardboard and paint, bring an energy, the force required for radical resilience. There is the lively contrast of Bosanquet’s colourful boats from open, family-friendly drawing sessions, alongside the monochrome but windswept large scale drawings of O’Dowd against the modernist optical ululating of McMurray’s surfaces, and in all three we encounter a playful resistance through an emergence of unpredictable identities. Against the backdrop of the rural idyll, the shadow of which is remote alienation, we can sense the self-determination of three people remaining expressive against some odds.
There is a simplicity to all of the works in the exhibition which harnesses them together, a deft touch to the overriding feminist psycho-geography and subjectivity that leads us towards ‘counter-typographies’ (Katz, 2001). An important addition to resistance and resilience is the re-working that art offers us. In the space in Vault, itself an urban island of resistance and potential, we are included in their dialogue of reimagining.
This exhibition is supported by Cavan County Council Arts Office, the Esme Mitchell Trust, and Vault Artist Studios Belfast.
Emma Campbell is an activist-artist in the completion stages of her PhD on utilising art, primarily photography and performance, as a sexy & magical tool for abortion rights along with Alliance for Choice of whom she is a co- convenor and a member of Array Collective. Her practice is embedded in queer & feminist art and activism. Previously focusing on the issues raised by the lack of abortion access on the island of Ireland and attitudes fostered by colonialism and deep religious conservatism, she makes work that is image-based (photography and collage), participatory, performance-enhanced and active in affecting change.
Emma is also on the Board of Directors for Outburst Queer Arts and HereNI. For her forthcoming practice she is creating a series of celtic–feminist-fantasy artefacts & portraits which concoct fantastical queer icons. Emma has exhibited in solo shows in Belfast, Dublin & Berlin and in group shows in London, Liverpool, Donegal, Dublin, Belfast, Stockholm, and Bangkok as well as street art and online. Emma gained her Documentary Photography BA (Hons) at U.W.C.N Newport in 2001, an MFA in Photography at Ulster University in 2012 and worked as a professional photographer and picture editor in London for over a decade for orgs such as the BBC, The Times London and Network Photographers.