“I’m interested in looking at how artists can intervene in the narratives in history.” Lívia Páldi, Curator at Project Arts Centre
Project Arts Centre (PAC), Dublin’s multidisciplinary arts space, turned 50 last year and has been taking a good long look at its role in Irish public life with all the serious introspection that comes with ageing. One big change is the appointment of a new curator for the gallery space in what’s affectionately known as the big blue building on Temple Bar’s Essex Street. Hungarian Lívia Páldi joins Project from her previous role as Director of BAC – Baltic Arts Center in Sweden.
Lívia comes to Project at a time when the centre is trying to establish a new vision and direction. “The 50th anniversary was a very decisive moment for Project. I think Cian [O’Brien, Project’s artistic director) sees this post-50th anniversary as a good place to start rethinking a couple of things in the institution. It’s a very transformative moment, I feel. The three years I’m supposed to be here are supposed to be about shifting the institution into a different direction.” Project’s history is defiant and proud. Founded in 1967 following a three-week festival of form-pushing jazz, theatre and art at The Gate the previous year, one of Project’s founding philosophies was that “a creative person is capable of controlling and directing his own affairs and has no need of a commercial intermediary, without whom he can operate with a much higher degree of freedom”. It was from the get-go a space for experimentation in form, but also, crucially, a space for political renegade-ism.The institution is run by a Board of Directors, made up of artists, producers, political activists and people with some business acumen.
Lívia brings her existing artistic connections with her to Dublin, and her initial programming for 2017/2018 reflects this, with four works by international artists on the list to kickstart her programme. But a major part of her 2018 programme will revolve around the Project archive, fifty years’ worth of documentation of an institution that reflected and inspired political, cultural and social shifts in Irish life. Lívia hopes to use the archive as a framework both to prompt new works and interrogate old ones.
“The archive is a very good material to work with because it shows you what Project has always been. It’s not only the history of Project, it’s also political history, it’s social history, it’s institutional history, it’s connected to the Arts Council and the professionalisation of the sector. Project has always been dedicated politically, so I feel responsible for that as well. And I see it as a benefit and not a problem. So that also brings you to the question, ‘During these times, which are not easy times, of what is the responsibility of a public art institution, as such, and what is the responsibility of the gallery within that?’”
It’s an important and complex question that Lívia poses. Project’s history is bound up with political agitation and the idea of challenging the status quo – through the art that it has hosted within its walls, and continues to host to this day. A recent piece of art it hosted on its walls, in the form of Maser’s pro-Repeal mural, resulted in complaints from some quarters and the eventual removal of the mural, following a warning from Dublin City Council that it breached planning protocols. Following the removal, Cian wrote a piece for the Irish Times to clarify that he firmly believes that art is, by necessity, political and cannot be neutral. He cited Jim Fitzgerald, one of Project’s founders, who said that “to wait for the revolution is merely to postpone it. I believe that we, the artists, must take action on our isolated front.”
Lívia seems to feel this imperative to acknowledge art’s role in the political sphere strongly, particularly when operating within a publicly funded institution. “I have a very strong issue-based line when I curate. It connects to the question of responsibility within a public institution.” Her inaugural exhibition in the gallery, The Museum of Modern Comedy in Art (MoMCo), and the upcoming exhibition later this month, From Fake Mountains to Faith (opening November 23rd), both feature a ‘fictional’ museum setting. Lívia believes in the possibilities this structure offers for interrogating cultural, national and historical narratives.
“The museum structure used as a metaphor is quite a good structure to look into how ideology takes over the everyday… With From Fake Mountains to Faith, the artist [Szalbolcs KissPál] is using this process to look at how the current political ideology in Hungary fictionalises history. KissPál’s work is talking about nationalism, about a very specific period in another part of Europe, but it brings in questions that I’d like to put out to an Irish context, to look at what kind of objects irredentist nationalism produces. It’s a very good context to look at the diversity of ways in which people look also at patriotism, kinship and the concept of the nation. The artefacts in the museum come from online sources, the Hungarian version of eBay, objects that represented an ideology between the two world wars. When Hungary lost two thirds of its territories after WW1, through the Treaty of Trianon, and the whole country went into mourning, there was a political ideology that was rooted in victimisation – a troubled history that makes itself painfully felt in the present … The story did not happen in Ireland in the same way, and the dates are different, but I think it’s a good way to reflect on what exactly happened here.”
Lívia is actively looking to make connections with other arts institutions in Dublin and the wider country, with the idea of hosting a series of offsite events that can ‘offer bigger visibility to certain issues’ outside the gallery space. There’s also the expectation that the archive will offer opportunity for collaboration across the wider artistic community in the country, bringing the performance world at Project into closer proximity with the visual arts, at a time when artists from both areas are increasingly collaborating organically. For Lívia, there is a weight of responsibility attached to delving into PAC’s archive.
“I don’t want teary-eyed nostalgia, I think it’s a very, very important heritage. It’s not just about Project, it has a much wider relevance and I think it points at the problems that keep recurring in the sector about artistic work, the missing studios, artistic labour, as such, the conditions of being an artist as well…I still retain this naivety about the possibilities offered by a gallery space, where you have a little bit of distance from what is happening. You have a different perspective on things, which in other walks of life, in other countries may not be possible anymore. The space of culture and the artist is super important – to keep that imagination running and to keep the space both to reflect on the complex present and test future scenarios.”
Szalbolcs KissPál: From Fake Mountains to Faith runs from Thursday November 23 to Saturday January 13. Artist talk November 23 at 5.30pm, opening 6pm-8pm.
Words: Rachel Donnelly
Szabolcs KissPál: The Rise of the Fallen Feather (video still) 2016
Courtesy the artist.
Szabolcs KissPál: The Chasm Records, installation view at the Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art, Oldenburg, 2016
Courtesy the artist.
Headshot: Photo Senija Topic, 2017