Block T’s First Birthday

Posted June 20, 2011 in Arts & Culture Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Tucked away beside the China Town market in Smithfield Square, the recognizable bold “T” sign on the door is the only hint of what lies behind it. The doorway reveals a dimly-lit, multi-tiled stairway that leads to the first floor of the soon-to-be one-year-old Block T gallery. The “Big Baby’s” birthday extravaganza is being held off-site at the Button Factory in Temple Bar, and will feature some of the most popular acts the gallery has hosted this year, like Toby Kaar, North Strand Kontra Band, Lasertom, the Blast Crew and more. Visual artists Hugh Cooney and Slipdraft will also be present with some of their work.

Although it may seem unusual for the 8,000 square-foot gallery to host an off-site party, operations director Joe Salam seemed relieved.

“We didn’t want to do any work,” he said with a laugh.

Salam and the other volunteers at the gallery were still cleaning up after the last gigs they hosted upstairs, with the moved furniture and empty beer bottles as evidence.

The off-site party also allows them an extended curfew, instead of ending at 11:30 p.m. like their other gigs, the first birthday shindig is expected to last until three in the morning. The proceeds also go back to running the gallery – which is in a continual state of construction and expansion.

Once an abandoned tile factory and warehouse, the Block T gallery not only serves as a blank canvas for artists’ creativity, it also houses the artists themselves. Twenty artists call this place their studio, four other artists have also utilized the space for short-term.

Soft-spoken artist Chanelle Walshe was quietly drawing in her small studio on the second floor, amid the sound of construction seeping in from outside her window. X-ray images and drawings of body parts were taped to the white walls, in various stages of completion. She has been a part of the Block T gallery for about four months.

Downstairs, other resident artists were busy completing their works for the “Jockeyism” exhibition open until 21 of June. The term “Jockeyism” was developed by the nine artists as a tongue-in-cheek theme against the other “isms” of the art world, like “cubism” and “realism.” Instead of competing with each other (like individual jockeys in a race), the artists in this show were working and supporting each other.

Resident artist Aoibheann Greenan was finishing setting up her “whale” sculpture made of cardboard, vinyl and paper. The sculpture, along with an extremely detailed pencil drawing, was meant to explore the whaling debate and the beliefs of indigenous people vs. the whalers themselves.

Instead of being painted stark white like other art galleries, creative director Ben Readman said that the walls in that particular room were painted in a light gray color to let the artwork stand out more. Also, the partitions separating the different works were actually on wheels, allowing the space to be continually changed according to the exhibition’s needs.

“Each exhibition is different, like a life-sized Lego,” Readman said.

The gallery itself is like a giant labyrinth of hallways, quaint artist studios, music venue / exhibition rooms (with skeletal remains of past exhibits) and construction. Block T will have their own dark room completed by July 3, and will be hosting classes on Tuesdays for artists and photographers to learn basic techniques. It already houses some unique equipment, and the directors are excited to expand the gallery’s uses.

Although Block T is still a work in progress, (it took the six directors a year to even decide to use the space, which was “full of junk” at the time) managing director Laura Down said she is grateful for all the support the community has given.

“I still don’t know how we’re pulling this off,” she said with a laugh. “The six of us would have been no where without the support. Our following has been massive, everyone was so kind and wishing us well.”

Looking ahead to a year from now, Down said she is hoping for more solidarity within the gallery and a focus on education. Meanwhile, the gallery continues to weather the economic storm, thanks to a lot of volunteers. Despite this, Readman said he believes that this was the perfect time for Block T to begin.

“It’s a good time in Dublin for [the gallery]. A lot of people have fallen into an economic trap, but the culture is booming.”

Words: Tara Jones

“Big Baby – Block T’s First Birthday Party”
Friday 1 July, 8 p.m., €10
Button Factory, Temple Bar, Dublin 2


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