Georgina Jackson, the director of the Douglas Hyde Gallery, celebrates her first year in the role and has been ushering in celebrations for its 40th birthday.
You’ve taken over as director of the Douglas Hyde Gallery as it ushers in celebrations of its 40th anniversary. What are the challenges for contemporary galleries?
Turning 40 is always a moment to take a look at what’s what. Some people run marathons, others have the biggest party and biggest hangover.
In many ways, we face similar challenges now as when the gallery opened – funding, visibility, bringing in new audiences, creating a space for a different kind of attention to what you encounter outside, being relevant and challenging.
When I think about how Ireland has altered over these forty years, and the seismic shift we’ve seen with the resounding YES on repealing the 8th, there’s a moment of reckoning. We’re shifting from an Ireland that we thought we were to a new Ireland. There’s the importance to think about the role that art can play, facing ourselves with ourselves and asking difficult questions, about what change can happen and shape future generations. Part of this is thinking about what a gallery can be. Can it be a place to excite? To meditate? To challenge? Or to have a different type of relationship to space and time?
Our current exhibition thinks about this very issue. A Visibility Matrix explores visibility and invisibility and the mechanisms that create this. Fake news and the recent Cambridge Analytica scandals ask us not only what we see but what we don’t see. Sven Anderson and Gerard Byrne have been working with a network of visual anthropologists, cinematographers, documentary filmmakers, and others from across the globe to proposes a counterpoint to the hyper-networked nature of visibility.
It shifts focus from the production of images for sharing online to their reception in a shared, fixed-time spatial context. The gallery becomes a site of live animation, a space of attention and reflection.
The Douglas Hyde occupies a unique space in terms of its location with Trinity College. How does it engage with the campus and its student community?
Trinity graduates are part of our team. I’m also someone who, in college, sat on the front desk. Working at the gallery was a huge education for me and this is role is crucial.
Over the past year the programme has been spreading out into the university. We’ve held lectures, performances and screenings in the Arts Building, placed works in the Geography Department’s Freeman Library, and visited the Department of Botany’s Herbarium during Abbas Akhavan’s exhibition.
We’ve also started our Student Forum which brings together students from across educational institutions to work with and inform our programme. The group meets every month to talk about current interests and members are giving gallery tours. Next month they’re going on a trip to EVA International.
Has the 40th anniversary given you cause to reflect on what the achievements of the Gallery – have there been any takeaways from its accomplishments to date which inform its future?
We just had a talk at which artists from varying generations including Isabel Nolan, Willie Doherty, Sean Lynch, Gerard Byrne, Mairead O’hEocha and Sam Keogh talked about the amazing experiences they had had in the space over the years. As Sean Lynch said “When you go to the Douglas Hyde to see an exhibition you really have to be careful! An artwork in there might possess you, take control of your head…drive you wild. For years maybe. It’s likely you’ll never shake it off. The best art galleries like the Hyde, should carry health warnings!”
From the moment the gallery opened it’s been a space to excite you, to alarm you and one that lingers. All of these things are so important and will continue into the next 40 years and more.
How do you work with artists? What criteria do you deploy in your programming and selection of artists?
Exhibitions always come from conversations. These can develop over months, years or more. I first met Tamara Henderson while visiting Vancouver in 2016. I was so taken by her Seasons End project so when I started here I immediately wanted to show the work.
Later this year we’ll have a new commissioned work by Seamus Harahan, an amazing filmmaker based in Belfast. Harahan won the Film London Jarman Award in 2015 but his work has been rarely seen in a gallery context over the past few years. Seamus is working with the amazing Irish Traveller singer Thomas McCarthy and will go to the Willie Clancy Summer School this summer.
While the Palestinian artist Jumana Manna showing later in the year documents the complex pathway of seed distribution between Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley and the Global Seed Vault deep inside Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. She loosely links together different narratives and biographies, opening up a space to reflect on biodiversity, resilience, global justice and climate change, as well as disasters caused by human hand and the ambivalent efforts made to overcome them.
I have multiple conversations with multiple artists as well as peers, and there’s a question of timing and relevance.
You returned to Dublin after a stint as Director of Exhibitions & Programmes in the Mercer Union in Toronto. Are there any lessons from your engagement with the Canadian arts scene which you think would be beneficial if enacted here?
Funding is received through local, provincial and federal budgets which vary accordingly. This provides a robust funding ecology. In 2016 the Canada Council announced a doubling of funding across artforms to Canadian arts organisations and artists which has been a game changer. While there has been some small increase, The Arts Council suffered extensive cutbacks over the last decade and the arts have suffered immensely. Their increase this year has been slight and is still way off pre-recession funding levels. We’re still well below the European level of arts funding here. The government has announced a similar doubling of funding to Canada but when and how this is being done is unclear. You can’t have galleries without artists.
One of the other amazing things about Canada is CARFAC. It’s an organisation which outlines artists’ fees and screening rates etc. for every type of organisation at every level of budget. This ensures that artists are always paid and gives financial clarity, and accountability.
The space is famed to certain music fans as hosting the likes of Cat Power and Sufjan Stevens. You’ve been bringing music back into the building. What other initiatives have you been developing to diversify and increase your audience reach?
The atmosphere during Davy Kehoe’s gig last year was electric. It’s been great to bring musicians and artists into the space for events like this and last year’s Rainfear meets DAXA uptown with was another highlight.
Thinking about what can happen in the space continues. We’ve opened up biweekly tours of the exhibitions which people can drop into during their lunch breaks as well as free artist talks, screenings, and other events.
We’re stepping beyond the walls with collaborations with groups like aemi (Artists Experimental Moving Image) in a special screening of Tamara Henderson’s 16mm films at the Irish Film Institute and next week we’ll have the Irish premiere of the film Donna Haraway: Story Telling For Earthly Survival presented in collaboration with the Science Gallery.
If budget was no limit, what would be your dream exhibition?
Phil Collins, the artist not the singer. In 2014 he did a project a year-long project in Glasgow interviewing people in schools, hospitals, community centres and social clubs asking them to sing songs and make predictions for the future. The film Tomorrow is Always too Long is a love letter to a city that has always been close to his heart. It was screened in Queens Park for one night only, evoking the park’s great tradition of public gatherings, from political protests to music festivals. There’s something special about these forms of gathering, and amazing scope to realise projects across the grounds of Trinity.
But you know what, all of the exhibitions are my dream exhibitions, budget regardless.
Image Credit: Georgina Jackson – Eoghan Williams