Envisioning: RDS Visual Art Awards 2021

Posted November 30, 2021 in Arts and Culture, Exhibition Previews

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

A staple on the arts scene for supporting emerging Irish artists, the RDS Visual Art Awards will showcase its ten selected exhibitors chosen from BA and MA courses across the island, through an open competition. Curated by Irish artist Vera Klute and selected by a panel of distinguished adjudicators, we are proud to offer our readers a first glimpse of the works which go on display this month.

The RDS Visual Art Awards is the most important platform for visual art graduates in Ireland. It provides a curated exhibition opportunity and a significant prize fund of over €30,000, as well as vital exposure for emerging visual artists as they move into early professional practice.

How Far

Catherine McDonald  graduated from TU Dublin this year with a first-class honour’s BA degree in Fine Art. She is presently undertaking an MFA in Art and Ecology at the Burren College of Art in Co. Clare.

Catherine’s work is concerned with perception and the different forms of knowledge which shape our understanding of landscape. She is interested in the blurring of barriers between science and art, to trigger positive change within local and global ecosystems.

Situated between sculpture, film and installation, her practice probes the relationship between scientific and holistic understandings of natural systems. Her artworks often combine clay with film and sound to form multi-layered installations.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The ambition of her practice is to uncover the layers of knowledge and perception through which we view the natural world. How Far is a multidimensional installation employing sculpture, film and soundscape. This work views soil and earth as a creator of space, land and cultural significance. Catherine collects clay from eroding cliffs along the coast of county Wexford, which is filtered and dried before being formed and fired. The resulting sculptural objects are borne from scientific diagrams of minerals and chemical compounds found in marine clay. These pieces sit in mud, water, muslin and metal mesh, resting on recycled oil drums. How Far is a collection of cycles and recycles, uncovering the mechanics of production. Each element of the installation stands as a new layer of understanding; the next step of a process, a subsequent abstraction from the landscape


Orla Kelly graduated from the National College of Art & Design with a joint first-class honours degree in Textiles Art & Artefact with Critical Cultures.

Orla Kelly graduated from the National College of Art & Design with a joint first-class honours degree in Textiles Art & Artefact with Critical Cultures. Her current artistic practice is based on storytelling, primarily using textile processes. This body of work uses tufting to create textile sculptures. Orla is interested in juxtaposing the qualities of textiles considered as soft, delicate, and often fragile with the narrative of her work which deals with the normalisation of violence against women in popular culture and media.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The inspiration for this work, As Much As I Wouldn’t Like To, comes from a childhood memory, evoked during a conversation with the artist’s brother, of her parents covering their eyes during explicit scenes in movies. Taking this as a starting point, Orla’s research led to a detailed consideration of specific scenes set against a broader research into the normalisation of violence against women in popular culture and media, where the dominant, aggressive male is romanticised, and male sexual desire is prioritised. The focus of this work is on unwanted interactions that come from a place of unjust entitlement and desire. Interactions that embody starkly opposing emotions. The work is deceptively playful, and the figures are direct depictions of moments of unwelcome touch. These moments lure the viewer by using colours and textures that seduce and tempt whilst simultaneously contradicting their appearance with the narrative they create.

By recreating glamourized moments from the context of a movie, tv show or music video, her work confronts and provokes a response that is not easily ignored. One cannot be a passive viewer.

T Viruz

Roibí O Rua graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design with a first-class honours degree in Sculpture and Combined Media. 

Roibí is a multimedia artist, utilising music, video, animation, and digital media to explore ideas of queerness as it exists within Generation Z. Roibí occupies the space between popstar and fine artist, while referring to their own experiences as a ‘Transfemme’. The work explores ideas of identity through the idea of the self as a digital persona. Roibí considers digital space as a means of socialisation and the development and expansion of subcultures.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The work in this exhibition entitled D1G1TR@N is an expression of how cyberspace is used by transgender Gen Z individuals as a sandbox for their identities. This work is realised as an album that is hosted online with eight tracks, paying homage to the queer sounds of Disco, NY Ballroom and 90’s House Music, while also drawing from internet subcultures such as Vaporwave, Seapunk, and Hyperpop. The website is a visual representation of the work with texts that address the digitrans experience of Gen Z. Roibí makes work that accurately represents their generation’s feel and aesthetic, by the queer, for the queer.

Swamp Thing

Lauren Conway graduated from IADT with a first-class honours degree in Art. She was awarded a DLR Emerging Artist Bursary, and the Dock IADT graduate award which includes an upcoming group exhibition at the Dock, Carrick-On-Shannon in January 2022. 

*WINNER of RHA Graduate Studio Award* 

In October this year she presented her first solo exhibition Karen at Ormond Art Studios. She is due to undertake an internship in 2022 at PUBLICS in Helsinki supported by Erasmus+. PUBLICS is a curatorial agency with a dedicated library, event space, and reading room in Helsinki, known for its industrial working-class histories and more recently, for its influx of divergent artistic and academic communities.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The body of work in the RDS Visual Art Awards exhibition, entitled A Great Public Meeting, comprises of a series of drawings that explores empty educational spaces and questions aspirational promises put forward by the state through formal education. Using archival materials, documentation from site visits and found images from her teenage years, Lauren explores tensions between the empty school sites and the dense, awkward dancefloors of teenage discos. In one place, there is restriction and conformity, in the other, freedom and connectivity albeit the narrow version presented within popular media. The core question posed is how to be a teenager in these spaces and how to resolve the tensions and polarities between them.

Bardot Hat

Vanessa Jones graduated from the National College of Art & Design this year with a first-class honours Master of Fine Art degree. She completed her undergraduate BA in Fine Art and Art History at George Washington University in the USA in 2003, where she received the Presidential Art Scholarship. She was also awarded the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award in 2019 and 2021 for her studies at NCAD. 

*WINNER of RDS Mason Hayes & Curran LLP Centre Culturel Irlandais Residency Award & the R.C. Lewis-Crosby Award*
Vanessa is a figurative painter whose practice uses self-portraiture to explore feminine themes and archetypes, especially as they relate to myth, beauty, replication and duality. Working representationally in oils, she employs the history of Western painting using medieval and primordial symbolic associations.
Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland
Her body of work Self Replicating, Self Portraits inhabit familiar yet unknown landscapes that are embedded in cultural symbolism, and her personas conflate Western and Eastern cultures to reflect her own Western identity integrated with a rich Eastern heritage. Her paintings have both a familiarity and a strangeness. She says about her work that she can shapeshift through time and space, and ultimately, see paradoxical ideas that exist within herself and the world at large.

Excessively Chaotic Utopian Escape

Fiona Gordon graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design this year with a first-class honours degree in Fine Art, Sculpture and Combined Media. 

Her work explores excess, referencing fashion iconography, and the overwhelming number of images of the female body and surrounding ideologies that we absorb daily. Outlining her own version of female experience through video and digital processes, Fiona flips the restricted, minimized idea of femininity on its head and embraces the surreal and the bizarre.

EXCESSIVELY CHAOTIC UTOPIAN ESCAPE is an ambitious screen-based work which takes the form of a website. The piece is both sophisticated and playful in its critique of consumerism and stereotyping as well as capturing the all-consuming online and screen-based existence. The use of lo fi and popular culture creates a bubble gum aesthetic.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Fiona’s films and personas explore the chasm between women’s interior voice and expectations of exterior perfection. They challenge the messy woman trope. Her ‘stay-at-home hun’ persona questions modern femininity and approaches femaleness in a more chaotic, absurd and bizarre way. This performative personality was created to explore desires of escapism, the problematics of the domestic goddess and femininity in confinement. She uses her image to access and engage with the outside world. Creating masquerades through dress, acts as an outlet whilst challenging the complexities around playing with femininity and the notion of being excessive or ‘extra’.

The Lonely Sea

Finn Nichol graduated from the Limerick School of Art & Design this year with a first-class honours degree in Sculpture and Combined Media.

*WINNER of RDS Taylor Art Award of €10,000*

His practice is a multi-disciplinary inquiry into storytelling and appraises the lived experience of the Anthropocene; an unofficial until of geological time used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems.

Photograph: Orla Murray/Coalesce

The work in this exhibition is a clay and digital animation titled The Lonely Sea. This piece is a response to Covid-19 lockdown and its isolation. Devoid of interaction or connection, the characters on the screen live out choreographed loops of work and travel against the backdrop of an increasingly surreal world. Their fixed expressions betray only emotional catalepsy while the labour-intensive method used in the creation of the amination only serves to emphasizes repetition and labour. The music composition is influenced by luminaries such as Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson creating a psychedelic soundtrack to accompany the piece.

Cans aux Canal 

Juliette Morrison graduated from the National College of Art and Design this year with a BA in Fine Art (Paint) and Education. She uses autoethnography as her primary form of research. This involves using self-reflection and photography to explore anecdotal and personal experience, which is then connected back to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings.

Working primarily in paint, Juliette usually bases the composition of her paintings on old magazine covers, records and posters, changing the subject matter to relate to an event that has happened in her life. Common themes in Quarantine (2020-2021) include classical music, paintings, pop culture, and tongue-in-cheek humour. She paints on a range of surfaces including stretched paper, canvas and wood. Her work is a means of transforming these commercial images into a fine art.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Juliette is also interested in performance and has created performative public interventions on the Luas Green Line, Portobello and outside the Central Bank on Dame Street. A musical performance video entitled Quarantine Classics is included in this exhibition, where Juliette plays all her favourite pieces from lockdown.

Till We Part

Rachel Daly graduated from MTU Crawford College of Art and Design with a first-class honours degree in Fine Art. She has won several awards this year, including the MTU Registrar’s Exhibition Award, the Lismore Castle Art Graduate Award and a six-month residency in the National Sculpture Factory in Cork.

Rachel’s work, entitled Till We Part, features large-scale photographic works, music and installation components. It is an exploration of discomfort and artificiality within domestic space. Our interior lives are rooted to the spaces we live in, linking place with private psychologies of desire and anxiety. Challenging the traditional idea of home as a secure space, her work ruptures this aspiration and shows that there can be more beneath the surface image. The things that console us and the ones we find unsettling often have the same origins. The home can slide from a comfort zone to a site of disquiet.Her practice includes digital and analogue photography, film, music and installation.

Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

Through bodily gesture, her constructed images depict intimate scenes of figures teetering on the verge of dysfunctional moments. Through the combined elements of installation, she plays with the perceptions of the viewer in dislocating domestic space. The viewer is not provided with a full narrative but is instead presented with visual and transient fragments.

My Life Does Not Belong to Me

Karolina Adamczak graduated from IADT this year with a first-class honours degree in Art specialising in moving image, performance art and photography. 

*WINNER of the RDS Members’ Art Fund Award*

Her practice is based around the mediums of performance art and film, with her work often crudely depicting human connection in a modern alienated society. Karolina has just started a year-long internship through the Erasmus + program where she will work as a filmmaker and photographer for dance company Siberia Danza in Barcelona. I’m Selling Myself is a body of work comprising of nine short films and performances, four of which are included in this exhibition. They deal with emotional labour and the marketisation of felt experience. The work offers a topical social critique around the ethics of labour structures in the customer service industry and dramatizes the frustrations and hopes of the service worker. The work operates between the personal and the political where individuality and sense of self is sublimated into the needs of the service industry and its capitalist agenda to depict human (dis)connection in a modern, alienated society.
Photograph: Leon Farrell / Photocall Ireland

The customer service industry constantly expects ‘service with a smile’. Employees must perform the role of someone at peace with the world while often being paid below the living wage. Such structures have led to increased feelings of detachment. Karolina sees her practice as a form of activism and a way to challenge and expose social issues and taboos.

The 2021 RDS Visual Art Awards exhibition is on display at the RHA Gallery until Sunday December 19. 

There’s a free curator’s tour on Sunday December 5 at 1pm.

To book a place on a tour please email arts@rds.ie

RHA opening hours: Monday to Saturday: 11am – 5pm, late opening on Wednesday until 6.30pm, Sunday: 12pm – 5pm.




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