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Dock Discourse  was a project that culminated in an exhibition, installation and discussion event, around the changing nature of the Galway Docks. Initiated and curated by local architect Aoife Considine & Artist Aideen Barry, Dock Discourse is a multi disciplinary project engaging with artists, thinkers and the general public to comment and question the nature of change taking place in and around the Galway Docks. The works are concerned with ideas of environmental change, development processes, the role of the artist in the changing city along with reconsidering the spaces, structures and habits of this part of the city on the waterfront. 

Here is a review of the Exhibition and events taken from The Irish Times

Artful approach to a new Galway – The Irish Times – Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lorna Siggins



A massive redevelopment of Ceannt Station plus a major dockland expansion will radically change Galway city but some artists and activists believe more consultation is necessary. 

When architect Aoife Considine asked a group of visual artists to imagine Galway’s future, the response was a passionate discourse on the nature of public space: a fleet of Zeppelins descend on a utopian portscape with a Guggenheim-style contemporary art gallery; a music centre linked to a light rail station, all powered by wind turbines; an existing dock wall which is a mirror image of a section of the Berlin wall from the mid-1980s.

Even as yet another Galway Arts Festival draws to a close, making way for race week madness, there are serious concerns about the direction the city is taking – or is being taken on – and in particular the €1 billion plan for the city’s Ceannt Station and a €290 million first-phase blueprint to extend the port.

It may sound like the stuff of another economic era but both CIÉ and the Galway Harbour Company are still intent on securing approval from An Bord Pleanála under the Strategic Infrastructure Act for their particular visions of the city.

A certain amount of consultation has taken place according to both bodies, and an architectural contest to design a new centre pier performance space was held as part of last year’s first Open House architectural festival in the city. A “20-40 vision group” established by Galway Chamber of Commerce president Paul Shelly aims to influence the shape of development. It features a dozen “pillars” including a cultural pillar, chaired by Páraic Breathnach of the Galway Arts Centre. The group is planning a conference involving NUI Galway and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in the autumn.

Galway City Council director of planning Tom Connell points out that both CIÉ and the Galway Harbour Company have presented their plans to the local authority, even though An Bord Pleanála will be the final arbiter. Both bodies have attempted to “reach out” to the public in what the city council regards as a very exciting plan to pull the city centre down to the port and reach out to the sea.

However, a number of artists, along with former arts minister and Labour Party president Michael D Higgins, believe the consultation is way short of what is required for such projects in key locations.

“Ceannt Station, which was presented as a new transport hub and urban quarter, has to be more than the property management exercise that it currently is,” Higgins says. The Galway West TD, who has lived down at the docks, has documented the harbour’s history and believes the challenge is to reflect its human dimension and its creative energy generated over decades and avoid the “homogenisation of port fronts which is taking place all over the world”.

He believes passionately in protection of public space, and in the adoption of a citizenship model of city which defines its cultural core, rather than, as he says, drawing up “a shopping list for consumption over the next 20 to 30 years”.

The area in question is the city’s heartland, extending from the Corrib estuary inwards to Eyre Square. This half-mile stretch was transformed during last year’s Volvo Ocean Race, when over half a million people visited the docks and Salthill, and thousands discovered parts of the waterfront which they had never visited before. It was during that time that both Considine and Cork-born, award-winning visual artist Aideen Barry began to engage in their own dialogue.

That dialogue had begun during a previous Tulca visual arts festival in the city, when Considine and Barry compared notes on Galway’s future, the lack of public space and dearth of sufficient cultural infrastructure. There is, for instance, no music college, no permanent large art gallery at a time when Sligo has its Model Arts and Niland Gallery, and Carlow is moving apace with its Visual Centre for Contemporary Art and George Bernard Shaw Theatre.

As Barry points out, begging or borrowing a temporary exhibition space for visual art has become a regular challenge for Galway Arts Festival – a challenge attained in recent years through the support of developer Gerry Barrett, who is one of the city’s largest landowners but also one of the first 10 developers to have extensive loans transferred to Nama.

The former Habitat shop on Fairgreen is this year’s stunning location secured by artistic director Paul Fahy for the work of Brian Bourke, along with visual artists Bill Viola, Spike Jonze and printmaker Lynne O’Loughlin.

At the exhibition opening, film-maker and arts activist Lelia Doolan made an impassioned plea to Galway City Council to secure it for the city. Considine, who took a masters in architecture in Glasgow and is now pursuing an MSc in urban design at University College, Dublin believes that artists, by their very nature, have much more passion and commitment than architects to the notion of the collective.

“I was very struck by the debate initiated several years ago by Galway artists over the Ceannt Station plan, and the token area earmarked for the arts,” she recalls.

She was also struck by the lack of joined-up thinking among the vested interests, and the emphasis on economic, rather than wider community, benefits. “It’s significant that it took the best part of five years for CIÉ and the harbour board to start talking together about their plans, and by that time the Volvo Ocean Race had opened up further potential for public activity, and involvement.”

Considine and Barry invited other artists, including Cian McConn, Róisín Coyle, Cecelia Dannell, Jennifer Cunningham, Jim Ricks, Jennie Moran and Michelle Browne, to “explore both the territory of the real and the imagined, the past and the proposed future”.

The result was Docks Discourse, an exhibition last month at 126 Gallery, an artist-led small exhibition space close to the waterfront. Considine also hosted a complementary discourse involving artists, architects, urban thinkers and activists. “Arthur C Clarke said that ‘the only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible’,” Barry explained in her statement on her Utopian docklands pen and ink drawing. “As an artist I am interested in the idea of art permeating all areas of society, from where we work, to where we live, from where we read, to where we socialise and interact with each other.”

All of the participating artists worked without pay for the Docks Discourse project which had minimal funding, according to Considine, but was supported by Galway Harbour Company, Galway City Council and the Arts Council. Some of its images were circulated to a wider public through a supplement in the Galway Independent. Even before the exhibition finished, Barry, Ricks and a number of other artists including Denise McDonagh, Vicky Smith, architect Ben Rilot, Martina Finn and Melissa Hopkins were already working on further plans.

Their new proposal is for a centre for contemporary visual art which could be built temporarily in a redundant part of the docklands – similar to the Temporäre Kunsthalle Berlin, constructed in Berlin’s centre in less than five months in 2008 for a two-year period. Féach, as they have named it, could be built and fully operational in time for the Volvo Ocean Race 2012 return, they say. The projected build cost is around €1 million, as the “box” design is based on the familiar docks shape of stacked metal shipping containers and timber crates. They point out that this costing compares favourably to estimates for similarly-sized permanent municipal galleries built at a cost of €20 million. It would, they say, be “easily disassembled and re-used, therefore minimising the carbon footprint”. It would generate income and would pursue “an ambitious curatorial direction”.

Michael D Higgins believes that the artists represent a “prototype of possibilities”, at a time when the city has to recognise that Ireland is “moving out of an addiction” and into a “new mindset” which eschews a vision of consumption and embraces the notion of urban space.

“There must be more than concessionary gestures,” he warns. “Also, crude confrontations are never helpful, and the blackening as ‘anti-development’ of those simply seeking that discourse is a primitive approach. Appropriate, inclusive discourse, which embraces imagination, should be regarded as an advantage.”

Artful approach to a new Galway – The Irish Times – Saturday, July 24, 2010

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