Irish Modernisms | CCA Derry~Londonderry, June–September 2021

An online seminar series accompanying the launch of the exhibition Irish Modernisms at CCA Derry~Londonderry. The exhibition and seminar series considering Modernism on the island of Ireland and its global contexts were co-curated by Catherine Hemelryk (CCA Derry~Londonderry) and Matthew Retallick (Manchester School of Art).

photo of part of artwork, comprising thick pentagons of concrete sitting together covering the surface of a white floor
Rachael Campbell-Palmer, Terra Firma, 2014–2021, Hand-cast concrete, weathered. Photo: the artist

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the two-day seminar originally planned became five zoom seminars and a planned publication. These seminars were inspired by the Irish Modernisms exhibition at CCA Derry~Londonderry featuring work by five contemporary artists from NI, each influenced by and contributing to the legacies of modernisms in the north.

The seminars invited pairs of speakers to present their personal passion and research interest on modernisms followed by a facilitated discussion.

The season of seminars began by looking back at art history on the island of Ireland  followed by the only seminar to take a different format, a Round Table with the artists in the exhibition before heading overseas for three seminars from Latin America, the Baltic and East Africa.

view of artwork, a headboard leaning against a grey gallery wall, the headboard covered in blue fabric featuring a geometric pattern
Grace McMurray, Nest, 2018, Headboard, Satin Ribbon weave, Polycotton. Photo: the artist

The seminars adopted an open approach, inviting initial speakers to select their presentation partner in part to widen our networks and to encourage informed discussions. The only seminar to deviate from this model was the Artists from the exhibition seminar, which took the form of a Round Table podcast followed by live discussion with the artists. The Podcast was more in keeping with the conversational nature of the group show and allowed for five artists and the two curators to share their practices and experiences in depth across the two-part podcast (a Bonus Material extra Podcast was produced in addition to the initial recording). The discussions took place following screen breaks and invited the audience to actively join in.

Whilst our initial plans for two-day seminars involved asking tightly-controlled questions, taking an open approach across the five zoom seminars and inviting conversation and passion, we found the speakers introduced new ideas, artists, architects, politics and so much more to our audiences. These seminars ignited the interests of our audiences and the discussions were lively points of sharing, with thoughtful questions and conversations taking place between the speakers and audiences.

Screenshot of Seminar 1 – Ireland (23 June 2021)

We learned continually during the programme on the practicalities of hosting zoom seminars and how to negotiate pandemics. For example, we had to take a flexible approach, dealing with illness or absence as and when and adapting the programme accordingly, which continues to take its toll. We were grateful for the flexibility offered by BAN.

Highlights included artist Grace McMurray becoming a super fan of Sirje Runge as presented by Mari Lanaements, and learning the political history or Eritrea and the colonial parallels with Ireland. The discussions were lively and sharing passions with audiences across the globe was a delight.

Many questions remain unanswered and the Global Contexts seminars could be an unending series! We were unable to present speakers from India due to the severity of the pandemic for example.

Surveying the impact of Modernism is an impossibility but we are delighted that we were able to introduce new audiences to its breadth and celebrate its ongoing legacy.

Catherine Hemelryk and Matthew Retallick

January 2022

Programme notes available to read or download here. View recordings of the events following the links below.

All events in this series

Irish Modernisms | Seminar 1: Ireland

Irish Modernisms | Seminar 2: Irish Modernisms Exhibition – Meet the Artists

Irish Modernisms, Global Contexts | Seminar 3: Latin American Modernisms

Irish Modernisms, Global Contexts | Seminar 5: East African Modernisms

Irish Modernisms, Global Contexts | Seminar 4: Post Soviet Baltic Modernisms