A Different Republic was an exhibition featuring four new commissions by visual artists Aideen Barry, Amanda Coogan, Corban Walker and Suzanne Walsh. This publication intends to capture, through words and images, the many facets of the exhibition during its run from 18th November 2016 – 5th February 2017.
A co-curated exhibition by Arts & Disability Ireland and the Fire Station Artists’ Studios in partnership with the LAB Gallery. It explored universal human rights in a year of commemorations, being both the centenary of 1916 and the 20 year anniversary of the Irish government’s landmark report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities ‘A Strategy for Equality’.
A Different Republic was the culmination of an eight year partnership between Arts & Disability Ireland and Fire Station Artists’ Studios to support visual artists with disabilities. The partnership spanned four residencies, four publications, mentoring of seven visual artists and one seminar called ‘Pathways to Practice’ at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery, Cork. These years of embedding access and disability related capacity through training and development led our partnership to commission four new works. Reflecting on the state of the nation in a year of commemorations, the artists explored a lived experience of difference and inclusion in their practice. Probing the state of our nation along very real fault lines in a bigger picture, the commissions also represented our organisations passionate belief in what artists can express for our society. What art critic Gemma Tipton, writing for the art magazine Frieze, referred to as a ‘sharpas-a-knife survey of different experiences of Irish citizenship’.
A key feature of A Different Republic was inclusive experiences for audiences. A range of access options were available to visitors; Discovery Pens with audio description, speech to text and Irish Sign Language interpretation of live events, as well as commissioning writer Nathan O’Donnell’s catalogue essay in Plain English. Additional events which animated the exhibition included performances by Suzanne Walsh, Amanda Coogan and Dublin Theatre for the Deaf during Dublin Gallery Weekend which substantially broadened the footfall for this exhibition with many, many children spending time with the art works.
In the final week of the exhibition, A Different Republic seminar used contemporary arts practice and exhibition as a starting point for discussing universal human rights. Chaired by broadcaster, playwright and poet Vincent Woods, the following questions were tabled: How has A Different Republic served as an alternative entry point to the issues of inclusion and exclusion in a year of commemorations? Is exhibition an appropriate vehicle for creating visibility and discourse in 2017? Practical questions mingled with the existential challenges, showing that decisions and ethics provided the young Irish Republic with work still to be done, to enable our artists and our citizens to thrive.
On behalf of the both Arts & Disability Ireland and the Fire Station Artists’ Studios we would like to thank our staff past and present, board members, founders, partners, artists, designers, arts workers and citizens who have participated in our collaboration through the years, we salute you.