This BA degree in Visual Arts is an outreach course funded by Cork County Council and the Government and directed by the Dubin Institute of Technology. It is a full four year university degree and takes place on Sherkin Island off the south west coast of Ireland. It is the only outreach degree of this kind in the country and has been running for many years.
The idea of the course is to give students, especially islanders, who missed out on a university education when they were younger, the chance to return to college to pursue a degree qualification in the arts. Because of their diverse backgrounds the students bring a wealth of talent and experience to this course. Space is limited; a maximum of twenty students can be enrolled every two years. The competition for places grows year on year. The resultant standard is extremely high which was again reflected in the quality of the work presented by the 2016 years student’s degree exhibition.
Seventeen 2016 students have submitted their final projects and their work is on exhibition over two days on Sherkin Island. The students present their work in various locations around the island from the 14 century abbey, the Islander’s Rest Hotel, the Community Hall, private homes, the headland and a renovated barn reputed to be the oldest, intact, building on the island. This exhibition, which is open to the public, is the students’ first experience of their ‘art’ professional lives. About a thousand people travel, by ferry, to the island to visit this exhibition. The 2016 exhibition is entitled Uncover.
Because of the nature of the degree course and the unique location the work presented is very diverse.
I was unable to visit every student’s work so apologise to those whose work I was unable to see. Only one graduating student among those I visited had concentrated exclusively on Photography. After a career in IT, Jean Dunne, prompted by a love of Sherkin Island, decided to enrole in the BA Visual arts degree course. Having had her camera gear stolen in her twenties she abandoned photography and only returned to the camera as she progressed with her BA degree. Her work is original and very professionally presented.
Much of the work is concerned with conceptual art. I have rarely been so moved by work as I was by that of Lesley Cox. She investigates the connection we all have to the uterus.
Brigid Madden’s work was also deeply thoughtful
Other work, which I found outstanding, was Imagination-Emigration by Philomena Smith. The work represents this idea by linking Philomena’s life in the textile industry to her sense of misplacement or not belonging. Since the work was presented under red, blue or yellow light, photographing it was very difficult.
Detlef Schlich’s work, also struck me as very professional. It is a film installation in three parts. The work is concerned with developing an alter ego. He told me the work is to be found on YouTube:
Lucy Cox’s work is concerned with environmental, political and spiritual elements.
The amount of effort that the students had put into their projects was impressive. I was interested to hear where the students were thinking of taking their work after graduation. Almost without exception the graduating students wanted to continue their studies. I found this quite extraordinary and wondered if it was connected to a fear of “letting go” and accepting the fact that they were now qualified. One student, Deidre Buckley-Cairns, bucked this trend. She had already secured a number of commissions for her stained glass work. She was also planning several exhibitions. Her final project was concerned with the connections between colour and memory. I photographed this in a Howling gale the night before the exhibition opened officially to the public.
She was one of the nine students selected for the RDS Visual Arts Awards long list. The RDS Taylor Art Award is a cash prize of €10,000 and is awarded to the person the judges believe to be the most promising emerging visual artist in that year – See more here.
Some of these students will make it to the short list which will enable them to take their work to Dublin for a very prestigeous exhibition in August.