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Granite Leap by Kate Strain

Granite Leap by Kate Strain                                                          

In 2022 I established Ireland’s first Kunstverein. ‘Established’ is probably too strong a word to use, as we are still in ‘becoming’ mode, feeling our way, and constructing the institution through practice. The idea evolved during my time as artistic director of Grazer Kunstverein in Austria. During the five years I spent working in Graz I began to feel that the beautiful 500 square metres of exhibition space we were privileged to inhabit, was becoming more of a burden than an asset. As an institution, we were constantly programming in an effort to keep the space filled with rolling exhibitions, rather than being able to slow down and support artists beyond what they produced specifically for our gallery.

When the pandemic hit I came home to Ireland and bedded down with family to try to figure out how art, and looking at it or engaging with it, could ever possibly make sense again. I began to dream about operating a curatorial production office that could collaborate with artists across multiple projects, supporting artistic production by taking care of the invisible background labour behind largescale creative undertakings, for projects that mostly happen elsewhere. The idea was that such an entity could carry some of the administrative burden of developing and producing ambitious work of scale, by supporting artists while critically engaging with their practices, challenging them to make their best work, and connecting them to audiences beyond their ordinary reach, as well as to the international Kunstverein networks. This Kunstverein of my dreams would essentially ‘accompany’ artistic practices in a curatorial capacity, supporting the process of artistic production, while bringing audiences as close to that creative process as possible.

In 2021 I happened upon the ideal location for this venture; a three storey townhouse that had been lying vacant in the middle of the small town of Aughrim, in south County Wicklow. We bought the building, moved in, had a baby, and declared the ground floor (a former commercial unit that housed a hairdressers) Ireland's first Kunstverein! The word comes from the German for art (Kunst) and club or association (Verein). There are over 250 Kunstvereins across Germany and beyond. Established in 1829, the oldest one is Düsseldorf's Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen. Today there are variations on the original model, in addition to offshoot networks such as Kunstverein in Amsterdam, with sisters in Milan, New York, and Toronto. And now, finally, Aughrim! The first step I took in terms of introducing an adapted version of a Kunstverein model to Ireland was to talk with artists. I invited the collaborative art practice Forerunner, performance maker Isadora Epstein, writer and filmmaker Rik Higashikawa, photographer Rich Gilligan, hospitality specialist Jennie Moran, long-time collaborator Fiona Hallinan, and intrepid designer Alex Synge, to develop ideas around how the model could be adapted specifically for an Irish context. What would it do? How might it function? For whom would it exist?

 We gradually built a picture of something tangible, that didn’t quite exist yet, but which filled a gap somewhere between artistic practice and public presentation, and held the potential to enhance production capacity in the visual arts in Ireland. Finally, and with the support of the Arts Council of Ireland, Wicklow County Council, and innumerable neighbours, tradespeople and collaborators, we launched Kunstverein Aughrim in October 2022, inaugurating the space with a newly commissioned installation by Forerunner; Andreas Kindler von Knobloch, Tanad Aaron and Tom Watt. ‘Granite Leap’, as it is titled, is a permanent display infrastructure that inhabits and constitutes the Kunstverein. It consists of a mobile shelving system that revolves on two steel arcs around a central 1.5 tonne granite rock. The rock; sourced and relocated from Macreddin East, acts both as a solid geological anchor and a metaphorical springboard from which artists are supported to leap into the wild unknown. Without the artistic input of these collaborating artists, to whom I am so grateful and indebted, Kunstverein Aughrim would never have moved from a blurry idea into a concrete reality.

The model I am piloting is this: Kunstverein Aughrim works with 3 core artists per year, underwriting their artistic methodologies, in support of the development of new work across multiple projects. Throughout 2023 we worked with Deirdre O'Mahony, Sonia Shiel and Áine Mac Giolla Bhríde. This year (2024) we are working with Marielle MacLeman, Bassam Issa Al-Sabah and Sarah Browne. From our space in Aughrim we share insights into these artist’s working processes, offering glimpses of new artwork in development, or running workshops that provide close contact with research methods and production techniques. We support the artists to develop and realise ambitious projects all over the world, while on site in Aughrim we host exhibitions and dedicated Preview Events that invite audiences inside their creative processes of art making.

Across all of our activities, Kunstverein Aughrim strives to create meaningful contexts for a depth of engagement with creative thinking, in ways that enable and facilitate artists to focus on making artwork. The most important thing an artist can do



Kate Strain is a curator of contemporary art. From 2016–2021 she was the artistic director of Grazer Kunstverein, Austria, where she commissioned and curated over 25 solo projects with international contemporary artists. In close collaboration with artist and researcher Fiona Hallinan, Strain is co-founder of the Department of Ultimology, a research body dedicated to the study of endings. Working alongside Rachael Gilbourne, Strain makes up one half of the paired curatorial practice RGKSKSRG, commissioning, presenting and contextualising contemporary art. Strain previously worked as Acting Curator at Project Arts Centre, a multidisciplinary art centre in Dublin. She is a graduate of History and the History of Art and Architecture, Trinity College Dublin, holds an MA in Visual Arts Practice, IADT Dun Laoghaire, and participated in de Appel Curatorial Programme at de Appel arts centre, Amsterdam and Young Curators Residency Programme at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin. Strain is a member of IKT, the international association of curators of contemporary art, and regularly lectures in curatorial practice, art history and contemporary art