showered daily with pictures drawn by my five-year-old
daughter is just about the sum total of my interest
in art. Nor did a visit to the former Ormeau Baths
rekindle any long repressed or subconscious desire
to cast an untutored eye over the oil, water and
charcoal images that others derive pleasure from.
The old pool area may well have been the site
for the Royal Ulster Academy to showcase its 125th
annual exhibition but I preferred it when water
rather than watercolours constituted the magnetism
that pulled us inside its walls.
a child I had often made my way to 'the swimmers'
in Ormeau Avenue which housed two pools. Then,
leisure centres were something that had yet to
be inflicted on a pseudo religious Belfast public
bored into attending churches and chapels on Sundays.
In the Ormeau Baths at the age of nine I mastered
the art of staying afloat unaided. It remains
the only art I ever mastered in the same premises.
33 years after I first entered it I was tempted
to revisit the venue. The works of Gilbert &
George were on display there. Both men had provoked
much interest, often controversial. The aesthetically
challenged, myself amongst them, perhaps preferring
the controversy to the art, nevertheless resented
the idea of being told that the drawing of boundaries
was somehow more important than drawing images.
the current exhibition being hosted by the Ulster
Baths Gallery, there were hundreds of works on
display. As anticipated, my mundane eye lived
up to expectation. Dexterity with my feet was
all I needed. One display faded into the next
as I increased my pace so that I could cover them
all and be safely delivered at the other end unbored
one work that stopped me for more than five seconds
was something by Stephen Cumberland. That it can
only be referred to as 'something' is because
the artist gave it no title. Rather like Led Zeppelin's
fourth album - let the recipients call it what
they will. I thought an appropriate title would
have been No Hope. On my way out I refrained from
perching my glasses on the tip of my nose or practicing
a Cultra accent as I enquired of the attendant
about the painting. Thinking that I alone might
be curious because of my previous imprisonment
I was quickly disabused by her response: 'almost
everybody asks about that.' The despair of Cumberland's
solitary creature sitting on a box took me back
to a time of intense psychological loneliness,
where Sartre's phrase 'hell is other people' came
into its own. The desolate isolation pulsating
through Cumberland's contribution was compounded
by another display, this time by Catherine McWilliams,
Shower Study. Here the solitary character stands
alone in the corner of a shower. It conveyed an
image of a guy boxed in with nowhere to run to,
the type of situation Blanketmen faced during
H-Block forced washes.
the artists behind the works were not inspired
by republican prisoners and no-wash protests.
Meaning because it is positional and rarely fixed
allows art despite the intention of, or claims
of ownership on the part of the artist, an infinite
range of meanings to interact with it. For me
the synthesis of helplessness and loneliness emerging
from the random fusion of two unrelated pieces
of art became the midwife of a new meaning.
a much more impressive display than anything featured
in this exhibition was the work of the pavement
artist Julian Beever just a few miles across town.
Maybe it was the art that did it. More likely
it was the image of a man trying to emerge out
of something that resembled a cell in the ground.
All which depressingly reminded me that being
free from a cell never quite amounts to freedom
from the past.