The sense of smell was the first thing to be awoken when walking into the old Provider’s building in Longford in late September. What was that familiar scent? Further steps to the second floor of the building were met by an installment of a skeletal whale entirely made of old GAA footballs stitched together, and the childhood memories associated with that smell came flooding back.
But that’s not the only interesting thing about the ‘Memory has a Pulse’ exhibition, which was on display for a week in Longford. In fact, all the the artwork is associated in some way with old memories – old diary entries; till rolls; even items from childhood such photographs and an old action man doll that had been buried and dug up specifically for this exhibition.
There are slabs of footpaths taken from Convent Road and Chapel Street in Longford – locations that will bring back memories to all those who frequent those parts of town. There’s even a memory box, allowing people to add their own memories to the display.
“We’ve had about 150 students from various schools visit this exhibition,” said Gary Robinson who, along with Seán Cotter and Thomas Brezing, created the exhibition.
“It’s great to have students in here and to be able to show them that you don’t have to follow a structure to set up an exhibition.”
The exhibition was set up in association with Engage – a group set up by artists in Longford for artists in Longford, and a group which has enjoyed plenty of support from the local community and the former owners of the building which now houses the group’s exhibitions.
“We kicked off on Culture Night 2013 with the idea that we could open it to everybody. It’s all free, and it’s all voluntary. Over the years, the group has gotten smaller, but we’ve managed to keep it going. We have artists all over the country now,” Gary explained.
“This building is a big development for engage. It’s like the heartbeat of the town. You can see everything from here,” he added, gesturing towards two of the building’s walls, which are made up entirely of windows.
“And people have a connection with the building too. It was a hardware and carpet store before. It was a pub. You could get absolutely anything here. And the McGinnity family who owned the building were very generous to engage, allowing us to use the space.”
And the space certainly is perfect for an exhibition such as this. The giant skeletal whale looks right at home on the large empty floor – more at home here than in any other exhibition space, Gary points out – and the other side of the room is large enough to display a number of other installments, including the pavement and the memory box.
“What brought us all together is text,” said Gary, speaking about the exhibition itself and the connection between the work of the three artists.
“All of the work is based around text. It’s like we’re saying the same thing but in different accents. And the work itself is an invitation for people to take a closer look. People – even kids – see the text and immediately, they want to go over and try to read it.”
On one of the walls is a fascinating work of art created entirely from till rolls – “I have miles and miles of till rolls,” Gary laughs – painted with different colours, and hanging down like a curtain against the white of the wall.
The inspiration for this, Gary explains, drawing on one of his own memories, was that one of his three little girls picked up a piece of paper from the ground and told him to hold it. He turned the paper over and saw it was a till receipt, with the date January 2nd 2012, and the time 2.02 which, he points out, was the exact time that his daughter was born.
“These till rolls are from shops around Longford and they’ve been painted. I see them as documentation, because they’re a snapshot of what was happening at a particular time. You have the name of the person behind the till, the date, the time, and what the customer bought.”
In fact, the whole exhibition is based on the idea of a snapshot in time. Lines of text, birthday wishes and other memories grace the numerous paintings on the walls. Some pieces show memories covered in paint, but with some of the paint scratched off to reveal what’s underneath.
“This is a touring exhibition,” said Gary, pointing out that it’s already travelled to Dublin and Galway and has plans to travel to the College of Art in the Burren, before moving on to other possibilities.
Wherever it ends up next, it’s certainly worth a look and will awaken long-forgotten memories of your own.