Letter of Concern from Phil Collins, Artist, 16.03.06, Chicago
My name is Phil Collins, I am an artist currently based in Glasgow. In 1998-2000 I was on the MFA at the School of Art and Design in Belfast and a director of Catalyst Arts during the same period. I am also one of the artists who participated in the recent Ormeau Baths Gallery exhibition 'Masters - Twenty Five Years On'.
Northern Ireland is fortunate to have world-class artists who have consistently, and against the odds, formed a vibrant, elaborated network which enjoys great support internationally, and that bodies such as Ormeau Baths Gallery, alongside Catalyst Arts and Factotum, have provided an invaluable platform where artists can exercise their profession in a dynamic, intelligent manner. The programming of Hugh Mulholland at Ormeau Baths Gallery and the Venice Biennial 2005 has consistently sought to represent Northern Irish artists at a national and international level, and provide a sensitive and intelligent platform whereby they are shown alongside their peers. In light of these facts, the closure of the Ormeau
Baths Gallery and the treatment of its staff is nothing short of a disgrace.
At first I wasn't sure I wanted to participate in 'Masters - Twenty Five Years On' but I did so because of my faith and trust in Hugh Mulholland and his curatorial expertise. I was delighted to have had an opportunity to work with him on many previous occasions and to show in the Ormeau Baths Gallery which I consider to have had a consistently high-standing international
program. It goes without saying that I would work with Hugh again at any time at the drop of a hat.
On this occasion, however, I'd like to make clear that in no way do I want my name or work associated with any further exhibition of this show and ask that my work is returned to me immediately. I am surprised that I have to remind you that the standard basic procedure for any exhibition is that the artist is consulted on such matters as to the nature of the exhibition, the venue and the work's installation. I would like to make it completely apparent that not once has anybody from ACNI nor the School for Art and Design made contact, which contravenes the basic standards of working practices and relationships. More importantly, the idea that a public body might remove the curator, who has executed the show, during its exhibition period and even consider continuing it, reveals a complete and utter lack of understanding not only of the nature of exhibition-making and care about the work, but also of the ethical and moral relationships on which the production and exhibition of art survives. I can only imagine what you're teaching the students.
If, as I understand, two members of the University's cultural development team are on the board of the ACNI and were thus privy to the information about its closure; this seems to me to represent the School for Art and Design in not only the worst kind of light, unable to stand beside the institutions around it which have gone out of their way to support the
school and its students, but lacking in the most basic forms of professionalism, backbone and decency. Therefore, I would like to express my strongest disagreement with the manner in which this whole disgraceful affair has been conducted, and in particular the University's shameful involvement in the closure of a contemporary art space by a hypocritical quango.
I am writing to you from the State, where I'm working on a project at the moment, and where I have been speaking to as many people as possible about what I consider to be a glaring failure in the practice of the administration of arts and cultural production. I look only to seek to support the protests against the removal of Hugh Mulholland and the staff of
the Ormeau Baths Gallery, the closure of the space, the repeated slurs against the integrity of an intelligent and sensitive director and curator, and the lack of foresight of the ACNI. As now, so in the future I will be supporting wholeheartedly the decisions made by the artists in their protests, and wish Hugh and the staff a successful outcome.
Phil Collins 16.03.06, Chicago