Installation view, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, 2014. Photo: Ros Kavanagh, Courtesy the artist

Unknowable Objects: A Conversation with Niamh O’Malley

Niamh O’Malley, from County Mayo, in the Republic of Ireland, is part of a generation of artists who benefited not only from the pioneering work of artist-led organizations like the Association of Artists in Ireland (AAI) and the Society of Sculptors in Ireland (SSI), but also from the economic boost of the so-called Celtic Tiger, which pumped money into the arts. These artists traveled and exhibited widely, found readily available studio spaces (previous generations inhabited deserted buildings, often in appalling conditions), and swiftly learned the art of international networking.

O’Malley segues easily across genres and media, combining painting, drawing, video, installation, and sculptural elements in stone, steel, wood, and glass. She is interested in negotiating between the surfaces of the world, exploring how objects and spaces can speak, how an exhibition can somehow anchor, contain, and describe distance. Though her work frequently addresses intangibles, there is a confidence and can-do attitude about it, a fearlessness about the act of trying and risking failure. Now based at the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios in Dublin, O’Malley is currently representing Ireland at the Venice Biennale with her exhibition “Gather.”

Brian McAvera: You were born in 1975, in County Mayo, a county with vast open spaces and an Atlantic shoreline. Was this setting formative for your work, leaving perhaps an imprint of landscape and seascape?
Niamh O’Malley: I grew up on a small farm. My father was a farmer, and my mother was a primary school teacher. We lived at the foot of a mountain called Nephin, which I eventually made a film about in 2014 . . .

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