Flying High I & II: Airplane, the Terminal Convention and Sirius matters

Art Life , Op-ed Feb 17, 2011 10 Comments

John Kelly reports from Ireland, seriously.

“There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?” 1

Our bookshops are currently full of titles such as Snouts in the Trough and Ship of Fools; How Stupidity and Corruption Killed the Celtic Tiger. These books might well sum up the state of Ireland and has made many people question their desire to live in a country that seems to be institutionally and culturally dysfunctional. People have already left, some willingly others not. The banking crisis has sucked the money out of the economy and created the turbulence that crash-landed the economy with the upcoming election creating a scenario not dissimilar to the above quote from the movie ‘Airplane’.

“I am intending to hijack a Ryanair air plane [sic] and need the help of 189 participants…” 2

The interventionist artist Seamus Nolan’s first line (above) of a recent email gave me the impression that he too was desperate to leave this Island. Maybe he had not read the counter-balancing report from the Lonely Planet’s 2010 recommendations. The one translated on as –

“Lonely Planet says Cork is no longer a shit destination” 3

Reading further it became clear that Nolan had no intention of hijacking a plane, he actually was coming to Cork as part of an art project. Nolan went on to explain he wanted 189 people to list for the flight but not turn up, which would leave the plane to fly empty. I wondered why, for nowadays aren’t most of them empty anyway?

Neil Prenderville might have appreciated an empty plane when he recently flew back from London and allegedly enjoyed a private moment in public. Do you remember Prenderville, the shock jock radio star and Crawford Gallery Board Member? I remember when he opened the problematic 2007 Crawford Open and suggested it would be a great idea if the Crawford could sell the artwork in the exhibition. At the time I marveled at his inability to reconcile the obvious conflict of interests that would arise.

“Captain Oveur: You ever been in a cockpit before? Joey: No sir, I’ve never been up in a plane before. Captain Oveur: You ever seen a grown man naked?” 4

Thinking back to Neil Prenderville’s comments brings me to Terminal Convention, which includes a new commissioned work from Seamus Nolan hence his ‘hijack’ e-mail above. Nolan is one of three artists to be commissioned by the National Sculpture Factory in connection with this event to be held at the decommissioned terminal building at Cork airport in March 2011. The other two are Martin Healy and Nevan Lahart.

Come fly with me

David O’Brien or Dobz as he likes to be known is also an occasional jock on radio but primarily he is the Programme Manager of the National Sculpture Factory (NSF). Dobz –

“… co-founded the interventionist Art group art/not art in 1999 with Dr Fergal Gaynor…he continues to work as an artist, sometimes curator and manipulator behind Art/not art in his home town of Cork.” 7

Art / not art’s most significant project to date was as co-curators of the Cork Caucus project with Charles Esche and Annie Fletcher in 2005. 8

A week before Seamus Nolan’s ‘hijack’ email I received a press release from Dobz via his Art/not art email account for Terminal Convention. It struck me as odd that a National Sculpture Factory press release should come to me first via Dobz’s Art/not art e-mail address whose name suggests it is attached to his independent curatorial practice. The e-mail (not the attached PR) stated “…one which we are involved with, in March, is a large project called Terminal Convention.” But did he mean “we” as in Art/not Art or the NSF? For me, the ‘we’ blurs the line between his private practice and his Arts Council funded administrative position. But Dobz is not unusual in having a closely related private and publicly funded career. Arts Council funded administrators in Cork often have multiple careers in management, as curators and as artists. Sometimes all three occupy the same airspace. Of the half dozen or so Arts Council funded organizations in Cork at least four have artist/curators as pilots or co-pilots in their management. It raises an issue not often talked about in the arts but one that International Federation of Arts Council and Cultural Agencies (IFACCA) has addressed –

“…perceived conflicts [of interest] are as important as actual conflicts, since perception that a conflict may exist is enough to damage reputation and public trust.” 9

“…An obvious type of gain is financial, but other types of gain are equally relevant, such as the ability to gain prestige, wield power or advance a career….” 10

The ‘Terminal Convention’ at Cork airport might be a good starting point to take a look at these issues. For surely Art reflects the culture it is created in? Looking back through the Cork Caucus 2005 publication we quickly come across some connections that are worth following. Fergal Gaynor tells us that –

“…a Dublin group, in contact with us [Art/not art], formed their own reading groups and staged urban interventions. Brian Walsh, Nevan Lahart, Seamus Nolan and Alan Butler were to come to Cork during the summer…” 11

Maybe it is quite natural that two artists such as Lahart and Nolan who both undertake ‘art interventions’ and who connected with Art/not art through Cork Caucus will find a supportive reception from the NSF’s Programme Manager in Dobz and go on to gain commissions. Surely these are just art world connections and it is simply the way of the art world.

These connections only become an issue when you realize that in the past four years the National Sculpture Factory have only completed four public commissions and Nolan also undertook one of those, so whilst these three new upcoming commissions are to be welcomed it is surprising that Nolan has once again been selected (have the thousands of other artists all left the country?). The NSF press release states that they have commissioned Nolan; ‘Terminal Convention’ however is “… an exciting new initiative developed by Static Gallery, Liverpool…”12

Who are Static Gallery? Well static is primarily Paul Sullivan and John Byrne from Liverpool. “Byrne is also on the Editorial Board of the Autonomy Poject alongside Charles Esche, Annie Fletcher…” Static participated in Cork Caucus (with ‘Exit Cork’), which as we know was co-curated by Art/not Art. Therefore Dobz as part of a curatorial team brought Static into Cork Caucus before he became the Programme Manager of the NSF that is now partnering Static in the upcoming Terminal Convention. That the NSF have commissioned two artists that can be linked back to Art/not art through Cork Caucus for this ‘Convention’ may well be coincidental however when you see that Terminal Convention’s symposium devised by Static again includes Charles Esche and Annie Fletcher, Dobz’s co-curators from Cork Caucus one might ask is this Cork Caucus MkII. Or maybe it is ‘Protoacademy ‘Alternative Strategies’ Cork’ IV which involved Art/Not art and Esche in 2001 at the Crawford Gallery, or is it ‘Regathering on the grounds of art: REVISITING CORK CAUCUS’ part III which also involved Art/not art, the NSF and Esche in 2008. Or to put it another way –

“Gentlemen, let’s get to work.
Unger, didn’t you serve under Oveur in the Air Force?
Not directly. Technically, Dunn was under Oveur and I was under Dunn.
So, Dunn, you were under Oveur and over Unger.
That’s right. Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn.
So, you see, both Dunn and I were under Oveur, even though I was under Dunn.
Dunn was over Unger, and I was over Dunn.” 13

That is not to say Terminal Convention is completely over done with previously exhibited artists and curators for there are some new faces but surprisingly not one Cork artist! I enjoy Seamus Nolan’s work and praised his last commission (see ), however one is entitled to question the publicly funded organization whose Programme Manager’s private art/curatorial practice gives rise to the possibility of a perceived conflict of interest even if one does not exist. It is also reasonable to ask whether a publicly funded Arts organization should reflect the personal interests of the person holding that position or should it reflect the aims and policies of the institution? Of course at times these positions may come together and this is where a curatorial policy should allay our concerns. It should also tell us that the Arts Council funded organization think through these issues and address them. Unfortunately the NSF has not made public any curatorial policies relating to these commissions so the arts community has no way of knowing what it might be or if one exists at all. Terminal Convention on the other hand has published a curatorial policy. It reads –

“Curatorial Policy
The participating galleries and project spaces have been invited due to the quality of artistic policy of their respective organizations. They are either known to the Terminal Convention selection team or have affiliations with the artists who are represented in the main exhibition… This invitation policy is also reflected in the exhibition, symposium and music elements of the project.” 14

This policy would seem to suggest the old adage of it’s who you know in Ireland has actually become official policy for Terminal Convention! Is that why the NSF are involved? Or is it for the quality of their “artistic policy”? Which is?

So how did Terminal Convention come to Cork? Maybe Charles Eche can tell us. In 2005 Leire Vergara undertook an interview with Charles. It was titled, Art, Possibility and Democracy.

“In Cork, though, we’re at an introductory phase. It
would be ideal if we were to hold this meeting every year for maybe five consecutive years, inviting the same people each time. The problem, needless to say, is money.”

It’s interesting to think the word Caucus actually means an inner group or dare I say it an elite in:

“ A closed meeting of people from one political party, especially a local meeting to select delegates or candidates.” 15

Martin Healy whose work often utilizes photography is the third artist selected for a NSF commission. Healy was not part of Cork Caucus. He has had his photographs exhibited at the Glucksman Gallery (2006) and the Crawford gallery (2007 and also 2010). The Glucksman and the Crawford often support photography, so this medium is not something underexposed in Cork, although you would not immediately associate it with a ‘Sculpture’ Factory. Until that is you realize that one of the four commissions in 2008 was also a photograph (remember Sean Lynch’s billboard photo of a pile of white powder that looked suspiciously like cocaine) 16. With Healy being selected it means of the seven NSF commissions awarded since 2007, two have gone to lens based practitioners or works. Maybe this is becoming policy? How would we know? What we do know is the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh is also exceptionally dedicated to the lens of photography. And that is where we need to enter terminal connections to take our next flight.

Flying High II (the sequel)

“Shanna, they bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into. I say, let ’em crash.” 17

Peggy Sue Amison is the Sirius’s [Artistic] Director. On Amison’s biography page of Foto Fest-Paris 2010, it says –

“One of the main aims of Sirius Arts Centre’s programming is to support the development of photography as an art form and to raise the level of discourse on photography.” 18

Amison is herself a photographer and the above statement intertwines her personal practice with the Arts Council funded Arts Centre she administers. In her profile on Linkedin it lists Peggy Sue Amison’s interests as: “Developing new networks for photographers in Ireland and abroad.” 19 Recently her professional career as a photographer/curator took her to Lodz in Poland where she co-curated the International Festival of Photography. Her selection of four ‘photographers’ included artists Chris Hurley (also Manager of the Cork Film Centre) and Sandra Minchin (Cork artist/curator) and two others.

Amison also co-curated the recent Shanghai exhibition “Postcards From The Celtic Tiger” 20. Her co-curator was Chris Hurley. It was claimed that this exhibition “…presents a collection of some of Ireland’s most dynamic visual artists utilising photography and video in the country today.” 21 Coincidentally a number of these dynamic visual artists also happened to be connected with the film centre and the Sirius as organizations. They included Sarah Iremonger, the only other paid staff member at the Sirius and the two Board members Harry Moore and the sound artist Danny McCarthy. Obviously the Sirius support was not enough because the Sirius Arts Centre received a grant from Culture Ireland of 7,500 euros. This financial support was spread between the two curators Peggy Sue Amison & Chris Hurley and three of the sixteen artists including Sandra Minchin and Sirius Board member Harry Moore.

Sandra Minchin, has also included Amison in her own curatorial practice including the “Fruitcakes and Furrycollars exhibition at the Bridge House Bed and Breakfast in Skibbereen, West Cork…” 22 This 2009 exhibition also included Sirius staff member Sarah Iremonger amongst other artists including Chris Hurley, Manager of the Cork Film Centre (CFC) who participated not only as an artist but also –

“The Cork Film Centre were the sponsors of this event…” 23

The Cork City Council/Arts Council funded Sirius Arts Centre and the Cork Film Centre jointly supported/sponsored the exhibition Bittersweet curated by Peggy Sue Amison and Sandra Minchin at the Macroom Town Hall in August 2010. Amison and Minchin included themselves as artists and also artist Chris Hurley who again supported the exhibition through the Film Centre. See: Following her curatorial collaborations with Peggy Sue Amison on Bittersweet, Sandra Minchin exhibited a one-person exhibition of photography at the Sirius Arts Centre that opened in October 2010. On the Sirius web site it thanked the Cork Film Centre for their support with this exhibition.

All my Lovin

The idea which became All My Lovin’ began during the Meeting Place review at Photofest Houston 2 years ago (2008). Krzysztof and I [Peggy Sue Amison] reviewed and saw a lot of photographs about love and relationships… One artist’s work in particular, Doug Dubois’ … really stuck with us…These conversations led us to other conversations about human relationships…What makes us pick certain people over others?” 24

The Krzysztof mentioned would be the same Krzysztof who attended the Sirius in February 2011 for an event funded through Culture Ireland. Doug Dubois also mentioned above, has been supported with two residencies in successive years (2009 and 2010 – according to the Sirius web site) at the four-bedroom apartment the Sirius administers and is also included in the exhibition All my Lovin. Amison selected Chris Hurley and Sandra Minchin for ‘All my Lovin which is currently on exhibition at the Crawford Gallery in Cork (February 2011) in association with the Arts Council funded Sirius Arts Centre.

Amison’s role as ‘Artistic’ Director of the Sirius is seemingly intertwined with her curatorial and artistic activities. Is this a problem? I recently had cause to write to Derry O’Driscoll, the Chair of the Board at the Sirius, relating to the Bittersweet touring exhibition. This was because my work, which had been invited into the exhibition, was removed for reasons not communicated to me. Peggy Sue Amison claimed it was simply a “curatorial decision” however could not give any reason for that decision. This exhibition was co-curated by the Director of the Sirius, exhibited the Sirius Director as an artist and was supported/sponsored by the Sirius. Derry O’Driscoll responded to my letter by stating –

“The Sirius has no responsibility in regards this exhibition, nor to the exhibited artists.”

I brought this matter to the Arts Council attention in October 2010. Despite assurances that they would look into the matter I have still not received a written response to my concerns.

“Surely you can’t be serious. I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.” 26


1. Dialogue from Airplane the movie starring Leslie Nielsen.
2. E-mail to the author from Seamus Nolan on 28 December 2010 16:16, subject: invitation to participate in art work
4. (see: )
5. Dialogue from the script of Airplane starring Leslie Nielsen.
6. Radion On was prject Donz undertook in Cork.
7. Page 438, Cork Caucus on art, possibility & democracy, National Sculpture Factory publication.
9. D’Art report number 4 , Conflict of Interest Policies in Arts and Culture Funding Agencies
10. IBID
11. Page 75, Gaynor, fergal, Gathering on the Grounds of Art/Grassroots phase, Cork Caucus, National Sculpture Factory publication.
12. According to an NSF press release.
15. Taken from Microsoft Word’s Encarta dictionary.
16. Sean Lynch, Circa magazine Ireland 2008 Summer edition, (see under critical writing).
17. Dialogue from the script of Airplane starring Leslie Nielsen.
21. IBID
24. International Festival of Photography in Lodz, Poland,, Interview with Peggy Sue Amison.
25. See Sirius web site.
26. Dialogue from the script of Airplane starring Leslie Nielsen.

John Kelly


  1. Cork Artist

    I enjoyed this article. I think that it is put it in context by opening on our (Ireland’s) cultural and institutional dysfunction. I hope that artists will begin to demand accountability from state funded institutions and the managers of state funded art projects. Perhaps their responses will clear them of wrong doing, although, I suspect not in all cases.

  2. Brian L McCarthy

    Mr Kelly,
    My memory of the Fruitcakes and Furrycollars exhibition that you refer to which was artist lead had over 30 artists included in it, one of whom was your wife Christina Todesco Kelly who exhibited a wedding dress made up of crotchless knickers ?

    Artists lineup: Peg Amison, Amanda Coogan, Aideen Barry, Simon Bennett, Paul Cialis, Iain Cole, Linda Conroy, Amanda Coogan, Lorraine Cooke, Bernadette Cotter, Vicoria Dempsay, Dominic Fee, Grainne Galvin, Maurice Galway, Mags Geaney, Chris Hurley, Sarah Iremonger, Marianne Keating, Max La Cain, Paul La Rocque, Breda Lynch, Maleonn, Sandra Minchin, Ciara Morre, Dan Murphy, Amelia Norman, Frances O’Connor, Harold Offeh, Jill Ronayne, Christina Todesco Kelly.

    Also all the artists donated a piece of artwork that was auctioned in aid of the West Cork Arts Centre Building fund and which raised a lot of money for them.
    So do you not think you are being hypercritical ?

  3. Brian McCarthy

    Interesting that my last comment was taken down so let me repeat it for you Mr.Kelly
    The Fruitcakes and Furrycollars exhibition/event you refer to which was an artist lead project included your wife Christina Todesco Kelly who exhibited a wedding dress made up of crotchless knickers did it not?

    Artists lineup: Peg Amison, Amanda Coogan, Aideen Barry, Simon Bennett, Paul Cialis, Iain Cole, Linda Conroy, Amanda Coogan, Lorraine Cooke,Christina Todesco Kelly, Bernadette Cotter, Vicoria Dempsay, Dominic Fee, Grainne Galvin, Maurice Galway, Mags Geaney, Chris Hurley, Sarah Iremonger, Marianne Keating, Max La Cain, Paul La Rocque, Breda Lynch, Maleonn, Sandra Minchin, Ciara Morre, Dan Murphy, Amelia Norman, Frances O’Connor, Harold Offeh, Jill Ronayne.
    Each artist donated an art piece for an auction that was held in aid of the West Cork ArtsCentre Building fund, the auction did very well and the work and through this event raised a lot of money for the West Cork ArtsCentre.

    I find this article totally hypercritical.

  4. Brian McCarthy

    I would like to know why my comments have not been posted ?

    They have – Art Life Management

  5. Dear Brian L McCarthy or is simply Brian McCarthy?

    1) You describe my article as “hypercritical”. I would like to ask how my article been overly critical? I can’t follow your logic as you give no examples of this hyper-criticism. You only mention an exhibition on which I make no criticisms at all!

    2) You say that the Fruitcakes and Furrycollars was artist lead. What does this mean? As it would seem to contradicted by the Cork Film Centre (CFC) web site which states that the: “CFC is presenting Fruitcakes and Furrycollars, an exhibition curated by Sandra Minchin at the Bridge House Bed and Breakfast in Skibbereen, West Cork.” The Manager of the CFC and the curator of the exhibition were participating artists (along with another staff member of the CFC). Is this what you mean by artist lead? Maybe you can clarify this?

    3) The success of the auction attached to Fruitcakes and Furrycollars was irrelevant to my essay. However as you raised it I checked with the West Cork Arts Centre. Their response is below.

    “Lots 1 – 25 were donated by the artists and the auction sales were split 60% Cork Film Centre to cover project costs and 40% to WCAC Building Fund. For subsequent works brought to auction, the sales were split 60% to the artists, 20% to Cork Film Centre and 20% to WCAC Building Fund.”

    If as you say it raised “a lot of money” for the WCAC then the Cork Film Centre did even better.


    John Kelly

  6. Cork Artist

    Mr McCarthy,

    I find it interesting that you criticise John Kelly for being hypercritical (sic) and cite a fundraising auction (with works donated from each artist) in support of what you are attempting to argue. Frankly I fail to see your logic.
    Mr Kelly’s argument hinges on the lack of accountability, transparency and sense of fair play in the Irish arts scene. I fail to see how the raising money for an institution, would automatically absolve any curator from having to account for their actions and decisions.

    I understand that the same exhibiting and donating artists (from Fruitcakes and Furrycollars) were also required to pay a fee (25euro?) in order to be included in the exhibition. It seems routine to squeeze money, artworks and time out of Irish artists to the benefit of a small few individual curators and artists who gain status from offering such financial supports.

    As Kelly states “the state of Ireland and has made many people question their desire to live in a country that seems to be institutionally and culturally dysfunctional.”

  7. Dear Cork Artist

    Thank you for your contribution.

    Mr McCarthy broadens the issues addressed in my article and also quite rightly points out that my wife was included in this exhibition. This means I have been able to access some further information on the Fruitcakes auction that she refers to. Maybe we could explore this issue further as it confirms your points regarding the artist fee.

    In reference to the Fruitcakes exhibition I will quote from the correspondence sent to each artist.

    “The cost of renting the house for the week will be a thousand euros. I hate having to do this but we will be asking the artist for the following, a 25 euro fee and one donated piece of art work which is to be auctioned on either the Friday or Saturday, if the work is sold the funds will be split to cover the cost of the show and part fund raiser for the West Cork Arts Center,you can submit up to three pieces of art work for the auction but there will be a 40 per cent commission on the work…There will be a minimum reserve on the donated art piece of a hundred euros.”

    The e-mail to the artists failed to mention the actual percentage split in favor of the Fim Centre. Brian L McCarthy also forgets to mention that 60% of the funds raised from the donated works went to the Cork Film Centre. A few simple maths tells us that:

    30 artists x 25 euros = 750 euros
    30 donated art works at the 100 euro reserve = 3000 euros minimum (unless not sold).
    On top of this we have to add the 40% commission on other works auctioned.
    750 euros plus 1800 euros (60% of 3000 euros) = 2550 + euros to the Cork Film Centre based on 30 works selling for their reserve.

    Having attended, bid and bought two pieces for a total of 580 euros at the auction my memory suggests some works sold for well in excess of their reserve. I will check with the WCAC on the amount they received however even if we calculate the amounts on the minimums as set above and then offset that against the known costs (venue hire) it is conceivable that the CFC may well have made a profit on this exhibition (without knowing the other costs it is impossible to be certain). Maybe in the spirit of a new Ireland, with a new government, one with more transparency, accountability and fair play the Arts Council funded CFC could publish the figures from this exhibition? At the very least and whatever the profit or loss statement might have been on their donations it would at the very least have been polite and proper for the Cork Film Centre to inform the artists of the results of their generosity along with an appropriate thank you. That this never occurred is another sad example of the way artists are treated by Cork’s publicly funded art institutions.

    We should thank Brian L McCarthy (what does that L stand for?) for bringing this issue further into the public realm.


    John Kelly

  8. Cork Artist

    You are a great sport. I just don’t have that in me but perhaps in the fullness of time I will end up thanking Mr McCarthy for opening up the debate.

  9. Honest criticism means nothing: what one wants is unrestrained passion, fire for fire – Henry Miller

  10. The West Cork Art Centre have contacted me with a figure raised by the auction. They tell me that €1,622 was raised for their building fund.

    Therefore the above figures would be roughly accurate given that the CFC would have made 20% more than the WCAC and the €750 from the artist fees. Around €2500 plus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.