Threshold Visual Arts – A Case for the Future

© Tony Knox

Threshold Visual Arts – A Case for the Future

by Kirsten Hawkins

You probably didn’t get the memo.

I didn’t either, and neither did my close artist friends.

As it happens, Threshold did have a visual arts presence at its music and arts festival. Don’t worry if you weren’t made aware of the open call for submissions this year though, because there wasn’t one.

Visual Arts cards were kept very close to curators Andy Minnis’ and Jazamin Sinclair’s chest this year for a very good reason: there wasn’t really meant to be a 2018 festival, so the result was a scaled down version of the popular Baltic Triangle smorgasbord.

Artists who did get to feature in this exhibition were specially invited to participate, many of whom are familiar names from previous years.

The theme was simply Across the Threshold with no strict criteria for entries. The result was an interesting collection of delights that decorated the walls of the Hobo Kiosk pub and The Shed within Unit 51.

© Tony Knox

Hobo Kiosk supplied the sublime: a weird and wonderful collection of pieces that you might expect to find in a traditional tavern.

Eimear Kavanagh offered her singular take on the Eye of Providence. In this variation, two feminine eyes peered out of a venetian-style mask that adorned an elongated triangle. From the triangle’s surface was a haunting forest. The eyes were crying tears onto the ground. To me this was indicative of sadness while the female power looked out onto the world, but she could have also been a healing entity.

A visual treat was Cally Stevens’ mixed media 3D installation that incorporated found materials. The twisted paper ropes combined with wires and fairy lights and sprawled across the walls in an enchanting chaos. Stevens describes her work as an exploration of roots and routes, yet the display reminded me of a nautical net washed up on the shore trapping the wealth of the ocean.

Searching for the God Particle was Lee Booth’s submission. Lee excels in both small and large scale pieces, and this one suited the venue perfectly. Featuring Madonna and child imagery, normally associated with the Church, the fragmented style of the piece was suggestive of degradation of faith and a loss of hope.

Jazamin Sinclair’s art found its voice with political sentiments that challenged the status quo. Her satirical ink drawings of the eternally orange Donald Trump and her colourful renaming of Margaret Thatcher showed a willingness to stand up to critique without apology.

Also adopting a political brief, Ruth Dillon’s visual and audio piece Hold looked at Palestine as a way to question the links between geography and identity. By employing the narrative of a refugee, Dillon explored the emotional effect of displacement on migrants.

Over at Unit 51’s The Shed was a gallery retreat where you could really get up close to the artwork.

Pam Sullivan’s stunningly crafted houses were perched on the rungs of a builder’s step ladder. It drew you in instantly, but the stark explanation of 300,000 people registered homeless seemed incongruous with the beautiful cardboard residences.

The houses were decorated individually, some more elaborate than others, which made me think of injustice and inequality. The stacks of two or three could have easily symbolised the people who own more than one abode while others sleep on the streets.

Yet the main feature was society’s ladder. Houses sat below it and all the way up. Our wealth rests on our labour, and ladders are symbolic of a trade. Work is the backbone to success, and without work, we all fall off the ladder into obscurity without the foundation of a functioning welfare system.

Emma Lloyd’s “Translate” was a visually enticing video projection featuring anonymous hands cutting out the letters of that same word. The process represented the inadequacy of language to express complex ideas or emotions.

Something Went Wrong by Michael Stevenson was created using PowerPoint, and was a montage of text, images and moving graphics. Using irony and a hint of satire, Stephenson appeared to be taking the mundane messaging from everyday life completely out of context in order that it made no sense and seemed utterly ridiculous. Examples included unsubscribe links from emails. He raised a smile with the absurdity of the phrase: “Can I have a black latte please?”

The Ley Holdings Group Building was the stage for Threshold 2018’s parting gift to the Baltic Triangle. A live-painted mural on the wall depicting a child’s cherubic face remains as a legacy and really speaks to what the Baltic is all about: street art that feels more relevant to an audience who wouldn’t necessarily approach a traditional art gallery. The artist Danny O’Connor created this portrait of his little girl Ava, proof that the best subject matter is something close to your heart.

This year’s visual arts section at Threshold Festival has been small but beautifully formed. Visual arts needs to stay at the heart of the festival programme if Threshold is to retain its mark of originality over other music events. It was my observation that visual arts didn’t take up much of the conversation concerning the future of the festival but to overlook it would be to alienate a significant proportion of Threshold’s fan-base.

© Tony Knox