Atypical Gallery in Belfast is dedicated to exhibiting the work of disabled and deaf artists. Jane McCormick is showing a series of drawings, prints and assemblages there from 12th November to 21st December. Review by Julie McNamara
No visit to Belfast is ever complete without dropping into the University of Atypical to see what’s on in the gallery, whatever have they pinned to their walls this time? I have been a persistent stalker of theirs since the early days of their coming in to being as Arts Disability Forum.
This visit was an emotional one for me, post funeral, I’ve been in the path of a hurricane sweeping through this house, windswept with visceral grief after my Mother’s death. But something in this collection, this journey through Not Half Right woke me to the very essence of life itself when I encountered the powerful voice inside the work of Jane McCormick. I quietly entered the hallowed halls of a shrine to pain, to what she describes as ‘a monologue of misery… peppered with moments of levity to sweeten the pill’ and laughed with delight.
I was bowled over by this artwork with its extraordinary ephemera to an ailing life; a life of persistent sickness and endless searches for the cure; a life of devotion to the holy shrines of repentance and forgiveness.
I loved the bitterness, the barely concealed irony and the sheer mischief of this body of work with its demolition of sacred symbols and its insouciant reframing of what Jane McCormick describes as ‘medically related tat’. It is a gloriously bold narrative of chronic pain and how to live with the damning draining exhaustion of it. It is a testament to her own guts to flourish in spite of it all and to survive the omnipresent messages of being a failed human, a failed Catholic, a failing woman in contemporary Ireland – ‘bad with the nerves you know.’
McCormick’s work challenges us with its brilliantly astute, shrewdly observed commentary on the human condition. She shares with us her intimate journey through debilitating pain and re-frames it through exquisite drawings, bold prints, wittily decorated ceramic plates, extraordinary assemblages or carefully painted self-portraits on found objects and hoarded medicine bottles.
She confronts us with our existential anxieties, our need to control our own death, our vulnerability, our ageing minds and failing health. She gently mocks our need to make sense of life, puts the gun to our head and pulls the trigger when she’s had enough of our ubiquitous messages about her pain, her failure to thrive in a series of responses to ‘the Housewife’s Headache’ that feel like reclaimed images from the 1950s, but they smell of fresh ink – as we are still selling these messages in 2018.
Take time to go and see this exhibition, to pore over the contents of the jars, pick apart the assemblages and find the messages staring boldly back at us.
Jane McCormick is an essential, vital voice among contemporary artists in Ireland with something exciting to say about our very being in the world; in spite of all the pain, the ridiculous journeys we take ourselves on, if you can find a moment to laugh, to mock, to grin back at the haters, your spirit will survive. It still hurts, but you’ll feel more alive.
Atypical Gallery, 109-113 Royal Avenue, Belfast BT1 1FF
Gallery opening times: 11:00am to 4:00pm Tuesday to Friday
Step-free access and a warm welcome.