‘Niamh O’Malley: Glasshouse’ is a visually interesting exhibition at the Bluecoat. O’Malley uses raw materials (glass) to create contrasting colour and texture combinations. Her work is sculpture and she combines her materials to create 3D compositions. The main emphasis is on surface and how we respond to it, the interpretation of her works is central to understanding and enjoying the exhibition. Glass is a material that we encounter everyday which we don’t usually think of as being an art form. O’Malley changes this, her works show beauty and creativity, cleverly immersing it within a gallery space and making her audience interact with it.
O’Malley’s work is a clear connection between craftsmanship and art, her conceptual works challenge those who want to be challenged, whilst appealing to most on a purely visual level. On your way to the gallery you may encounter many of the examples of glass that O’Malley uses, however she combines them together an innovative way. The glass is never disguised, it is not overly shaped or manipulated, in every work we understand the rawness of the glass. Glass is a man-made material from sand, yet she presents it in a natural, organic form. The density and bright colours juxtapose against mirrored or even clear works. The exhibition is extremely cohesive, providing an insight into both the artist and material.
One of the most interesting pieces is a film in the first gallery space. It shows rock-like blocks of concrete being extracted from a wall. It is filmed used coloured glass filters of colours ranging from harsh, cold blues to warm oranges and dark reds. This part of the exhibition really brings to light the influence of colour on perception, as the same scenes were playing the colour of the filter made some parts seem more mysterious or eerie, whilst others seemed overwhelming, for example the use of red. In the next room is a collection including small sculptural works, such as the featured image. These add context to the video, we begin to see O’Malley’s work as visual pieces that we can interact with. Also in the room is a distorted mirror installation that shows the viewer reflected but also the surrounding in front of the mirror as it is transparent. This can be quite disconcerting for a moment and brings in O’Malley’s theme of interaction.
On the floor there is a small installation of smashed glass, it is noticeably not corded off. This gives the viewer a chance to walk around the object and look at it up close. O’Malley is not too precious and gives the viewer freedom to allow a connection to be made with the work. The next room features a large Duchamp-like installation which has drawings placed within two sections of glass. Once again the transparency of the glass is used to its advantage in a gallery space, connecting both in-front and behind. In the final room, another video installation features a small black square on a piece of glass in front of the camera. This somewhat hypnotising video shows a car journey past mountain landscapes, although seemingly never reaching its destination.
The exhibition is extremely engaging as it has a focus on the material, O’Malley uses the glass to its advantage to make it interactive and meaningful. Her films and sculptures use glass-based techniques to provoke a response and to provide a sense-based experience.
Image: Niamh O’Malley/Bluecoat