Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

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Curator Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes and artist Brian Connolly developed this proposal during the 2013 Curatorial Intensive in Londonderry. The proposal later became the exhibition Performance Art + Northern Ireland at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, on view from August 13 – September 30, 2015.

Northern Irish performance art is well regarded, and has both substantial and developing international networks in addition to a track record of sustained, experimental practice for the past 40 years. It has established a global reputation for the innovative ways in which it has engaged with the political duality of the “Troubles” and their resulting contested spaces. However, it is still a very much an “underrepresented narrative,” bound up with local history.

There is currently no written or focused documentary history of Northern Irish Performance Art (as there is with its Welsh equivalent). There is a mere mention of Alastair MacLennan’s name in one of the official Arts Council-commissioned essays on art and the Troubles––nothing more, despite MacLennan’s prolific and internationally regarded practice. His omission from local art history exemplifies that Performance Art is thus far under-appreciated by audiences, writers, and funding bodies in Northern Ireland.

The performance artist Brian Connolly and art historian Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes are co-curators of this exhibition and its related events, featuring a range of the key and influential artists who moved to Northern Ireland in the 1970s (MacLennan), or artists from Northern Ireland (Andre Stitt, Sandra Johnston, Sinead Breathnach-Cashel, Brian Connolly, and Bbeyond). Other more temporary but impactful presences were Joseph Beuys in 1974, Adrian Hall, Black Market International, Dan Shipsides, Sinead O’Donnell, and selected key members of the Polish, British, and continental European performance art movements. The proposed exhibition is an initial historical survey of Performance Art in Northern Ireland.

One of performance art’s strengths is its ability to provoke, to inhabit the interstices, to remain fluid, flexible, and mobile. Such strategies have enabled it to remain independent and not co-opted by one side or the other in the local conflict. Much of MacLennan’s performance artwork (and that of others) has achieved this. His work Target (1977), literally a going back and forth across the security barriers within the city centre, is an early example. Stitt’s visceral performance actions in response to political bigotry and violence have also resonated through time.

Performance art has been brought into the foreground through projects such as Available Resources (Orchard Gallery, Derry 1991) and Exchange Resources (Catalyst Arts, Belfast 1995 with Connolly, MacLennan and others).

Key individual practices and organisational aspirations eventually led to the evolution of Bbeyond in 2001, an artist-led organisation, which has generated a wide range of international events within Northern Ireland (In Place of Passing, Inbound, Open Relations 1 & 2), while offering a spring board for younger artists and a link to growing international networks. Bbeyond continues to host a series of monthly meetings in different locations throughout Northern Ireland, which are open to all performers.

This exhibition and its constituent parts are highly challenging, as performance art’s basic tenet is that it should be seen and experienced live. This has to be honoured within the proposed exhibition format. An exhibition of performance art may well work with some performance “relics,” sculptures, and installations; but an exhibition that claims to be a survey also needs to work with scheduled events, recorded performances, archival documentation, and possibly “re-performances” (some of them fraught concepts that could prompt severe criticism).

The global art historical, theoretical, and institutional debates about the appropriate representation(s) of performance art are also contested and ongoing. The often collaborative, egalitarian, engaged, and site-specific nature of performance art in Northern Ireland will make this exhibition challenging to curate, but aims to follow international best practice concerning performance art exhibitions. It is envisaged that, as it is the first survey of the Performance Art history of Northern Ireland, it needs to be internationally received.

The Golden Thread Gallery will present a series of documentary artefacts, still photography, video, film, and other archival materials, and will also host a series of performances from key artists such as MacLennan, Johnston, Connolly, and Bbeyond.

An accompanying publication will serve as an important historical map from which to achieve orientation. A series of educational seminars and potential artist workshops are being planned and will also form part of the exhibition programme.

Key Contributing Artists:

Alastair MacLennan
Currently Emeritus Professor in Fine Art at the Belfast School of Art, University of Ulster, Belfast. He is one of the UK’s preeminent performance artists. Since 1975 he has been based in Belfast and was a founding member of Belfast’s Art and Research Exchange & Bbeyond. He is also a member of the European Performance Group ‘Black Market International.’ He currently travels extensively presenting ‘actuations’ (his term for performance/installations).

Sandra Johnston
One of the foremost performance artists from Northern Ireland, who recently completed a retrospective exhibition at the Golden Thread Gallery. She also authored a book entitled Beyond Reasonable Doubt about the relationships between legal systems of conflict resolution and the role that performance (art) plays and can play in a contested society such as Northern Ireland.

Brian Connolly
He developed a genre of performance art called ‘install-action’ and has created a series of interactive Market Stall Performances. He has performed and exhibited in diverse contexts throughout Europe, the U.S., and China. He has also initiated and curated events and projects both nationally and internationally. He is a co-founder of Bbeyond and a former director of The Sculptors’ Society of Ireland and Visual Artists Ireland. He established the Belfast International Festival of Performance Art in 2013.

Bbeyond is a Belfast-based collective, committed to promoting the practice of performance art and artists in Northern Ireland and further afield. It hosts international artists and encourages emerging artists to explore their performance practice.

Learn More

To learn more about this proposal please email Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes at To learn more about the Curatorial Intensive email