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CAC and MAC

So after much resistance, yesterday I finally visited the newly built Metropolitan Arts Centre, formerly the glorious Old Museum Arts Centre and I was not disappointed. The building fully met my low expectations. It took a while to find a functional entrance, which is tucked away in an ugly courtyard full of gym-bunnies and ladies who lunch. For me it is a visualization of the Ministry of Truth or something equally oppressive. As a building it is an architectural wonder, but as a purpose-built arts venue it is not fit-for-purpose. Very few of the gallery spaces are conducive to effective installations or exhibitions. I only peeked into one of the theatre studios in which the seating looked cramped. Maria McKinney's installation 'Somewhere but here, another other place' was interesting and I'd recommend a look but the space just sucked away anything imaginative or playful I might otherwise have felt. All I could feel throughout the building was a personal insult as a taxpayer who cannot afford to attend its box officed events. I was affronted by the message on its every 'poor box' that it was free for me to visit the MAC today so please give what I can. As a taxpayer I have given more than enough. Further, it is shameful that a venue promoting itself as Belfast's 'flagship' creative arts venue refuses to integrate with any others - it won't share its toys and no one else's are good enough for it. I continue to mourn OMAC and the old Lyric. The new ones are dead to me anyway.

On a lighter note, I had a lovely time meeting young Belfast-based artist Dorothy Hunter who currently has an installation in the Crescent Arts Centre - a building refurbished with its users in mind. 'Proposal for a Post Cell' is the culmination of Dorothy's time as CAC's 2011-12 Emerging Artist and is open daily until 7th July. It is an abstract MDF almost to scale version of a single cell from a Maze H-block, a context which raises many issues. The exterior walls and furniture are clinical in their hard-lined design and yet much rougher than the reality due to the processed, untreated, flimsy wood that is a world away from the Maze's steel and concrete. Notably there is no cell door, and shapes are cut inwards from the outside, e.g. a rectangular strip protrudes inwards across the lower back wall to represent the heating pipe, which gives a feeling of the outside encroaching on the constricted space inside. There is no light within the cell, only what bleeds in from the doorway and gaps where basic items of furniture sit. The room within a room feeling is very clever, as we have recently only been able to examine the Maze's physicality through the likes of Donovan Wylie, Dara McGrath, Cahal McLaughlin, or Seamus Harahan and Miriam De Burca's photo/videographic works before. The slightly domestic setting in a carpeted room with a fireplace is an effective contrast and reminds me of that 'elephant in the room' analogy of the Troubles.

I may develop the Maze context at a later date as it is prominent in my own research, but Dorothy is also writing about the project in a critical way and has extensive thoughts on the Maze's current liminal position. One option is of course the museum idea, and the site has been a focus of various exhibitions already since full closure and razing. I think Ms Hunter is one to watch for the future.


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