Jennifer Cunningham and Tim Acheson – Notions Through Art

Notions Through Art is an exhibition located at 126 Gallery in Galway from 1st September to 9th September. It is an exhibition curated to reflect the multi-faceted cultural interests of Galway grassroots organisation An Ait Eile. As part of the wider series of events taking place in September An Ait Eile art editor Gianna Tasha, along with artist Susan Roche have brought together work by ten artists who are either based in or from Galway, and who’s creativity and work reflect the transverse between the An Ait Eile subsections of  art, ecology, music, theatre, literature and film. Art editor Gianna Tasha chats to Jennifer Cunningham about her and her partner Tim Achesons art practice and the challenges faced to sustain such work.

Gianna Tasha: It is a real honour to have both  your and Tims  work in the Notions Through Art exhibition.  You guys are a couple with young family. I am always interested in the challenges faced by artists who have children. You are parents who both have art practices along with full time employment or self employed like you Jennifer, and who both attempt to sustain a practice while faced with very little exterior funding or opportunities. You guys also live in a  peripheral town, adding more challenges to consistent art practice. Can I ask you how you both keep up with an art practice and how you manage to juggle family life with the precarious nature of creative work?

Jennifer Cunningham: We are both very excited to be taking part in the Notions through Art exhibition. As you know yourself it is very challenging at times keeping up an art practice and supporting your family at the same time. We try to think outside the box and cut costs when we can. We up-cycle and have second hand items. Being a sculptor, Tim is very handy and good at problem solving. He made a lot of the furniture in our house including our beds, resulting in much better hand crafted furniture than anything you could buy in a shop

We try to work opposite each other. I juggle four different jobs and I run my own Art School in Galway city which I greatly enjoy as I meet a wide range of different people. I teach all levels from beginners to those looking to pursue an M.A and all mediums, including portfolio preparation and printmaking.  I have set aside studio time in the week, sometimes I work off the kitchen table and I have converted our front porch into a studio. Tim mostly works with video and photography now and takes frequent trips to Connemara to do research. We have a large shed out the back of the house which we are planning to convert into a studio space in time. My mother is also an artist, she has recently completed her degree in fine Art in GMIT and she was a great support to us when we need to get work completed. She understands the struggle of being an artist, being one herself.

It is an interesting point to note that in every other career, its taken for granted that you will take maternity leave… yet most artists feel guilty if they take some time out, which is unbalanced in my view, but didn’t stop me feeling guilty all the same.

We try to connect with other artists when we can and make a point of attending occasional openings in Galway city and Dublin. Its also easier being in a satellite  town as the nature of communication has changed. There is a much greater online presence now as opposed to 1999 when I first graduated.

Gianna Tasha: I think having a designated workspace can really help with practice. It did for me when I had a studio outside the home. You mention four jobs, I think that is indicative of those who work in the art sphere, unless in admin or management it is a constant juggle. Have you both been able to secure funding to support your practice. You had a high profile show in the RHA in Dublin which received very positive reviews which I am sure might help with funding streams? I would think in the long term four jobs is pretty unsustainable.

Jennifer Cunningham: You do need to shut off from people. It was certainly a massive help for me earlier this year when I did a short term residency in StudioNine prior to my show in the R.H.A. . The feedback I received from yourself and other artists there was also extremely vital and important, in a way it was more important than the space itself.. We held a preview of the work before it went to Dublin which allowed me to see all my work as a body of work together and get an idea of which direction I was headed in.
I think for me having time and space is the biggest asset. Both of us find having the time and space to do work quite difficult. The Show in the R.H.A  has helped certainly as Galway County Council recently awarded me an Artist Bursary. It will allow me to purchase materials and to set aside time to continue my practice.

Four jobs in the long term is certainly unsustainable but you do what you do to keep going. It won’t be forever, its just for a few years until we have less to pay on our mortgage. I also do most of my teaching work following the school term, so its fairly intense from September until June. I do have more time to concentrate on my practice. I also read a reassuring article recently about all those two/three/ four hour stretches adding up into something big.

Gianna Tasha: Yes, I think what can sometimes be overlooked by those who don’t work in the field is the sheer work ethic you need, aswell as extreme resilience to keep going. I know this challenge myself especially when it comes to outlays for materials, time management and the constant juggle of family. I would love for you to guys to outline a little about the work going into the show, the themes which you both explore in your work for those who are not familiar?

 Jennifer Cunningham: I will be submitting two to three works for An Ait eile, They fit in with the theme of the exhibition as we both know the meaning of An Ait eile is another place. Earlier this year, I had quite a bit of fun exploring other spaces with friends around Galway city. Tim Acheson, Elaine Mears, Susan Roche and a few other friends snuck into the Corrib great southern hotel and Heneghan’s glass houses in Mervue. A little help from friends makes making work easier and I enjoy collaborating with other artists.

We were caught by the artist (Jane Talbot) who lived in the house attached to Heneghan’s glasshouses and she kindly invited us to a party that was taking place there that night.. and gave us permission to continue filming there. Sadly the glass houses were suddenly demolished without permission during our shoot which changed the whole feel of the piece. The developers ironically have now applied for retention, planning permission- which seems a bit late, you cant exactly put a broken glass house back together.

For the exhibition in 126 Tim and I will be showing work documenting abandoned spaces. He will be showing digital prints of a derelict caravan in Manin bay and I will be showing some mixed media drawings of the Corrib great southern hotel among other works.
These pieces depict liminal spaces and therefore create uncanny compositions that alternate between feeling familiar and unfamiliar so are an interesting take on “An Ait eile”

Tim’s new work deals with the duality of a sense of perspective. Although we observe our surrounding landscape we are simultaneously in a landscape of memory  and outside references. The work looks at the simultaneous nature of seeing and memory, perspective and location.


More on Tims work can be found here


Information on Jennifers art classes can be found here