I first caught a glimpse of Brónach McGuinness's work on the stairs of the grand old Orpheus building at the University of Ulster. Jutting out of the banister and disrupting an otherwise overlooked thoroughfare, this initial intervention into the existing fabric of the building stopped me in my tracks and offered a welcome moment of contemplation amidst the unavoidable clamour of the degree show opening night.
At a glance, the work seemed to extend out from the original balustrade, with wood and metal shooting skyward before curving sharply to reconnect with the handrail above. From another angle, the piece became a kind of embedded sculptural parenthesis, forcing a consideration of the space caught within it - the edge and underbelly of the staircase next to it, and the stained glass windows just in view behind the work.
A further wooden installation by the artist was to be found on the landing outside the old ballroom, existing, much like the stair piece, as a worthy aesthetic object in itself but also further connecting with the architectural interior of the building, highlighting the simple beauty of the original timber wall panelling in the area.
The main body of McGuinness's work was exhibited within the ballroom itself (another superb space), contained, to my surprise and delight, within the painting department. Here, several more wooden pieces were displayed on the walls and floor of the space in a delicate and considered arrangement; some obviously painted, whilst other more interesting works were transformed through subtle and intuitive mark-making on the wood grain, complicating the familiar surfaces on what may have initially been considered found objects.
McGuinness's work seems to stem from a practice confidently rooted in painting, but it is one that particularly responds and reacts in a very sophisticated manner to the spaces in which it inhabits. In this case, the space in question was the Orpheus building, a significant structure currently under threat due to the planned redevelopment of this campus at the university. Through her site-specific interventions in particular, McGuinness showcased not only her own assured artworks as part of the degree show, but also a beautiful space in our city that may not be with us much longer.
For more information on the artist please visit www.bronachmcguinness.com