Golden Fleece winner shortlisted for Venice Biennale

Large-scale Jacquard tapestry from ‘Inscription IV’ Photo Andy Keate.


Among the major postponements of arts events due to Covid-19 restrictions is the 2021 Venice Art Biennale, which has been moved to 2022. Shortlisted to represent Ireland at Venice is artist Ailbhe Ní Bhriain (with curators Mary Hickson and Francis McKee). Ní Bhriain was also the overall winner of the Golden Fleece Award earlier this year. While the award’s criteria were initially restricted to craft and figurative visual art, in 2018 these were broadened to include all forms of visual, craft and applied arts.

Ní Bhriain describes her work as ‘a kind of suspended storytelling’, in which she assembles diverse elements and juxtaposes different processes – including CGI, photography, film and collage – to challenge established practices of representation. Her work plays with and dislodges master narratives in order to highlight their absences and contradictions; a central aim is to interrupt the flow and traditional categorisations in order to question representation and its conventions, whether manifested in a museum collection, a portrait or as an edit in a film narrative.

A key element in her recent show, ‘Inscription IV’, is a large-scale Jacquard tapestry that combines ‘colonial portrait photography with imagery of excavated quarry walls’. Her award will allow her to extend her work with materials, such as the Jacquard tapestry. With the Jacquard loom – which is based on a system of binary code and inspired the Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace – Ní Bhriain plans ‘to explore the backwards transition from the virtual to the tactile’. She intends to work with Flanders Tapestries in Belgium, as well as exploring the casting of hybrid objects from found, crafted and AI-generated, 3D-printed forms at the Bronze Art Foundry in Dublin.

Originally from Clare, she has a BA in Fine Art from the Crawford College of Art in Cork, an MFA from the Royal College of Art, London, and a PhD from Kingston University in London. Her work has recently been seen at Dublin’s TBGS; VISUAL, Carlow; Sirius, Cobh; and Crawford Gallery in Cork.

The final selection for Ireland’s representation in Venice will be announced later this year.

Stephanie McBride