In the midst of lockdown, as galleries had to keep their doors firmly closed, the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda announced a competition that was ‘developed in response to the constraints of the current global situation’. The award, announced at the end of April, is a new biannual competition with an open submission process for artists working on the island of Ireland. The top award, the Janet Mullarney Prize, is €3,000, with four accompanying awards of €500 each for highly commended works.
In May, some 517 artists made online submissions through the gallery’s portal. The judges – curator Sean Kissane of IMMA, artist Joy Gerrard and gallerist Jerome O Drisceoil – had their work cut out for them. They were unanimous, however, in their selection for the major prize – awarded to artist Bernie Masterson for her film Flight – which was announced just five weeks after the launch of the competition.
Of her winning film, Masterson says: ‘Flight is a reference to the story of Icarus in Greek mythology. The visual and the audio are an embodiment of the dramatic inner dialogue, simultaneously questioning the nature of our existence, behaviour and morality in a global climate of uncertainty and fear of the unknown.’
Perhaps reflecting the high standard of submissions, a further five artists (not four) were each awarded €500 for their highly commended works: Laura Fitzgerald, Helen Gorey, Alasdair Asmussen Doyle, Susan Buttner and Elaine Grainger.
The whole process, from the conception of the idea to the announcement of the winners, all happened with Ireland in full lockdown. Furthermore, a purchasing exhibition of the award winners and shortlisted artists’ works was mounted in the gallery in June, with installation images and a video available to view online.
Hats off to Highlanes director Aoife Ruane and congratulations to all involved.