Interview with Jacqui McIntosh

Installation View, ‘The Marienbad Palace’, Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda

Installation view, Laura Buckley, 'In framing light the light frames us', 2010, 'The Marienbad Palace', Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda

The Marienbad Palace opened on the Friday the 30th of April. This exhibition is curated by Jacqui McIntosh on the occasion of the Drogheda Arts Festival and is co-produced by The Highlanes Gallery and Droichead Arts Centre.

I came, I saw, I concluded that the exhibition was not only amazing, but also incredibly clever. I wondered who the mastermind behind this project was and shortly after that I met the curator Jacqui McIntosh in person. We had a highly interesting chat about ‘the art of curating’.

Could you tell me some more about your background?

I’ve had an interest in art since I was a child and originally imagined that I would become an artist. At seventeen I went to Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee where I moved into Textile Design, but always regained an interest in fine art. When I left college I worked as a freelance textile designer and then interactive/graphic designer in London before moving into writing about visual art and working in galleries. In 2003 I won a competition for critical art writing called ‘Bloomberg New Writers’ and from there started writing for the Guardian and various art magazines – that’s really where things began in terms of working in the arts.

How did you get started as a curator? How did you find your route to this career?

Curating has been a natural progression really from writing about art and working in galleries. I moved to Dublin in 2004 and began working with Kevin Kavanagh Gallery where I remained for four and a half years before moving back to London at the end of 2008. My role as Director at Kevin Kavanagh was really varied, encompassing everything from the day to day running of the gallery to marketing and artist management. I was involved in exhibition programming and curated a number of shows whilst I was there, incorporating more artists from outside Ireland into the gallery programme. I learnt a lot from that process, and from the artists that I worked with at the gallery such as Mark O’Kelly, Stephen Loughman and Diana Copperwhite. Kevin was great to work with and gave me lots of freedom and opportunities to develop as a curator.

How do you define a concept for a new exhibition? Where do you find your inspiration?

I’m inspired by lots of things. I grew up in a family where arts and science mixed (my grandfather was a violinist and music was a huge part of our upbringing thanks to my mum – on the other hand my dad and sister are both electrical engineers) with a mix of the rational and creative around me. That has definitely informed my way of seeing the world and I’d draw from a wide variety of sources for inspiration. In terms of ‘The Marienbad Palace’, the initial idea came from an interest in the idea that reality isn’t really what we perceive it to be and a questioning about what it may actually be. I’m intrigued by ideas of modern physics such as superstring theory and the crossover of ideas within science and philosophy but also the thought that all of these theories may give us only a partial glimpse of what reality may be – ultimately there are no certainties. Just as in Plato’s allegory of the Cave, everything presents only a shadow of truth. At the same time I was rediscovering the work of the writer JG Ballard and reading his short stories and the ideas all kind of coalesced around that.

How long did it take to fully organise and curate “The Marienbad Palace”?

Aoife Ruane, Director of the Highlanes and I have been discussing the idea of my curating a show for over a year, and then it was decided that the show would be part of the Drogheda Arts Festival which I was delighted to be part of. When that was decided the process of getting the show together happened quite quickly over the course of a few months.

Which skills do you need to have in order to be a good curator?

Good people and organisational skills, an ability to see and make connections between artists and works, an understanding of a wide variety of art practices and inquisitive mind.

Do you have any favourite artists?

Francis Alys, Mariele Neudecker, Rebecca Horn are some of my favourites – but I’m also really excited by the work by all the artists in the show that I selected – Laura Buckley, Diana Copperwhite, Jorge De La Garza, Alicja Kwade, Haroon Mirza and Ian Monroe. It was a pleasure to work with all of them.

Do you have any media that you prefer to work with in the shows you curate?

I get most excited about combining different types of media

What is your impression of Drogheda?

I’ve had a great time during my stay in Drogheda. Everyone I’ve worked with at the Highlanes and Droichead Arts Centre has been brilliant and has made me feel really welcome. I’ve been to Drogheda quite a lot previously, whether visiting the Highlanes Gallery or en route to Termonfeckin where I’ve spent numerous weekends at An Grianán playing chamber music.

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