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It Takes A Village : St.Benedict’s Photographic Group at the Irish Museum of Modern Art

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The objective of this strand of Dublin’s Culture Connects: The National Neighbourhood is to bring people together to explore art in the Irish Museum of Modern Art and its connection to their life. Through using Visual Thinking Strategies – a slow looking process developed by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, facilitated by the trained facilitator where groups lead the discussion in a collaborative engagement process of looking at art.

So, first introductions – I am Claire Halpin, a visual artist, curator and arts educator with over 15 years experience working in a range of contexts from schools, museum, community and range of groups from Early Years to Older People and everyone else in between!

St. Benedict’s Photographic Group are based in Kilbarrack, set up over 15 years ago by Gerry Doyle recognising the need for unemployed and retired (men initially) to come together with a joint activity and interest – photography. They were like a Men’s Shed before their time – now they welcome women to their group (albeit cautiously a few years ago). They are a very engaging group – hugely enthusiastic, constantly challenge themselves, and generous in their sharing of experiences both technical skills and personal motivations in being part of the group. I have since renamed them The Lens Shed!


So, over four sessions in IMMA – what did we do? What didn’t we do?!

As facilitator I wanted to introduce the group to the range of resources and spectrum of exhibitions at IMMA, so over the weeks we visited the IMMA Collection Exhibition, The Plough and Other Stars; Lucien Freud Exhibition; Heritage Rooms; Formal Gardens and IMMA Residency Programme – via artist Aideen Barry.

As a photographic group they regularly go on field trips / photographic trips, but this was unusual for them to return to the same place over a number of weeks. They documented their own experiences and what they were drawn to over the weeks producing stunning images from their visits (only some of which are included here).


In looking at artworks through VTS discussion, they would analyse it visually and conceptually as well as technically. Particularly in looking at Freud’s paintings, where the light and shadow and rendering of same prompted much discussion. Peter was fascinated by the placement of one small painting off centre on a wall in the upstairs gallery – this prompted a discussion around curating – the conscious and considered placing of work within the gallery space.

The Riccardo Arena and Séamus Nolan installations provoked long discussion drawing on the knowledge and personal interests of the group as they engaged in conversation around identity, religion, belief systems, archaeology, photography, film and space exploration. In our final session we had the opportunity to visit the studio of Aideen Barry who is currently on the IMMA Artist Residency Programme. Once the argument over whether Nikon or Canon was better had been sorted – Aideen showed us work in development for the exhibition at A Different Republic at The Lab Gallery. This was an enlightening discussion around all aspects of an artist’s career – studio practice, materials, equipment, exhibitions, residencies, funding etc. As one participant asked “Does she not have a Manager, like an Opera Singer would?”.


As facilitator, this project was a hugely enjoyable experience, and for me, thought provoking as well as fascinating that over the four visits to IMMA we did not retrace our steps – other than to the Café. Each week presented a different visual experience, engagement and conversation.

Some of the comments from the group:

“I would have visited IMMA once and thought, that’s it I’ve seen IMMA”

“I had only put my name down for the first week and found it so thoroughly enjoyable I came back every week!”

“I never understood installation art or how it works before today” (Following visit to Aideen Barry)

“I know a little bit more about modern art than I did before…”


by Claire Halpin

You can see more images from our visits here.



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