Arafudo Art Annual 2014!

Festival of Art, Tsuchiyu Onsen, FUKUSHIMA

Interview with Urusula Burke

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Ursula Burke

Ursula Burke is an Irish artist who works in a variety of media including Sculpture, Photography and Porcelain. Much of her Fine Art practice deals with issues of Representation and Identity within contemporary Ireland.
She undertook a practice based PhD at the University of Ulster Belfast. She was awarded the Arts Council of Northern Ireland British School at Rome Fellowship in 2014. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, including Art of the Troubles, The Ulster Museum, 2014; June Mostra, British School at Rome, 2014; Spazi Aperti, Romanian Academy, Rome, 2014; The Past is Unpredictable, FE. Mc William Gallery, Banbridge; Hope for a Better Past, The MAC, Belfast, 2013; SCOPE New York Art Fair 2014, 2013 and 2012 & Instances of Agreement, Kao Yuan Art Centre, Taiwan, 2011.
Her work is part of the collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, the Office of Public Works, Ireland and in private collections nationally and internationally. She is currently Curator in residence at PS2 Gallery. She is an artist member of Outland Arts, and represented by the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast.


About your artistic career

You have been based in Belfast for a long time, if your living in the conflicted society effects you as an artist, let me know how it has effected.

Yes, living in Belfast has affected my practice a great deal. The research for this work initially came out of a practice based PhD that I undertook at the University of Ulster, Belfast. My approach to the PhD was one that looked at the construction of Identity and Representation within contemporary Ireland, north and south of the border. Growing up in the south of Ireland and then moving to the north, I soon noticed that the articulation of ones identity as Irish/Catholic was very different for those who also identified as catholic but grew up in the North. For me, my identity and the articulation of that seemed untroubled, but it appeared that those around me went through a continual process of authenticating their cultural characteristics on a regular basis. This kind of cultural schism in terms of two people identifying as the same race became of keen interest to my practice.
My work uses common and complex signifiers of conflict relative to The Troubles in Northern Ireland and embeds those within a classical framework of sculpture. There is a collision of antiquity and modernity within the work; classical tropes are layered over and under contemporary signs and symbols of society within post-conflict Northern Ireland.
The work attempts to provoke a series of open-ended questions about the construction of representation and identity in a society with opposing interests and ongoing tribal rivalries.

Apart from wide range of your activities with using various medium, If you have any reason why you often use medium of porcelain recently, let me know about it.

I use porcelain a lot in my practice. I love the potential the process of slip casting offers as it enables me to create surreal constructions that indulge my interest in Surrealism. Also, a recurrent theme in my practice lies in the subversion of traditional conceptions of the medium from that of purely decorative to that of provocative when placed within a fine art context.

A large proportion of my work at present is made using Parian porcelain, a hard paste porcelain that is famed for emulating Parian marble, the substance used for carving many of the Greek and Roman sculptures from antiquity. Even though Parian is extremely hard after firing, the nature of the material exudes a kind of softness and elasticity, (almost fleshy) which at the same time formally emulates the characteristics of marble. This makes the material very exciting technically and formally for me to work with as it roots the work within a classical paradigm but the slip casting process gives me ample room for experimentation with colour and surrealist elements. In content, the reference to the classical period that the work allows enables me to make a conceptual bridge between idealised versions of society much in debate during the classical period and the necessity for continually suspended versions of the ideal within a post-conflict society.

How do you think about the nuclear disaster in Fukushima as a foreigner who lives outside of Japan? What kind of meaning you will get to participate in “Arafudo Art Annual 2014” which will be held in Fukushima, Japan as a foreign artist, let me know about them.

I am really happy to take part in an art festival held in Fukushima. As an Irish artist living in a post conflict city such as Belfast, I feel empathetic to those who live within an area or region with unique and challenging characteristics in terms of quality of life.


“Balaclava Bust” 2014, Parian porcelain & lace

About the work you will exhibit at this time.

Let me know about the detail of works you will exhibit at this time

The work I am exhibiting in Arafudo Art Annual 2014 is a mixture of Porcelain and Parian Porcelain work. The work responds to socio-political concerns relative to Northern Ireland from 2010 to present day. In some pieces, the work references and parodies that of Meissen Porcelain, and in others that of Belleek Porcelain. Embedded within the content of the work, layers of Art historical references, national and global kitsch representations and elements of the surreal can be found.

I am just wondering If you have any way to get new idea and motif, when you try to make new works. If so, let me know about it.

I find images, signs and symbols from art and culture. Having lived in Northern Ireland for over fifteen years I have gathered countless images of culture and conflict from my daily movements that I draw on when thinking about making new work. I use various sources of research when approaching making a new piece such as art historical references, images from the news, literary texts and online resources. I tend to think about signs and symbols relative to Irish culture that are popular and complex and layer the work with several influences.

If you find any relation between your works you will exhibit at this time and the theme of Arafudo Art Annual 2014, “Tolerance” , let me know about it.

Yes, but maybe in a different manner. As citizens of a post conflict region with ongoing conflict, we have become accustomed to tolerating levels of unrest, such as sectarian rioting or bomb scares. They become part of our normal everyday existence. A lot of the symbols I use in my work reference the negative, dark and sometimes humorous characteristics of living in a post conflict region that we tolerate regularly. In the same manner I assume that the citizens living within Fukushima following the nuclear disaster, were forced to either tolerate the after effects of the crisis or leave.


If you have anything or any people you are interested in recently, let me know about it with the reason why.

I am really interested in the work of Swiss artist and neo-Dada sculptor Urs Fischer. I love his surreal and intelligent appropriation of art historical references, his formal techniques and his use of the figurative. I also like Canadian artist Shari Boyle’s porcelain sculptures. Louise Bourgeois, Yinka Shonibare, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Antonio Canova and Caravaggio all offer great sources of research and interest for me.

When you make your art, if you have anything you try to care particularly, please let me know about it.

Skill. I am at heart a traditionalist when it comes to making sculpture and I really respect a technically astute and beautifully crafted piece of work.

If you have your own way to enjoy art, let me know about it.

I think there is nothing better than seeing work in the flesh and so I love to visit museums and galleries around the world. Having spent six months recently on a fellowship in Rome I spent endless hours viewing incredible pieces of art from antiquity in public and private spaces. That experience has utterly changed me as an artist.

interviewer: Shiro Masuyama