The University of Limerick recently installed its first public sculpture since 2003. Created by Orla de Brí, the piece is called Niche and is placed near the copse of oak trees adjacent to the Graduate Entry Medical School on the North Bank Campus. UL’s curator Yvonne Davis who has seen the piece evolve from idea to installation spoke to Orla de Brí about Niche and her career to date.
Yvonne Davis: We’re so delighted to have such an impressive piece gracing our North Campus, can you tell UL Links’ readers about Niche ?
Orla de Brí: Niche is part of the inspiration to my current body of work where I am combining figures with elements from nature, seeking to highlight the natural world as a source of comfort, energy and stability. I visited the University of Limerick on a few occasions and was always struck by how beautiful the campus was, the river, the architecture and the art. It is a special place and it was a real pleasure to create a sculpture that would be part of that. Being in a University and how you might change over your time there was really the inspiration for this particular piece. I wanted to make a strong reflective sculpture that would be about finding your place in the world. University is the first real time that you start to choose your path in life. So this strong figure with head bowed in reverence to the beginning of this journey emerged. Two trees grow from the back of the hands symbolizing a deep desire for personal growth and self-discovery. The figure stands on the tips of the toes yet is balanced and strong.
As soon as I saw the large plaza area with the beautiful buildings I knew the piece had to be tall to draw the eyes skyward. It was important to combine weathering steel with the polished bronze, the industrial with the precious.
Pic 1 Orla de Brí oversees the installation of Niche.
YD: Did the concept change much from inception to installation?
OdB: Conceptually the piece never changed from inception to installation but I did make the figure physically bigger. Niche is 8.5 meters of bronze and weathering steel.
YD: Do you consider the environment and other artworks when deciding on a concept?
OdB: The environment and how it is used is very important. It influences the concept, it triggers thoughts and ideas. I want a sculpture to fit comfortably into the space. A lot of elements inspire the concept, including what is happening around the specific site; how I imagine people are thinking or feeling going about their lives and in some way art is meant to interrupt those thoughts…just for a moment.
I think you have to consider everything around the sculpture so if there are other artworks there, while they wouldn’t influence the concept directly, it’s good to have a visual harmony.
YD: Where did your love of art come from ?
OdB: My parents’ two loves were art and travelling, from a young age I was brought to art galleries and exhibitions in Ireland and Europe. My father wasn’t a professional artist but he was always painting and drawing and encouraged us to do the same. I remember he once carved a wooden head from the leg of a table. He also drew my attention to the detail of my surroundings, making me visually aware of colour and form around me.
At the age of 12, I attended my first adult sculpture classes where I began to learn how to carve.
Pic 2 Niche is 8.5 meters of bronze and weathering steel.
YD: Do you prefer working on a large-scale?
OdB: Working large-scale or working on a solo show is very different but equally enjoyable. With large-scale site-specific work you are reacting to a space and an environment. Once you have the concept then the process of making a large-scale sculpture takes over, I am very much a hands-on sculptor and so I love the physical aspect of this process, which can take nine to 12 months.
When I do solo shows there is a theme that I want to explore in detail and so I may make 20 pieces with different perspectives on that theme.
YD: You don’t always use traditional materials in your work, are there materials you prefer or respond to more?
I find that materials can very much help express the concept. I like playing with and exploring different materials that may seem incompatible; weathering steel with polished bronze or mild steel with gold. And if a more flamboyant piece needs vibrant colour I use fibreglass or pure pigment. I have a particular affinity with metals, I vividly remember the first time I went into a metal workshop – the tools, the smell of welding and the industrial feel of the room, I felt very much at home and instantly wanted to learn everything.
Pic 3 Sculptor Orla de Brí oversees the installation of Niche.
YD: What other contemporary artists inspire you?
OdB: Marina Abramovic and Yayoi Kusama for their unique and fearless approach to their work. I love the work of Louise Bourgeois and particularly how she used her work as a personal visual language. She also worked in a wide variety of media from steel and stone to fabric. She finished her last piece a week before she died at 98. Amazing women.
YD:You recently received a commission to include a sculpture in the Sabanci Collection in Istanbul, alongside Henry Moore, Antony Gormley and Damien Hirst, how did this come about?
OdB: One of the Sabanci family visited Ireland and saw some of my public sculptures and subsequently researched my work. She later contacted me and asked would I come to Istanbul with a view to making a site-specific large-scale sculpture. I spent some time with her viewing their collection and visiting the Sakip Sabanci Art Museum before proposing the 7.5 meter sculpture ‘Flow’.
YD: You’ve produced a wide range of public art for Ireland and elsewhere. What, for you, are the key works and why?
OdB: There are a few, in addition to Niche:
'Flow’ 8 meter bronze and steel sculpture installed 2015, Sabanci Collection Istanbul.
It was a terrific experience. Sited at the edge of a river, it is a vivid blue quarter ellipse with a female figure seated over the water her elongated legs end in drops. This piece plays with the idea of how fluid our form is; that all things are transient. It was technically challenging, I was 10 months making the piece in Ireland then shipped it to Istanbul where we installed it. It is a great honour to be in a collection with some of my favourite sculptors.
‘The Bastard Son of Sisyphus’ , 1999, 3 meter bronze figure and 2 meter open work sphere with eight standing stones in Park West Financial Business Park, Dublin.
At the time I was exploring myths and legends both Irish and Greek. This piece was based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus where he was destined to push a ball up a hill for all eternity. In this piece the son sees the error of his father’s ways and prefers to contemplate the ball from the top of the hill. It’s about making sure your life doesn’t become monotonous and repetitive. This piece was my first large public sculpture. A year in the making, I learnt so much about sculpture and myself.
Pic 8 UL’s curator Yvonne Davis spoke to Orla de Brí about Niche and her career to date.
About the Artist
Orla de Brí has been working from her purpose-built studio for the last 22 years. She has had six major solo shows and completed 24 public sculptures. She works with a variety of materials including bronze, steel, stone, fibreglass and recently photography. She brings subjects and materials together that on first glance seem incompatible and yet they seamlessly work with this unique style. Orla is very much a hands-on sculptor and enjoys every aspect of the work, from the concept of the first drawing through to all the different physical processes.
Main pic for feature panel Pic 7 The University of Limerick recently installed its first public sculpture since 2003. The sculpture created by Orla de Brí is called Niche and is placed near the copse of oak trees adjacent to the Graduate Entry Medical School on the North Bank Campus.