Ursula Burke’s work explores abuses of power in the social and political realms of the West, often taking a Northern Irish context as a critical point of departure from which to generalise her approach to international concerns. Formally, her work appropriates tropes deeply invested in the classical and re-inserts them in the contemporary, aiming to create a conceptual bridge between the classical ‘ideal’ (in form/society) and the reality of contemporary, neo-liberal society.
The Precariat brings together a body of work that seeks to investigate the experience of insecurity, fast becoming a universal condition as we struggle to subsist in an impoverished and increasingly unstable civil society, in which personal solutions are prescribed to global problems.
This exhibition, her first Irish museum presentation, brings together three distinct areas of her practice: embroidery, porcelain and drawing. Embroidery friezes (The Politicians) are inspired by the Baroque and depict incidents of fighting politicians from all over the contemporary world. In the midst of rising global tensions, ideal versions of society unravel, and the reality of dissension is suspended in the threads. Using Parian porcelain, famed for emulating the carved marble sculptures from Antiquity, Burke adopts visual tropes and surviving fragments of the Classical tradition. Rather than enshrine the heroic or powerful, Burke captures the darker side of revolution and conflict, formalising violence caught at a moment in time. Her portrait-sculptures are imbued with a potent discomfort: the nameless faces of men and women, bruised and injured, never to be healed. Augury, a site specific wall drawing, is a recreation of an original Roman Fresco, titled Villa of Livia, which can be found at Palazzo Massimo in Rome. The original fresco is a natural impossibility of fecundity and abundance, illustrating nature in full bloom. Augury however is a contemporary recreation, stripped of any colour and bounty and instead oozes and weeps from its pores. Augury becomes a dilapidation of the original in form and concept.
Ursula Burke is an Irish artist who lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Much of her practice deals with issues of representation and identity within contemporary Ireland and she completed a practice based PhD at the University of Ulster, Belfast exploring these themes. In 2018 she won the Golden Fleece Award, the Visual Artists Ireland Suki Tea Award that granted her an artist residency at Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris and was also awarded a Windgate Craft Artists Fellowship at the Vermont Studio Centre, U.S.A. In 2017, she undertook an artist residency and exhibition with the Mattress Factory Museum, Pittsburgh, and was awarded the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, British School at Rome Fellowship in 2014. Her work is included in the collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Ulster Museum, OPW, The Harbour Commission Northern Ireland and in private collections nationally and internationally.
Image: Ursula Burke, The Politicians (detail), 2018, Embroidery on cotton, 50 x 50cm, Image courtesy of the artist.