Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland

View of “Ciara Phillips,” 2016. Walls: Forms we recognise, 2016. On walls, from left: Emily reading, 2015; no title, 2016; Of more or less, 2015.

View of “Ciara Phillips,” 2016. Walls: Forms we recognise, 2016. On walls, from left: Emily reading, 2015; no title, 2016; Of more or less, 2015.

Ciara Phillips

Centre for Contemporary Art

View of “Ciara Phillips,” 2016. Walls: Forms we recognise, 2016. On walls, from left: Emily reading, 2015; no title, 2016; Of more or less, 2015.

Asked to write a job reference for the industrious Canadian-Irish artist Ciara Phillips, I might choose to praise her as a committed team player. Much of her work to date—centering on the medium of print, which she employs in the production of images, installations, and interactive situations—has been determinedly collaborative. Phillips is a believer in the democratic accessibility of printmaking, utilizing its tools and processes in ways that emphasize open, experimental situations of communal creativity. Her 2013 exhibition at London’s Showroom—“Workshop (2010–ongoing),” a project that in 2014 earned her a Turner Prize nomination—included an active screen-printing studio where she assisted the group Justice for Domestic Workers in preparing visually arresting protest materials. Similarly, for “Pull Everything Out” at Spike Island, Bristol, UK, in 2012, Phillips used gallery-based workshops to collaboratively revive the Irregular Bulletin, a journal published by Sister Corita Kent at Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles, during the 1960s. Phillips’s ebullient aesthetic and inclusive ethos have been significantly influenced by Sister Corita’s Pop-art design principles; at Spike Island, Phillips’s participatory installation was accompanied by a substantial offering of the pioneering nun’s cheerfully proselytizing posters.

Since 2002, Phillips has been based in Glasgow, and she has made the most of that city’s energetically cooperative cultural spirit. A fixture in her diary over recent years, for instance, has been the regular meeting of Poster Club: a get-together of like-minded artists who take key attributes of the poster as a popular form—its amenability to reproduction and distribution, its manifold promotional and propagandistic purposes, its diverse positioning in public and private space—as the basis of a collective practice. Such ongoing group work signals the extent to which, for Phillips, print is a social medium: a mode of creative labor that benefits from—and builds—interpersonal connections, establishing and sustaining mini-communities.

But even when Phillips works independently—the approach chosen for “What we recognise in others” at CCA Derry-Londonderry—solidarity remains a fundamental motivation. The recent work here focused on repeated images of the artist’s friends: black-and-white photographs, screen-printed onto fabric, then bordered or overlaid with blocks of strong, variously opaque and transparent color. The subjects of the portraits—Ontario-based writer Emily Urquhart and fellow Glasgow-based artist Corin Sworn—are pictured in moments of concentration or contemplation (as certain titles affirm: Corin looking, 2015; Emily reading, 2015). These are images of isolated, self-contained female figures: fond snapshots of admired solo artists. But Phillips positions most of them within differently patterned compositions, serially adding printed strokes, shapes, and layers that obscure, decenter, or break apart the coherent photographic depiction. The dexterously disruptive effect of these works was intensified by the dispersal of duplicate (but uniquely amended) images throughout the CCA’s two adjoining galleries. Phillips’s friends were here thus seen both in partial and plural ways: Each photograph was a distinct but incomplete element within a wider, intricately overlapping visual arrangement. There were scattered fragments, but also points of connection. Several screen prints on paper anticipated or echoed details we found at other points in the exhibition. Two large-scale wall paintings (both titled Forms we recognise, 2016)—variegated, intermittently interrupted planes of cyan and orange—provided a backdrop for framed or adhesive-mounted pieces, matching here and there the precise colors that caught the eye elsewhere. In work that is, in part, about studying artists at work, such pronounced formal connectivity surely reasserts Phillips’s core relational values—even if, from time to time, we might detect lingering uncertainty about how to successfully relate to others, or how to be productively alone.

Declan Long