A Thousand Years | Joseph Heffernan

Dates: 17 August– 22 September  2023
Days/Times: Tues-Fri, 10am-5pm
Location: Studio 12, Backwater Artists Group, Wandesford Quay
Opening Reception: 17 August, 6pm

Joseph Heffernan’s exhibition A Thousand Years expands his painting practice, building upon his existing pre-occupation with the intertwined nature of memory and fantasy. Incorporating new elements that hover between assemblage and sculpture, the work encompasses the entirety of the gallery space, involving three-dimensional elements in a range of materials such as wood, plaster, silk flowers, household paint and textiles, collected objects and organic matter to expand the visual environment of the paintings.

The work takes the philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s seminal text The Poetics of Space as a model through which to explore the ability of objects to act as totems of personal meaning, or as Bachelard puts it, ‘veritable organs of a secret psychological life’ without which ‘our lives would lack a model for intimacy’.

A Thousand Years can be viewed as a mapping of interior mental spaces, with the artist acting to reconcile those spaces with the real exterior world, allowing for a sensitive and inquisitive exploration of the materials and methods used.

Emphasis is placed on the idea of the found object and its ability to create speculative narratives. Throughout A Thousand Years, real-life objects collected by the artist are appropriated and anthropomorphised within the world of the work, giving them agency and meaning beyond their original purpose. In essence, the fetishized nature of the objects and images function as allegories of memory. The resulting fantasias are intended as spaces for reflection with a plurality of interpretations where the viewer is an active producer of these interpretations.


This is millions and millions of little screens that send light, some sort of electric light, I’m not really sure. Your head is very busy all the time to calculate and put it all together into one picture. And then because you’re so busy doing that, you don’t watch very carefully what the program you are watching is really about. So you become hypnotized…This is what an Icelandic poet told me. And I became so scared of television that I always got headaches when I watched it. Then, later on, when I got my Danish book on television, I stopped being afraid because I read the truth, the scientifical truth and it was much better. You shouldn’t let poets lie to you.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir talking about Television in 1989


                                                                                        Fantasy is not the object of desire but its setting.

Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, 1986

About the artist:

Joseph Heffernan (b.1987) is an Irish artist based in Backwater Artists studios Cork. He received his BA (Hons) in Fine Art from MTU Crawford College of Art and Design in 2009 and later went on to study Painting as a Masters student at NCAD Dublin (2016). He has exhibited widely in Ireland. Solo shows include A Thousand Years, Studio 12 Gallery, Cork (2023), The Golden Age, Blue House Gallery, West Cork (2022) and There were Strange Gatherings, RHA, Dublin (2020). Recent selected group shows include Displacement and Belonging – Home, RUA RED, Dublin (2023), Closer, Lavit Gallery, Cork (2022) and the RHA Annual Open, RHA, Dublin (2023, 2020, 2019, 2018). He is currently a studio member of Backwater Artists, Cork and an associate member of Sample Studios, Cork. Awards include the 2020 Contemporary Irish Arts Society Award for a work of Distinction, the Arts Council Agility Award 2021 and the Cork City Council Individual Artists Bursary 2023.

Joseph Heffernan’s work deals with the ephemeral nature of memory, identity and fantasy and how these things are intertwined to form augmented fictions. It is also a rumination on the creative process and its ability to conjure up outsized narratives which are analogous to fantasies. His work is influenced by various different visual traditions such as the Commedia dell’Arte, Rococo Art, Botanical photography and the imagery of Golden Age Hollywood.

About the curator:

Aideen Quirke is a curator and arts worker from Co. Tipperary living in Cork City. Her independent curatorial practice is funded through the Arts Council of Ireland Visual Artist Bursary Award. She engages directly with the production of collaborating artists’ work, contributing, facilitating and participating in theory (knowledge production and communication) and hands-on practice (technical fabrication, installation, display methods and audience engagement). Aideen is a member of the artist-in-residence programme IN-HOUSE2 at The Guesthouse Project, Cork, a company member of Sample Studios, Cork and member of the Board of Directors at GOMA, Waterford.  She currently works as a programme manager at Sirius Arts Centre, Cobh Co. Cork. She has worked in facilitation, curatorial, administrative and production roles at a number of galleries and museums across Ireland and internationally, and holds a BA from MTU Crawford College of Art and Design and an MA in Museum Studies from University College Cork.

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