No compromise as Nicola explores pain and mortality

Artist and psychologist Nicola Gunwhy
Artist and psychologist Nicola Gunwhy

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Artist and psychologist Nicola Gunwhy is intrigued by the way humans relate to each other. This preoccupation is reflected in the title of her new exhibition, Can We Ever Really See Each Other? which will run at University Hospital Galway as part of this year’s Galway International Arts Festival.

Nicola wonders if any of us can ever step outside ourselves for long enough to really feel what someone else is going through.

But it’s not a question she answers in her work. This softly-spoken, considered woman is more than satisfied if her creations make people think about the issue.

Nicola has been beset by chronic health problems in recent years and also addresses these in this exhibition, which consists of 15 photographs and a large installation.

The installation, Moment by Moment, consists of 200 pieces of four-metre strips of folded white paper which she has twisted into various shapes. It will be suspended in the hospital’s main foyer.

“They are an expression of moments,” she explains of the individual paper pieces. “They came about in part from me being frustrated and exasperated from living with illness and pain. “When you’re in pain, but want to do something, you wonder ‘what can I do now rather than waiting for the pain to subside’.”

Her work is spare and minimalist, and that’s a reflection of her life.

“When you’re faced with mortality, it forces you to prioritise and that’s what I have done in the work . . . stripped it back to bare essentials, like you do when you think of your own impermanence,” she muses.

Liverpool-born Nicola moved to Galway “three or four years ago” when her eldest daughter came to university here. She’d first moved to Ireland in 2008, with her husband and two daughters, settling first in Tipperary and then in Clare before Galway stole their hearts.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.