Ursula Halpin is an Irish born, Australian based Artist and Curator, living and working on Nukunu and Kaurna Yarta in South Australia.
Halpin’s research explores the dark underbelly of religious institutions, Irish and Australian colonisation, where Irish families were fragmented, mothers and their children separated, removed to cold harsh institutions. Her Irish culture, historically and contemporarily, is littered with the fallout of colonisation, misguided religious piety and the ill-treatment of women and girls as a result of the Poor Laws in the 1800’s to forced adoptions and institutional abuses uncovered in more recent years. Halpin explores the ugly truth, the abject, those traumatised, lost, taken, forgotten, and locked away.
Graduating in 2016 with First Class Honours in a Bachelor of Visual Arts, Halpin’s artwork spans glass, textiles, sculpture & installation, more recently researching the stories of Irish female emigrants to Australia. A large focus of her ongoing research is a consideration of the lived experience and the complex dichotomy of the ‘speaking subject’ through a feminist phenomenological approach, using visual and textual methods that sit within an auto-ethnographic paradigm
The stitches in Halpin’s glass lace and crochet artworks are laden with meaning. On one level they signify the healing that goes with fixing or mending something or surgically suturing abject wounds back together. Lace and crochet are made by manipulating stitching and in its most binary meaning the research relates the material of the (glass) stitch to the body, mending the trauma in the body caused by the fallout of colonisation. Halpin’s artworks incorporates textiles, in particular lace and crochet objects, to weave and stitch the stories of the lives of the women in Ireland who were forcibly shipped out as indentured servants, victims of sexual crime, victims of poverty, all victims of Britain’s Poor Laws and the Transportation Act.
Glass as a material is both strong and fragile. It has a tension between the ease it can break and the longevity and strength of its structure and this is foremost in Halpin’s use of the material, which reflect the concerns of her research and the materiality of her artworks. It demonstrates the paradox of strength, endurance, precariousness, vulnerability, and danger that are prevalent in the narratives behind the work and the artefacts produced through studio research reflect those paradoxes. The ephemeral nature of these artefacts challenge both in their own make up, materially and challenge the viewer. Using the tradition of Irish crochet lace, as a vehicle, Halpin explores the tacit and haptic engagement in the materiality of glass. The initial element of control is cast aside making visible the undoing of stitching and further exploiting the complex dichotomy of the ‘speaking subject’ narrative in her artworks. The subconscious and conscious memories of abject experiences are remediated through making and thinking through the material. The abject experiences are dispelled, and the glass objects imbued when the material serendipitously tears, shreds, pulls and breaks apart so it is on the edge of falling apart, or holding itself together, paradoxically giving it strength and tenacity.
In 2016, Halpin was awarded the Chancellors Letter of Commendation for the top 5% of Graduates in the Division of Arts, Education and Social Sciences, as well as an Academic Excellence Award for contributions to Teaching and Learning, awarded by the Division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of South Australia.
That same year, Halpin saw the culmination of a two-year project which she interned on, as the assistant curator with Dr. Mary Knights and Irish Artist Michelle Browne for Border Crossings (Ireland/Australia) presented by the SASA Gallery & Hawke European Union Centre, at the University of South Australia. Together curators and contemporary artists from Ireland and Australia, investigated cross-cultural issues surrounding conflict, the legacy of colonialism and the challenges of reconciliation that are relevant to both countries. Partnered with Hawke European Union Centre, Trinity Long Room Hub, Dublin, Culture Ireland, Helpmann Academy, British Council, Arts SA, Warlukurlangu Artists & Galway Arts Centre, the exhibition was shortlisted for Best Art and Design Award at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and was awarded federal funding to take part in the Galway International Arts Festival, Ireland in July 2016.
Halpin was awarded a Graduate in Residence by Canberra Glassworks in 2017. In 2018 , she was selected as a finalist for the National Emerging Art Glass Prize, at the National Glass Museum in New South Wales, as well as the International Bullseye Emerge Glass Prize, in the U.S.A. Halpin was finalist in the Australian and New Zealand Biennial Fuse Glass Prize, ultimately winning the emerging category, she received a professional development residency at the JamFactory in Adelaide. In 2018 Halpin received a scholarship, funding from Arts South Australia, and Guildhouse to attend the international center for glass, Pilchuck Glass School, in Stanwood, Washington, U.S.A., and research in Portland, New York and Ireland.
Working at the School of Art, Architecture and Design from 2012 until 2019, Halpin coordinated graduate exhibitions across multiple programs in art architecture, and design, managed SASA Gallery in tangent with Samstag Museum, and key industry stakeholders, while integrating events into the Bachelor of Contemporary Art Degree and SASA Gallery programming.
As of 2019, Halpin is the Gallery Director of Port Pirie Regional Art Gallery and the Cultural Arts Coordinator for Port Pirie Regional Council. She is responsible for Arts and Cultural engagement, including, exhibition development; gallery management; collection management; public art management; strategic partner engagement; public programming and delivery; grant writing; arts and cultural community project support and community mentoring across the Mid North of South Australia.