Karen Conway—Papaver Somniferum

Opening night: 6–8pm Thursday 6th June
Exhibition continues: Friday 7th June – Saturday 22nd June



Pallas Projects/Studios are pleased to announce Karen Conway—Papaver Somniferum, the fourth exhibition of our 2024 Artist-Initiated Projects programme.

Opium is the dried milky sap of the immature seed pod of the Papaver Somniferum. The sticky paste contains many chemical substances, including morphine. This name is derived from Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. His father was the god Hypnos, the god of sleep. The German pharmacist Sertürner first isolated the alkaloid from opium in 1804. The name morphine is very well chosen because the effect of morphine transports the user to a soft dream world and excludes them from reality and consequences.

Primarily, drawing is a risk-taking exercise - making marks on paper and not knowing the outcome. Drawing is a way to investigate my story and the stories of others, as filtered through memory. Papaver Somniferum is a drawing installation that tells a story in three parts, each part connected to the Netherlands.


Part 1
Berlin, 1989
Growing up in the 1980s in Dublin, there was a sense that there was no future. There was mass unemployment, a drug problem and emigration was rife. Like many other Irish, I spent time in Germany - West Berlin, to make money, only slightly aware of the wall or the political situation there, working in the Orthopaedic University Hospital, Oskar-Helene-Heim. This was a hospital where a lot of the ‘wall’ casualties ended up and I worked there as a cleaner in the operating theatre. The drawings here reference this time, showing remembered images - the diskothek, ‘Die Tanz-Arena Linientreu’, the strange experiences of travelling through the ‘ghost stations’ of East Berlin and the Irish habit of bringing over bags of 5p coins to use in the zigaretten machines. Getting into the East through a checkpoint required a passport and while there, being followed by the Stasi was not unusual. I travelled to Amsterdam by car, just a short time before the wall fell in November, where I caught a flight from Schiphol airport back to Dublin.

Part 2
The Netherlands, 1989
In 2023, I interviewed and recorded a Dutch national who shared his experiences with addiction and incarceration before moving to Dublin in 1989. During my residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in June 2023, I created large-scale charcoal drawings based on three of his stories. These stories documented his struggles with opiate addiction from the mid-70s, a time when the Netherlands experienced its first wave of wide availability of heroin. These drawings consider the damage caused by heroin addiction, the numerous encounters with Dutch law enforcement, and the subsequent arrests and incarcerations. They contemplate the opulence of the 5-star hotel that had been financed by stolen travelers' checks, which allowed the subject to source the drug on the street for use, while later enjoying room service to order champagne, cheese, and caviar. The harsh contrast between the dark world of addiction and the beauty of its origin, Papaver Somniferum, the opium poppy.

Part 3
The Netherlands, 2023
Fast forward 34 years, in 2023, I found myself leaving Schiphol airport once again. This departure marked the end of a two-month residency in Enschede, the Netherlands. The intention had been to research the 1912 Opium Conference held in The Hague and expand on themes of addiction. At that time, opium was a global concern affecting multiple nations. The conference aimed to tackle the opium problem and establish regulations to control its trade. This initiative was driven by rising anti-opium sentiment, fueled by worries about public health, addiction, and the negative social consequences of opium use. In the context of my work in the Netherlands, I focused on the industrial landscape of the city of Enschede during this period. Through these drawings, I have aimed to capture the nuances of these historical events and their impact on the country, shedding light on a multifaceted Netherlands that goes beyond its stereotypical portrayal, due to its historical association with drug use. I discovered a nation that had once been a significant player in the global fabric industry during the industrial revolution, shaping its ongoing economic identity.________________



Thursday June 6th 2024 6.15pm 

Declan Toohey, novelist and short story writer, will read from his debut novel Perpetual Comedown, which was published by New Island Books in February 2023


Wednesday 12th June

Private artist talk and Q&A for Merchants Quay Ireland staff.

Merchants Quay Ireland is a national voluntary organisation that helps people who are homeless and those caught in addiction. They provide frontline services, practical support, pathways towards recovery and innovative responses to the issues of drug use and homelessness in Ireland.

By the early 1980s, the European drug explosion hit Ireland. Dublin experienced a huge increase in heroin use. In 1989, the friars gave Fr. Sean Cassin two rooms at the front of the friary to set up a counselling and drop-in centre for drug users. It was then that the Merchants Quay Project was born, and demand was instant.




Karen Conway grew up in Dublin and is now based in Galway, she works through drawing, usually pencil on paper. In 2023, she was awarded an international residency with ARE Holland, at the B93 Atelier Stichting en Kunstenaarsinitiatie in Enschede, The Netherlands. Earlier that same year, she received the Tyrone Guthrie Centre bursary from Galway City Council.

Conway was also a featured artist in a recently published book by Thames and Hudson, released in September 2023, focusing on contemporary drawing. Solo shows include An+Aisthēsis, Galway International Arts Festival, Project Y, Engage Gallery Galway & Pressure, a drawing installation supported by the Science Foundation of Ireland with CÚRAM, in the National University of Ireland.
She was shortlisted for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize, London in 2021 and the Derwent Drawing Prize, London in 2024. Her work is held in the Crawford Municipal Art Gallery collection and Microsoft Ireland and is kindly supported by The Irish Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

Instagram: @karenconway__

Website: https://karenconway.work/



Artist-Initiated Projects at Pallas Projects/Studios is an open-submission, annual gallery programme of 8 x 3-week exhibitions taking place from March-November 2024. This unique programme of funded, artist-initiated projects selected via open call is highly accessible to artists, with a focus on early career, emerging artists and recent graduates. Projects are supplemented with artists' talks, texts, workshops or performances, and gallery visits by colleges and local schools.

Pallas Projects/Studios is funded by The Arts Council


ID: Dark pink background. Read on the centre: Karen Conway. Dark pink font highlighted in black. Read small on the bottom: 6th - 22nd June. Black font.

ID: Detail of Kruistocht (Droog en Hoog), pencil & graphite on Patroonpapier Paper

ID: Detail of Hoog en Droog, pencil and graphite on Patroonpapier paper



Audio description: soundbite.speechify