tarpey

Mar 122014
 

Sharon TateLimerick holds no monuments commemorating the activities of the Janesboro Hippies or the local followers of Baha’i faith and there is little mention of the Irish Revolutionary Youth Movement of 1970 outside newspaper archives and isolated memories.  The street actions of the Magic Mushroom gang, who illegally refurbished derelict buildings in the city are remembered only by themselves.  The counter-cultural impact of the Little Ellen boutique is unremarked as is the significance of the Church halls where the mid Sixties  Beat bands manifested their teenage idealism.

 

Making the Cut investigates the understated historical significance held in a Limerick timeframe of 1968-73. The focus of this work for EVA International 2014 will take into account the un-represented traces of non-conformist cultural protest formed in the city in this era.

Predominantly music based these activities are conventionally recognised as pop-cultural sidebars if discussed in the context of the wider process of post-war Irish Modernism. They are also historically sublimated in relation to the War in the North.   A Limerick language of non-conformity and a recognition of its understated consequences as resistance is what is proposed in this investigation

Making the Cut arena marks this time it with an activist slant in an engaged process involving a cohort of some of the original 1968 participants, invited creatives, activists and contemporary youth.

Activity, involving this collective, will focus uncovered material from the era translated through workshops for potential outcomes including the creation of music-based collaborative performance.  This event will reference and celebrate the era’s silent production through a contemporary mindset.

In seeking to recover the authentic voice of protest,  Making The Cut historically re-affirms the acts and intentions of disparate communities

Outcomes will be directed to reflect and expand on an armature of resistance. Towards the creation of an open archive.

Making the Cut . EVA International Limerick 2014

EVA logo

Jun 292013
 
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Opening in 1966, Limerick’s Club a Go Go was a much-loved membership only ‘ beat Club’ frequented by a dedicated clientele. The club was notable for holding DJ only nights alongside live gigs by visiting beat groups. Recognising that the look of the culture was equally as important as the sound, fashion competitions occasionally took place as well.

Club a Go Go was unofficially known in Limerick as ‘the Go Go club’ and held its reputation as a vital hub until its closure in the early 70s. For this duration its members created a social model that refused to be bound by the rituals of the traditional dancehall and its associated codes. The Go Go club promoted a collective scene of equality instead of an updated version of showband-led rituals.

The city centre two-storey premises remains in Post Office Lane and has functioned as Cummins picture framers for almost 40 years.

Each year Kevin Cummins greets former patrons of the club returning to a space they once had a stake in. The Go Go club now registers as an international outpost that was wished into place by 1960s Limerick teenagers who had begun to see themselves as Irish who could engage with an international culture in a local environment. The application of ‘beat’ style was political in the sense that it evoked youth led empowerment in social structures that were organised and run by the members themselves.

Interviewed in 1971 The Dj Danny Hughes was quoted as saying (such) a club is very important to its members because they know they can mix about with people they like to be friends with’. Hughes goes on to associate congregations found in outposts such as the Go Go club contributing to ‘ the changing face of Ireland’. (From ‘Danny Hughes on Discos’, an interview in the Evening Press 1971)

Looking further than the designated horizons of Irish dancehalls, the Go Go began to reference and apply foreign sounds and styles to cater for its unique membership. The implied modernism in this act treated patrons as active participants in a social project as the club became a space of their own design. To this day its members respect the memories of this concept and the space it was acted out in. Visitors hope the original décor is still in place to greet them in what is now Cummins workshop. Some have been known to introduce themselves always using a version of the phrase, ‘I’ve come looking for my youth’.

Today the interior functions as the framing workshop and a stained glass studio, but hints of the Go Go remain as the original toilets near the entrance. Spectacularly some of the original psychedelic markings are still to be found on upstairs walls now separated by an added floor. This is the actual Go Go graffiti. When Kevin retires, it is very possible that these original traces will disappear and with this in mind he has become a curator of the space. He now manages an ongoing oral archive of stories of the club collected and shaped by both locals and visitors from abroad.

To pay tribute to this activity using the tone of quiet memory invested in curating the concept of the space, I collaborated with Kevin Cummins and the print maker Eoin Barry to create a commemorative act of portraiture that would be framed by the Go Go club.

This act is linked to the creative opportunity afforded by the multi-locational exhibition ‘ The Act Of Portrayal’, part of the University of Limerick’ 40th anniversary celebrations. The remit for this event allowed artists to choose work from the National self-portrait collection for interpretations to be exhibited alongside the originals in venues across the city.

Members of the Limerick Printmakers were among those invited to participate in this process. With the Go Go club in mind I chose to work with an image of the artist Robert Ballagh, because he once played as a beat musician in Limerick circa 1966. His band was called the Chessmen and with Ballagh on bass guitar they played at Royal George hotel in O Connell Sttreet, a short distance from Post Office lane. Ultimately Ballagh’s vocation was a visual artist and he left The Chessmen in the late 60s to become, as he said of himself, ‘Ireland’s only pop artist’.

To create the work for the Act of Portrayal titled ‘A commemorative portrait of the Irish Artist Robert Ballagh imagined as a beat music star for the remnants of Limerick’s original beat Club. (Club a Go Go 2013)’ Eoin Barry looked at some of the remaining visual elements associated with the club and sought visually to reimagine a history that would represent the psychic hold it has on the generation who continue to visit the site.

He began by studying the original traces of the club’s psychedelic markings, and then examined mark-making in the process of stamping that Ballagh used in his printmaking. Eoin also referenced Ballagh’s use of screen-printing for his initial acts of portraiture. Ballagh has admitted that an early portrait commission drew on the conceptual practicality of Warhol’s silk-screening photographic images directly on to the canvas because, starting out as a professional artist, he was unsure about ‘doing faces’.

Referencing a combination of these factors we decided to silk-screen Eoin’s version of the Ballagh from the National Self-Portrait collection directly onto what was the original toilet door of the club. The intended effect is one of and image of an imaginary beat star left behind in the Go Go club by a fan. By coincidence the bearded face in this image now gazes at an original Ballagh print hanging across from the door. This lithograph is from Kevin Cummins private collection. It depicts a cigarette packet commissioned by an Irish Company as a gift to its salesmen in the 1980s.

For the resulting photographic series based on the construction, Kevin suggested that the workshop space should be visible. This was made possible by using the mirror behind the toilet door to reflect the wider space. An image of Kevin at work as a framer now appears as a reflection in one of the three photographic images.

With this in place, with an emphasis on the classical illusion facilitated by the mirror, our construction alludes to a type of busy pictorialism often found in the more familiar pieces by Ballagh. When undertaking portraits he has been known to encourage biographical readings of the subject suggested by the relationship of particular objects to the sitter.

For display in the Limerick Printmakers I photographed three images to be finished as silver halide prints. Kevin, who has framed many prints of Ballagh for customers over the years, framed them himself.

The intended narrative around this commemorative portrait is built on a desire evident in how the memories of Club A Go Go are managed. Urban Irish people in the 60s acted out such a desire with its roots in post-war creativity and ambition. This is what made the space of the Go Go Club important. The youth in Limerick embraced, as Ballagh did, an equal appreciation of both outsider music and the plastic arts as expressionist material they could claim as their own for their own land. As the years pass the psychedelic traces on the walls confront visitors like relics. They were designed and applied for the space by the patrons themselves. This was a generation not bound by the narrowness of the national dances of De Valera’ s self-contained vision. This was a Limerick-based mod identity, looking for inspiration towards Britain and the US.

It is to commemorate this idealism that some people continue to return, now often living in those same countries, 50 years later.

Paul Tarpey.

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Sep 092012
 

The most memorable staged image from the 1997 Fianna Fáil election campaign remains the quasi-religious poster of Bertie Ahern aglow under the text ‘People before Politics – leadership through understanding’.  This  directed image, as well as notable for being a radical change from the usual poster layout associated with previous Fianna Fáil campaigns, is also a mark in time for many cultural and historic reasons.

Visually, the impact was particularly strong outside the Pale as the design broke with decades of poor layout and plain speak familiar to rural audiences.  Previous campaigns had favoured a design template with a blank space left to insert the local candidate’s (often rudimentary) portrait that had remained unchanged more or less for generations.  It reflected a design process  which continuously gave an appearance of inclusion.  Its simplicity united the grassroots and politicians with no more than a picture and a timely slogan.  Through repetition these codes became naturalised.  ‘Lets make it work for Ireland’ was one such one from the 80s, ‘  ‘For another Spurt Forward !, Vote Fianna Fáil is the actual copy from the 1961 campaign.

For generations the rural electorate were key and were not to be distracted by excess gloss or ambiguity at campaign time.  A simple reminder in plain language with the image of the candidate and party / tribal colours would suffice.  Hence the radical turn experienced when the slick international style of the 1997 posters appeared on Galway ESB poles.  Long gone was the party’s statement of 1978 that sought ‘ by suitable distribution of power to promote the ruralisation of industries essential to the lives of the people as opposed to their concentration in the cities’. The culture of the developer was on the rise and with it an increase in percieved sophistication that it was thought proper to disseminate via the election poster.

For this design, the saintly glow eminating from the poster was intended to depict Ahern as a Karsh-lit matinee idol, a reassuring Hollywood father figure shepherding the flock through boom times.  New imagery was required to emphasise the significance of how the boom was to be managed, so out went the flat evenly lit expressionless black and white head shot.  What seemed to be required was dimension and atmosphere.  This didn’t take much. With simple change of setup and with the use of a corporate type of side lighting the desired narrative was created.  The key light then became a light of reassurance.  It signified that the chief was up late, in Dublin, listening and looking out for us all.

In the poster, sporting make-up and a quiet determination, the chief stares towards the middle distance.   A fixed image that could be read as half listener in a pub clinic for the western audience and half Rodin’s Thinker for cosmopolitan Dublin.  As for the campaign, the visual package was intended to be, as usual, nothing more than a transient statement printed on plastic to be recycled after the campaign.   A visual that reflected power as it stood and as it stood to be managed.  As a portrait it was not produced for archival purposes and certainly not future-proofed for historical hanging.  However it remains a loaded vernacular mark when positioned both for the history of the Celtic Tiger and Ahern’s legacy. Sigificantly the 2002 Fianna Fáil campaign poster reverts back to the old template with a daylit image of Ahern in his office safely framed by the party colors.

The official portrait of Ahern currrently owned by the State was painted by the artist James Hanley in 2004.  It shows him blandly frozen, slightly askew and a little defensive.  The pose here is reminiscent of the neutral expectancy captured on the faces of defendants used by trial court artists. When it was presented to the Dáil,  a minor controversy occured when the subject of where to hang it arose. The debate that followed unavoidably coincided with more unsavoury revelations about Ahern’s finances.  Hanley’s €10,000 painting inevitably featured as part of this dialogue much more than it would have liked.

Eventually a sizeable volume of the commentary associated with Ahern had begun to merge visually with the type of events which underlined an increasing fallen status.  In the style of how a clipping editor would shuffle press cuttings to reflect a subject’s dominant news thread, Ahern’s fall became digitally shuffled in this manner.  The subject of course has no say in the programming of this search engine

For a proven example, a quick search for images of Ahern lands upon a startling image of him with Charles Haughey in the 1980s.  Haughey appears paralysed as something important on a desktop seems to have failed and so perhaps has the operator.  A shadowy-eyed Ahern is on hand to take over. The black and white image is cropped and dramatic.  Haughey’s famous comment on Ahern being ‘the most devious, the most cunning of them all’ is visually acted out here in the manner of turn of the century German Expressionism.  This is just an example.  In retrospect, many similar imagined narratives, based on what emerged from the tribunals, begin to write themselves as the combination of information and reclaimed images like this become more familiar.

In Galway, a vernacular version of the 1997 campaign poster appeared.  This startling version focused on a remake of the contemplative nature of the pose. It was home made and quickly achived popular status in the University town. Bertie, as the Taoiseach, was folksily known, looked stoned.   Encouraged by the poster’s comedic visual opening, an unknown artist had Tipp-exed a large joint into Bertie’s fingers and coloured his eyes neon green.  This stoned expression of leadership now spoke to a cohort far removed from Fianna Fáil ’s natural voter base but the incongruous text  ‘People before Politics’ remained.

The style of the act was perhaps directed by contemporary culture that consumed the irrelevant ethos promoted in the labored photoshop examples which were featured at the time in Lads’ magazines such as Loaded.  No matter what the inspiration was or how it came to pass, the ridiculous image of Bertie as Stoner in Chief  totally rejected the gravitas of Fianna Fáil’s economic stewardship, certainly for a Galway audience who had the people’s Bertie propped up on rented mantelpieces and taped to the Dunnes Stores framed pictures provided by their landlords.

It is safe to say the inital corporate look of the ‘untouched’ 1997 thinker image was imported from the presidential style favoured at the time by Tony Blair.  In fact, photographs from the first meeting of Blair and Ahern after the latter became Taoiseach in ’97 show the two men wearing nearly identical powdered grins and grey power suits.

The transient gallery in Galway for image of the understanding stoned thinker was not unsuprisingly the accommodation of the student or service worker . These were the drones of the Tiger’s early phase, night owls who carried out the nightime ‘pull downs’ that liberated lamposts from an unwanted presidential gaze.  They were gathering material for interventionist artwork and minor anti-propagandist resistance.  Fianna Fáils corporate vision was regularly rejected and remade on the nightly trip home.

This creative act took hold and proliferated.  Before both the end of the offical and unofficial campaigns it was possible to buy the reconditioned image of a green-eyed stoned Taoiseach, so popular was the remake.  Others began to follow the original artist’s template for similar versions briefly to be sold in Dublin.  Each poster had to be removed and individually Tipp-exed yet all were similar and held the original text as part of the saleable concept.   In responding to the intended depth of Fianna Fáil’s PR vision (and the audacity of its polished imagery) a successful minor countereconomy in the sale of the plastic printed image was led by Galway. The free market as anointed by Fianna Fáil was working and in a creative nod to the Blair project the remaking of the poster by non- artists celebrated the application of transferable skills demanded by the new economy.

By the time of Ahern’s fall, the dialogue surrounding personal accountability for the financial crisis of 2008 invited a variety of commentary from traditional art practitioners.  After an interview by Ahern in a 2009 issue of VIP magazine, the painter Jonathan Aiken painted a portrait of the former Taoiseach against a background of high-end consumer packaging and crushed credit cards.  Once again, as in the case of the Galway turn, it is Ahern’s gesture that inspired the artist.  On the Gormley Gallery website Aiken explains his rationale

‘’The piece was inspired by an interview Bertie Ahern gave in 2009 in the VIP magazine, responding to attacks from cynics, where he questioned the value of ‘pointing the finger’ and unproductive ethos of blaming others. I was stirred by Bertie Ahern’s response that we can either ‘dig the garden or grow blue bells’ or as he added do something useful.  The portrait seems as though Mr Ahern is set-up for us to yet again point the finger at him, but in his gesture he is also waving back at us, as such throwing it back to us.

 

Briefly looking further back, a 1983 photograph of Ahern by Tom Lawlor on the comeheretome site shows the creative use of signifying props that is often the mark of the Irish Times in campaign coverage.  Here Lawlor has emphasised  the ‘caught’ nature of the subject framed by bell ropes that also hint at a hangmans gallows. The text on the wall ominously wishes peace and prosperity to Ireland.  The Irish Times most notable image along the lines discussed is a front page foreshortened portrait of Ahern in a gymnasium as a basketball hoop seems to hover as a halo over his head.  Again the seriousness of the then Taoiseach’s expression, in conjunction with the objects of a public space, was accentuated to his detriment.

A damning image of Ahern is of course any video still from of his 2010 post Taoiseach appearance in an ad for the British tabloid, The News Of the World.  The thought  Ahern being paid to be squeezed in a cupboard, with a tea cup, as the citizen-funded state car waited on the shoot still provokes derisive and angry commentary

By the time of the Bertie in a Cupboard  incident, representational fatigue on the subject had set in and derisive imagery was even expected. Sourcing was available from the media’s photoshopping to any amount of rants on social media.  His sucessor Brian Cowen was now in place and was also a target for the backlash. He even attracted painted abuse in 200 when the painter Conor Casby famously, and illegally, inserted the image of Cowen as a leader stripped of his robes into the National Gallery.   As for Ahern? The commentary surrounding his tenure built towards straight digital abuse as his facade crumbled.  Ahern ceased to hint that he may run for president and reduced his media appearences as the mounting and unforgiving commentary began to mould his legacy.

The image of the green-eyed stoner is a physical mark from a pre-Youtube Galway and may only exist in the image I had the opportunity to record.  I photographed the image then as the ubiquity of Ahern’s official image truly seemed to represent an unassailable neoliberal chieftain who promoted the interests of those who filled what was then known as the ‘Galway Tent’.   In 1997 this remake struck me then as the only art-led counter-commentary being practised in traditional Agit-Prop style.  It was above all funny as was the concept of refusing to salute the chief but instead taking him home for a joint in a houseparty in Rahoon.  There was testimony in this, even then, that there was more to Ahern’s public image than met the eye.

Fianna Fáil’s infamous Galway Tent fundraisings were cancelled in 2008.  In 2010  the consequences of a late night  in the bar for Brian Cowen at a Fianna Fáil ‘think-in at the Ardliaun Hotel Galway was the beginning of the end of a certain party style.  In prioritising the entertainment of his staff and colleagues over an interview for the national broadcaster the following day, Cowen had literally put ‘People Before Politics.’

 

 

Paul Tarpey

Apr 102012
 

Originally published on Bock the Robber

I don’t know much about protest but I know what I like.

The Big Cheese Poverty Party launch. Bourkes Bar Catherine St Limerick 3/12/2010.

 

 

 

An awareness that some particular forms of public protest may have peaked led Limerick Web agitator Bock The Robber to announce the formation of his ‘Big Cheese Poverty Party’ in the centre of a ‘troubled’ Limerick city centre.

In coming to the idea of an imaginary political party Bock redirected his editorial duties away from the internet and by deciding to place himself in front of a ‘real’ audience he announced an intention to wash himself with the soapbox strategies of his usual critical targets, the mainstream political class.

While farce as a tool was employed for this event, the eventual production engaged not a parody of a political stand up, cabaret, performance art or even a version of the current mainstream satire on the subject. Bock engineered a combination of cross-genred creative communication stategies that underlined the ethos of his site as a performance.

An agenda and party speaker were dressed up but there would be no deposit paid to Leinster House and no manifesto sent to the media. This protest party would exist primarily just for its opening. The exercise could be seen as a conventional art referenced ‘happening’ crossed with a version of something like the old Irish tradition of creative stump politics where trees would be planted for votes and then dug up after election day.

Topics on the mismanagment that have created this immediate social state have been well dissected and served by commentators ranging in breadth from The Irish Times’s Fintan O Toole to the driver of the agit-prop concretemixer and it is within this critical gap The Big Cheese Poverty Party intends to operate.

The project is as concerned about the necessity of acting out and emphasizing protest reminders as it is about flagging citizens’ responsibility in being informed about relevant content and commentary. Remember the concrete truck protest had been rolled out in Galway City months before with only minor media coverage of its anti-Anglo message filtering out. For repeat emphasis its driver deemed it necessary to reconsider the size of his stage for Dublin. Bock’s decision to communicate information physically is related to this strategy.

In realising the responsibility inherent in presenting a message that also incorporates an awareness of protest fatigue, Bock and his collaborators concentrated on curating, staging and designing work that creatively confirmed a position rather than a offering any new ‘State Of The Nation’ response. For the design of the content delivery, the evolved intention was to relay a Bock reminder about the consequences of the country being in hock to the IMF via a combination of materials and theatrics for a short performance.

Bock is not a practising artist but through his site a collective has come together and, when required, these voluntary media workers and artists suggest various directions in realising ideas generated from the website’s commentary. Also, it is imporant to reiterate that all aspects of this production were self-financed in a spirit of bring what you want to the table. Once the Poverty Party idea was upgraded from an inital virtual rant, a city centre space was negotiated and the process of creative visualization began.

With this work the ‘non-artist’ Bock has unintentionally referenced a number of socially-engaged creative references.  Think here of the theatre activist Augusto Boal’s notion of the ‘spect-actor’, the philosopher Theodor Adorno’s insistence on ‘the experiential dimension of the reception of artworks’ and perhaps for future events Bock could even take from the Yippie leader Jerry Rubin’s 1968 attempt to crowd design a mass exorcism of the US Democratic party

A photographic exhibition was one direction taken with an open call put out and all entries then displayed on the bar walls. This aspect was the project’s support for Limericks ‘starving artists’. Bock then developed a downtroden peasant persona for his keynote speech and encouraged a similar dress code for the audience. Volunteers were dressed as surgeons for metaphorical organ  removal and a white-gloved mechanical hand was set up for ‘Minister flesh pressing duties’  in the absence of course of those invited Ministers.

There was a battered wooden box with the word ‘soap’ daubed on its side, which on inquiry turned out to have previously held ammunition from the Curragh camp.

On the night Bock’s character was framed against a projected slideshow of the downturned Limerick City centre donated by students from the LIT Masters course in Social Practice And The Creative Environment. In full character, Bock’s impassioned rant concentrated on the consequences of a future irish identity provisionally processed through the German economy as two surgeons listened silently either side of him.

As he spoke, his words were translated by an invited German speaker whose dramatic barked delivery echoed Bock’s spiel.  ‘Seb the German’ was also available to quip in english, ‘Have your fun but pay up before that happens’.  Meanwhile a selection of cheese neatly topped with EU flags was passed through the crowd as Dublin visitors to the event handed out an edition of ‘Ireland owned by the IMF’ stickers.

As befits an event in a public house the audience was an open and diverse mix of family, collaborators, curious customers, artists and media workers who had answered the call to support an attitude as much as to enjoy a Friday night out.

Bock co-ordinated an event that accessed and made use of various arts practices electing professional and non professional actors to create a participatory event on various levels. The result redirected the now contentious political language of local (‘parish pump’) politics to service the design of this performance piece as an contemporary exercise in social protest.

By the nature of its contract with the audience this was an open sourced event. Self-funded, open to all and descriptive of a contempoary protest strategy corresponding to Jacques Ranciere’s words on the subject. ‘Politics’ he says,’ is first of all the configuration of a space as political, the framing of a specific sphere of experience, the setting of objects posed as ‘common’ and subjects to whom the capacity is recognised to designate these objects and to argue about them’.

Apr 102012
 

Originally published on Bock the Robber

On view at the  Limerick Printmakers are the results of a 24 hour print marathon that was held in their studio on Market St.

Members and invited printers started the process at 12 oo  o’clock on Saturday 26th and presented a show of the work to the public at 12 the following day.  The lithographs, photo etchings, screenprints etc that now fill the gallery were dramaticaly taken from idea to ink in this intense time frame.

A 24-hour web link tracked proceedings, fuelled by bagels and coffee, and with beds available for the weary marathon artist if necessary.  Well-known Limerick printmaker Des Mac Mahon confirmed his determined status by reputedly remaining awake for the full 24 hours and was busy sweeping the area as the first visitors came through the door on Sunday.

Printmakers spend a significant amount of time prepping the studio, preparing ink and paper, plate and stone before cleaning up and the print marathon gave an insight to this process as part of the discipline.

The Gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays.

Marian Keating

 

 

Noelle Noonan

 

Catherine Heier

Des McMahon

 

 

Fiona Quill

 

Clare Gilmore

Apr 102012
 

Originally published on Bock the Robber

Last year for Culture Night in the Milk market, the Spirit Store offered the experience of bespoke poetry. Choose your subject and discuss it with a poet who creates a unique response for you to take away. This free event drew a healthy and happy response.

To repeat it in a similar environment for this year’s Culture Night would have been too easy for the SpiritStore’s Marilyn Lennon. She proposed instead, ‘Why not place the poets on an open top bus to tour the city and let people hop on and off with the chance of their poem not only being crafted but read out for the bus and city to hear?’

Why not?  Quickly organising the Red Viking bus and three of the Inkstorm poets, the adventure began at Merchants’ Quay at 6 o’clock. The route took in many of the art events which opened late for Culture Night with stops at the Belltable, the City Gallery and Impact Studios among others.  Above these venues creativity circled as the poets got to work as the bus chased the dusk.

Not only was each poem unique but also so was the experience for the participants. There was applause for each other’s poems and they shouted greetings to waving crowds on the route. Everybody should tour the city this way once it certainly does change one’s perspective. Undoubtedly this did find its way into rhyme tonight as some stayed on the bus for the night and left with more than one poem.

The poets delivered sincere works of varied length carefully read out by Denise who accepted the job on joining the trip. She alternated with Pat the driver who offered his own commentary as the event settled into a poetry party on wheels.

Night and rain fell in the end and a weary Dave, Mike and Lisa of Inkstorm who had been continuously writing for three hours headed for another bus to take them back to Galway. Their officially stamped work will no doubt be framed on many a Limerick wall before next year’s adventure.

 

Apr 102012
 

Originally published on Bock the Robber

 

Location

An exhibition in Occupy Space Gallery Thomas St Limerick from January 12 to February 4 2012

Location is curated by Ruth Hogan who presents four artists engaging  with concepts of landscape through the relation of space to the self.  These artists are Jonathan Sammon, Lisa Flynn, Michelle Horrigan and  Elaine Reynolds and their work is delivered through a combination of drawing, photography and Video. The exhibition is balanced in the gallery’s 3 areas  and is well designed in emphasising the elements of place, wandering and discovery that accompany the varied subject matter of ‘Location’.

The statement for the exhibition refers to a collective positioning of intent by the participants through the phenomenon of ‘Psycho-geography’.

The term ‘Psycho-geography’ originated in the late 50s and by the 60s in one of its many interpretations it became a lateral tool of anti-capatilist resistance used by the group of mainly French creatives who designed its outlines.     Its popularity in art circles stems from the visual research methodogies that have been suggested in the various documents associated with the group.

In their writings these ‘Situationist’ writers such as Guy Debord encouraged wanderings and skewed storytelling to develop surreal associations between the urban landscape and a wanderer’s conception of a journey.

These exercises  came to be documented as reconfigured maps and collaged photoworks in which juxtapositions of certain areas and states of mind achieved significance as a result of ‘psycho-geographical’ investigation.   While not a studied disipline, its ethos has increasingly become a reference in many contemporary projects where the communication of an artist’s involvement with place is integral to the reception of the artwork.

Positioned as such the work in ‘Location’ can be experianced both as research documents on the above theme and as individual works referencing its ethos.  As a whole these results respect the lateral overlapping that occurs when it is the artist’s intention to focus themselves (in and out of character) when engaging with both the conventional and emotional history of a chosen place.

Elaine Reynolds’s video in the blackened Gallery 3 animates an unoccupied house in an Irish ghost estate at night.

In ‘On / Off States’, lights dramatically flash the SOS pattern in morse code.  There is the appearence here of something that subverts the conventional image of a ‘mad party’ on the estate should the developer’s dream of that estate come to pass.  Without any sound to direct us otherwise we are left to deal with the scene’s silence as it becomes a visual echo for the chosen landscape and all associated with it.

In its darkened gallery setting, a documentary impression now appears to suggest the holding of a captured warning beacon. The artwork speaks of ‘systems set to a new purpose’ refering to the artist’s personal interest in fallen economic remnants.  More so the simplicity of Reynolds’s performative intervention presents ‘On /Off’ States as an effective, accessible and direct polemical comment on the psychic legacy of the Celtic Tiger.

In a direct micro contrast some of Lisa Flynn’s close-up video work  ‘Drawing Breath’,  ‘Hello Stranger ‘ and  ‘Untitled Breath’  in Gallery 1 focuses on detailed imagery of the body.  By the nature of its filming the work invites a response akin to intimately following a drawing in progress.  Her screens on the back wall now become the curiously interactive visuals that by location can be seen to speak first to the gallery’s window and street beyond.

Johathan Sammon’s boundaries can be regarded as traditionally ‘darker’ representing the sometimes heightened sensory psycho-geographic readings   of landscape made familiar by writers like Ian Sinclair and WG Sebald .   The gothic graveyard looming in Sammon’s film  ‘A Merry Peal of Celebration’ flickers between a 50’s B movie Hollywood set and a sort of 3D european fairytale.  In his presented visual notes it appears the landscape itself has to be unpacked before a path can be traced.  His statement mentions emotional detatchment.

Gallery 2 hosts photos, graphics and a video by Michelle Horrigan who presents a poetic fusion of biographical details of the poet Dante and the landscape of Baux de Provence.  This landscape with its representational rock formations is said to have been an inspiration for the ‘Purgatorio’ section of his Divine Comedy.  Her cinematic video ‘Purgatory’ is a true almost acedemic example of the wanderer making observations, links and formulating a many stranded narrative speculation towards a work that in its final form transends the investigative process undertaken for it.

This engaging show reflects well the curator’s intention to present artists who explore self, identity and place through a prism of landscape without overly referencing the august tradition of ‘Landscape Art’ in an Irish context.   The concept of destination is also collectively questioned in the respective pieces by a variety of macro and micro strategies and this is one of the exhibition’s many strengths.  Location also succeeds as an introduction to the fluid ‘almost practice’ of Psycho-geography by contemporary visual artists.

Apr 102012
 

Originally published on Bock the Robber

St Patrick’s day as a brand in Ireland is often seen as re-imported such is the prominence of re-broadcast Irish news items featuring American presidents, cities with green rivers and a running joke in the Simpsons. This year RTE ran a glowing piece showing the Sydney Opera house matched with a financial building in Abu Dhabi joined together  by St Pat and strong green lighting.

Dramatic foreign picturesque events should not be looked at as an Irish performance benchmark for March 17 as we have come to terms with the fact of having no ownership of this brand abroad.  It’s common knowledge that Obama’s casual vist to an Irish bar this year in Washington spoke to the Irish vote for America rather than any meaningful gesture to our sainted isle. The meaning of the day is now whatever you want it to be.  And so it should.  Let everyone now fashion a paton saint to serve both corporate interests and the craic of a day off.

In Limerick the day manifested by the parade is a celebration of people and the city.  Previously, in various counties I usually spent this day working either as a parade participant or as a photographer (contributing to ‘The Brand’) but this year I spent it as a member of the public and watched the city pass by outside the Hunt Museum.

What was immediately evident in the excited atmosphere was the amount of collaboration between crowd and participants.   It was easy here for anyone local or otherwise to get caught up in the support and reasoning of this parade as it peopled itself through the city. Between the cheers and shouts of recognition there was plenty of detailed commentary from friends and relatives filling in on the Friends of the Elderly walk-past, bands, and various school and sports groups.

Confusingly, youngsters behind the barriers screamed for attention at random flag carriers and other facepainted adults who came over for brief chats before carrying on. I realised that those in the parade were teachers or assistants and their fans were those who were previous participants or knew them from weekend workshops. March 17 always showcases the creative community work that has been ongoing for months but the interaction through the barricades registered just how much off it there is in Limerick. The gangs of cardboard covered children in the Limerick Printmakers and also Northside Learning Hub LSAD assisted group stood out in this celebratory context.




The public spirit of Limerick remains its diversity and pride in an understated public identity and the rhythm of the parade reflected this.  A chanting group from a primary school would be bookended by a fire engine and the Limerick Filipino community, who showcased a beauty pageant on a truck with a raucous rock n roll band. This band were fully aware of their situation and rose to the occasion by gleefully belting out ‘you may be wrong,  I may be crazy’ by Billy Joel.  I realised that the presentations that conventionally did not make sense spoke the loudest in representing the city.  Most enjoyable was the speculation on possible meanings in clusters and groupings. For example, why were a troop of scouts armed with attitude and water pistols and what was with the unexpected and heartening cheer that greeted the inter-faith groups walk-by?

There is a traditional local business aspect in parading wares and trades on this day.  An Irish cliché has many a small town shivering on the sidelines waving flags as the local car dealership makes its annual drive by. However it is often in this self-designed world that the richness of the local vernacular is glimpsed often just once a year and intentions and self initiated creativity triumph over formal artistic approaches.  Illustrating this I very much enjoyed the surrealism and fun contained in a parade float from Crecora, County Limerick.

Stone Age brick and stone supplies may have simply designed their contribution as a showcase of their sculpted wares but in treating the flatbed as a theatre set they ended up presenting much more.  A Victorian nymph kneels in a job lot of sand to face a galloping stone horse and foal. Riding the horse is a live redheaded horseman in a Limerick jersey with a tricolour for a saddle. He ignores a duck at the horse’s feet and also a backwards-facing stag. The feeling is mutual.  So preoccupied is the stag that it pays no attention to the Munster rugby flag tied to its antlers. Perhaps it is because there is a small green hat covering its eyes. Quietly at the back, a smaller nymph seems to be dreaming all this at once.

Any creative situation involving a horse is currently very ’Limerick City’ and as the tableau from Stone Age Brick and Stone passed the Hunt I imagined that somewhere in its building the gilded horse from the Horse Outside community art project nodded its head in approval.  In celebrating a Limerick confident with its unique self reflection, and creativity may I suggest that It is only a matter of time before the Rubberbandits are asked to lead the parade.

 

Mar 042012
 

Introduction.

The Statue of Richard Harris in Limerick City is an unsure monument to a Limerick-born actor and sportsman. It may be said that the consequences of an agenda surrounding its construction have denied the city an open / lateral reading of his legacy. Instead decisions taken and managed have supported a fixed solution that serves a commercial rather than a public site.

Issues of place, managed space and what Marc Auge called anthropological places (areas that contain memories of previous places) are suggested in this investigation of the complex circumstances and consequences of the idea of Richard Harris in a Limerick context.

Traditional agendas in regard to monuments and place overlap with the reframing tactics and unitary urbanist actions that intentionally and unintentionally radiate from the primary site.  These actions combined with some redefined vernacular monuments and situations are offered in contrast to imposed forms of urbanism. The actions are suggested in research methods led by Lefebvre’s critical concept of the festival, ‘a celebration of the collective ownership of urban Space’. (1)

 

EXTROVERTED SPACE.

City centre monuments mark public areas in units of bronze, steel and stone. These objects in the western tradition exist in the main for historical commemoration but also manifest issues of propriety in the context of location. The static cityscape figure is familiar and well established by the industrial revolution.  William Morris wrote on how this time classified a new kind of artist, set adrift from community craftsmanship, whose practice now became reliant on patronage. The new fine artist under a capitalist agenda was employed to sell back to the bourgeoisie ‘commodifed versions of their own visions of themselves’ (2)

As designated modules in a city, monumental markers continue to visualise the dominant material relations represented primarily by civic and mercantile interests.  Marx and Engels mentioned that the ruling classes came to manage the ‘ideas of mental production’ over those who, they determined, ‘lacked the ability to do so themselves (3).  Grant Kester remarks of modernism that ‘we understand the work of art in the context of a system of given cultural and historical constructs that construct the category of ‘”art’” as a repository for values actively suppressed within the dominant culture’ (4).

The obvious but understated fact is that if questioned, those who commission and direct the construction of didactic or mimetic representations in the city may find that in the end, their endeavours have ‘less to do with the lessons of history than the (actual) construction of (a) cultural identity’ (5).

In his book The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch discusses the open position of vernacular landmarks as geographic markers. He speaks of a ‘coincidence of association and imageability’ when a landmark ‘coincides with a concentration of association’. (6).  It now becomes the process around location that is the key context for this conversation on the fixed and the vernacular map points. Both organised and disorganised travels in urban space make use of a combination of private and public monuments as markers. These beacons continuously dissect paths for both consumers and wanderers and it is in a matrix of these travels that a cityscape primarily accounts for itself.

Traditional landmarks exude fixed meanings but Lynch also draws attention to the cartographical significance of the vernacular objects that exist alongside monuments. They exist alongside the sponsored or commissioned units: the city’s uncommissioned or detoured objects that function both as physical and psychological markers. While the use value of the fixed monument is based on a subjective passivity, it is in the user dialogue between official and unofficial points occupied by the fixed, transient and virtual monuments that the true psychic map of a place exists. These combine in what the Marxist geographer Doreen Massey calls extroverted space.

In recognising this dialogue a particular investigation of space now invites a more complex reading if location politics and aspects of place are brought to the fore.  In the introduction to ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’ Micheal de Certeau suggests guidelines for such an inquiry. ’The presence and circulation of a representation (taught by preachers, educators, and popularisers as the key to socioeconomic advancement) tells us nothing about what it is for its users. We must first analyse its manipulation by users who are not its makers. Only then can we gauge the difference or similarity between the production of the image and the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilisation’ (7).

 

FIXING AN IMAGE OF RICHARD HARRIS.

The subject of interest is a bronze representation of the Limerick-born actor Richard Harris fixed in the commercial environment of Bedford Row in Limerick City centre. Fashioned in a realist manner by the Limerick sculptor Jim Connolly, the statue was commissioned by the city council in 2008 as an integrated focal point for the €3 million Bedford Row regeneration process.

The council had mooted a commemoration to the popular Limerickman for some time.  Once the regeneration began, agendas were integrated and the statue was included in the process now as the figurehead of the Bedford Row project.  Everything regarding the subject matter and management of the statue as well as issues arising from its intended location was channelled through a group called the Cultural and Environmental Strategic Policy Committee.  A decision was made to create a monument to Harris by rendering his image in the character of King Arthur from his first major film role, a British musical of 1967 called Camelot. The bronze is reputed to have cost €150,000.

Connolly’s statue was unveiled in 2008 to some criticism (5).  The Limerick press reported that members of Limerick’s Art community questioned its size, shape and poor resemblance to the actor.  The painter John Shinnors spoke here of a ‘missed opportunity’.  Unfamiliarity was an expressed concern.  The Limerick public expected to experience at least a celebration of his sporting background via a solid visual reference linking Harris to the active culture of rugby in the city. This expectation was fanned by newspaper polls combined with the knowledge that a statue of Harris as a young racquetball player was already struck in Killkee Co Clare (2006) (8).

A small concession does exist in the understated plaque at the base of the Bedford row statue. It references Harris in character as a rugby player in the Oscar-nominated film ‘This Sporting Life’. By its size and understated placing, this touch is  both an acknowledgement and a denial of the rugby content of his legacy in bronze in Bedford row.  It appears as a badge on the sleeve rather than the full uniform.

Holding an inverted sword with a proclamation of peace inscribed at the base, this interpretation of Arthurian legend as delivered in the film Camelot became the figure that was unveiled to the Limerick public in 2008.  However, a combination of the commercial location of Bedford Row and the unfamiliar, relatively obscure, film reference invited a certain amount of confusion.

In an act of intervention the statue was christened ‘The Burger King’.  Locals were drawn to the similarities between the statue’s crown and the ubiquitous cardboard crown supplied by the fast food chain (a long established business in the city centre).  King Arthur’s stance positioned him across from another much used fast food joint trading in this space at weekends and the visual joust between the monument and the business came to define the place.  The quick act by which the bronze became known by its nickname was the first intervention by the public in the process albeit through humour. The act was also a representation of the process of de Certeau’s secondary production

Physiognomy suggests the notion that identity can be divined from external appearances and public expectations were high that any representation of Harris would in some way channel many aspects of his public life.  His multi-dimensional legacy was very much in the public domain.  How to represent the totality of such an individual without compromise in the traditional format is another matter. Yet it was the assumption that some attempt would be made to tackle this as a brief.

The Limerick Leader newspaper ran a poll asking what type of (conceptual / biographical) ‘material’ should be considered as sculptural commemoration. (6) The paper deduced that there remained the sense that people now wanted a physicality associated with the Harris myth. They wanted to see him, to put meat on the bones of the many tales about him that are passed around the city.  Because this was no forgotten individual of the past, this was a sportsman, actor, singer, poet and a Limerick man of living memory.

The concept of creating a monument celebrating popular Irish entertainers was common in 2008.  In 2005, Dublin unveiled a city centre bronze of the Irish rock star Phil Lynott and this quickly became a popular locus for fan and tourist appreciation.  Around this time the concept of an Irish entertainer existing as commemorated icon began to impact on the thinking of local authorities where previously the concept had been unknown.  It now made sense to respect the process of rendering contemporary references in public as they could be justified under a progressive commercial agenda.  These units spoke for the currency of certain spaces and the remit of remembrance widened to include commercial ‘spin-off agendas.

The one per cent for art scheme introduced by the state facilitated some populist / fan-led applications that previously would have remained within particular communities of interest.  The bronze of the guitarist Rory Gallagher in Donegal is another example of this.

 

 A RUGBY LOCUS.

The actor and celebrity friend of Harris, Russell Crowe, unveiled the Kilkee statue in 2006 and his presence for this generated much interest. The subtext in the media coverage at the time was to stoke a dramatic Harris / Crowe / Rugby / Hellraiser mix around the ceremony.  This was always a convenient commentary which encouraged a mythical reading for an audience sympathetic to both men’s chat show personas.

Once the news that a statue of Harris was proposed for Limerick, the interest and sentiment for it was high.  It began to be willed into existence as a totem that would function on many levels.  In overall discussion there was the primary expectation that a representation of the actor would operate as a type of shrine that would accommodate the city’s relationship with rugby in a traditional fashion.  To have this marked as such would be as important as any recognition of his acting legacy.

There is a decorative factor to Limerick city driven by the rugby-themed advertising as building-sized jerseys and inflatable promotional material dot the city centre when matches feature in Thomond Park.  However, before the prevalence of alcohol companies’ sport sponsorship began to visually impact on the city there was another act by the city to officially draw attention through the medium of sculpture to the profile and civic relationship that it has with Rugby.

The city owns a series of small, forgotten, truncated posts of steel that radiate from the city centre towards the grounds of Thomond park

This was the Munster Trail, a means by which a wandering participant would traverse the city centre and be led to the sacred ground , the home of Munster Rugby.  This was more of a tangential conversation with the subject and any conceptual idea of sculpture to facilitate a brief appears to be undertaken at planning / city architect level. The evidence for this rests in the shape of the posts which are variants of the street barriers generally used by the council.  By choosing these pre-fabricated modules as basic markers to sketch out this commemorative path it appears that any other aesthetic / conceptual considerations for remodeling have been ignored.  There are examples where city authorities have supported civic boundary projects that have featured similar ‘posts’ and incorporated conceptual material.  Often there is a superficial overlapping of form between street furniture and urban sculpture with particular durable materials as a common factor.

Today a neglected ‘Munster trail’ remains and a collection of anonymous unmaintained stainless steel stubby posts, some with a faded Limerick City logo attached, functioning neither as sculpture, street furniture nor signage.

Another anonymous and unbranded example hangs across from Colbert station. It is a banner that covers the front of a closed building.  Here the outline of a rugby player is rendered in white against the photo background of cheering Limerick fans. The accompanying text reads simply ‘The 16th Man, Limerick city’.

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At the base of the banner, a surveillance camera is focused on the neighbouring Casino giving the site the unplanned appearance of a contemporary Art piece or a sort of sculpted movie billboard.  When the banner and camera are read as one the effect is to re-focus attention on the white outline, which now appears as a figure trace from a  TV crime drama.  Branding would have managed the banner’s intended celebratory meaning but in the absence of a logo or maintenance either from the city, the corporation, or an alcohol company, the identity of 16thman is visually problematic when it is read as a ‘greeter’ to the city. This is accentuated because of the banner’s location.  Subliminally visitors may ponder this.

Charlie St George’s bar at the base of this exhaust-covered banner is also of interest here.  It highlights a personal touch that is located in the site.  A small window display has been organised in e window with rugby-related material paying tribute to past teams and games in the city.  To the right of this display is an understated postcard-sized image of a stern bearded man leaning on a staff in the countryside. It is Harris, not in a sporting pose but in character from the film The Field.  Regarding the site, visitors are encouraged to make the link between the man and the place.  His portrait is almost colours hung in pride (9).  Entering the bar itself (as Russell Crowe did) you will be told that it has a long tradition with Young Munster, Harris’s beloved club.

At present (until legislation dictates otherwise) it is primarily the alcohol companies who remain keen to develop brand relations with the city via rugby as their promotional budgets allow the spend for it.  Each year promotional displays compete with each other on the street and become ever more prominent with each event.  On match days, huge branded jerseys cover buildings and inflatable goalposts on pub doorways facing public thoroughfares become commercial monuments for citizens to navigate around.

This temporary branding of the city centre is seen as a positive in civic discussions as the financial benefits that surround the game will always be seen as a  benefit to the city.

On big match days there is a sense of religious fervour as locals and visitors walk together from the city centre (through Bedford Row) towards Thomond Park.  The linking of the passion of Rugby with Limerick civic pride is regularly echoed in the promotional language of the alcohol companies’ material and this buy-in is largely unquestioned.  The sociologist Erik Cohen in a definition of pilgrimage, defined the process as a movement from the ‘profane periphery’ to the ‘sacred centre’, while tourism by contrast, involves a movement from the cultural centre to the periphery, or to the centre of other cultures and societies (10).  This contraction is in itself a definition of place and its dynamic again accesses de Certeau’s description of the production of image.

There are relics in the holy space too. The Museum in Thomond Park holds a letter written by Harris to the producers of a film he was signed up for.  In it he asks to be excused from filming for the weeks of certain Munster matches.

THREE CONSIDERED CHOICES FOR A COMMEMORATIVE IMAGE OF RICHARD HARRIS NOT IMMEDIATELY EVIDENT IN REGARD TO SITE.

 

1. The Bull McCabe. The familiar.

Before his late career success with the film The Field, Harris was paying a price for decades of unsatisfactory career choices by touring a stage version of Camelot. While lobbying for the lead in The Field he was at the same time acting in a stage version of Camelot, a theatrical self-commemoration of sorts based on a role that initially brought him fame.

Parallel with the Youtube clips of his talk show appearances, the most popular tribute to the man is continuous (9).  It is the yearly reruns of The Field on Irish television.  In this award-winning role he channels The Bull Mc Cabe, a patriarchal farmer in this rural Irish psychodrama.  Reviews of his performance tend to locate the character of The Bull in the familiar theatrical language of a romantic landscape.  Earthy terms such as ‘his craggy features’ abound in the descriptive shorthand that links the theme of the man with the land familiar to Irish rural drama since the 18th century.

John B Keane, the author of the play ‘The Field’, based the story of blood attachment to land on a real-life incident of murder decades previously. This fact may have accounted for the council downplaying the possibility of a bronze of the character ‘Bull’ being cast in memory of Harris.

 

LIVING MONUMENTS.

Identity surrounding The Field’s shooting location in Leenane, County Galway,  is as intractably bound with the film itself as the village of Cong is with the Hollywood film The Quiet Man. This continues a tradition of American productions dealing with rural Irish themes on location since 1910 when a film shot in Ireland by The Kalem Company called ‘The Irish Lad’ became the first American film made on location outside the US. (10)

Once anointed, places that ‘stand in for others are encouraged to reflect on the experience and to regard their own landscape in the narrative of the finished film in the language of the tourist economy.  These well-known films construct virtual environments and become living monuments to imagined spaces.  Communities are proud, and even thankful of the association with the dream factory that simplifies the complexities of a rural Irish environment and then manage the consequences within tourist boundaries.

This is the tradition of Irish film locations inviting the identity of an imagined Irishness once a production has wrapped.

An actual working village ‘’Kirrary Town’’ near Dingle was created for the film Ryan’s Daughter (Harris was considered for the role of a British Major in this). The village was donated to the community afterwards and the remaining stones of this gift are still visited as curiosities.  Continuing interest had led to a nostalgic documentary on the making of the film and the surrounding area. The same Kerry site was used in 1991 for the film Far and Away.

Another set for Far and Away remodelled some of Temple Bar in Dublin’s city centre invoking 1880’s New York. The handpainted commercial signage left behind consequently merged with the 19th century-themed design of the host buildings. The regeneration of Temple Bar had just begun and a hyper-real patina left by the filmmakers was subsumed in this process

Less subtle is another clash of signifiers in Galway. The City hosts a mural of John Wayne and Maureen O Hara who are pictured in combat from the film the Quiet Man amongst a collage of shops and supermarkets. A business rendered here is again the ubiquitous Burger King.  This mural remains as a tourist-contemplated artwork that celebrates both the Quiet Man and contemporary consumer choice in a city centre location. Other examples are towns of Avoca and Enniskerry in Wicklow, which maintain continuous associations with the British TV series Ballykissangel.

An image of Harris playing the character the ‘Bull’ McCabe was chosen by An Post to commemorate 100 years of Irish Cinema as a postage stamp in 1996.  The exposure from this choice is significant in how the image of Harris the actor is currently held in Ireland.  A mention of The Field remains on one of the insert plaques at the base of the statue. This particular insert is placed (out of sight) at the back on the base of the figure of Arthur.

2. Hail fellow well met.

In Limerick, Harris’s generosity of spirit is never more than a glass away, particularly if in company with men of his generation.  One of his contemporaries, while referring to the amount of former Limerick rugby players who claim to have broken Harris’s nose in a game, remarked  ‘it’s a bit like the patriots who say they were in the GPO in 1916, there’s more of them each year’.  Everyone it seems is obliged to have a story about some shared adventure with the man in the 60’s and 70’s.  Tales build other tales and in retelling the anecdotes are grafted together in a collective bond.  This is in no small way helped by television repeats of the Late Late Show where Harris’s appearances have become embedded into public consciousness.  With regularity, TV hosts such as The Late Late Show’s Gay Byrne framed and stoked these ‘wild tales’ as reified entertainment for a mass audience. Consequently people were invited to believe that they ‘knew’ Harris. The Irish have responded to this managed role admiringly and possibly more so than any character Harris professionally played on screen.  The image/cliché of the rebellious wayward creative, localised and fêted both  as Irish and as a character on Broadway can perhaps be traced back to the reception afforded to Brendan Behan at the height of his fame.

Sometimes stories don’t even need to be true.  Around 2008 a character in Limerick had a routine for seeking free drink in city centre bars by pretending to be Harris’s brother.  An imagined demand for Harris was taken as an opening for an opportunist to exploit the legacy using stories from it as a resource.

3. Presenting a statue as an open source for intervention.

Although he was teetotal since 1981 Harris’s dominant public legacy continues to be this media-supported image of the wild man.  It is this aspect of his fame that was referenced with an unauthorised intervention to his presence in the Bedford Row in 2010.  Someone painted the underside of the statue’s nostrils white.

Some creative was suitably inspired to visualise a drug reference on to the statue. Harris fought an addiction with cocaine and nearly died of an overdose in 1978.  Whether the perpetrator knew this or not the cocaine inference remained until eventually the white marks were spotted and cleaned off.  In a previous intervention King Arthur’s inverted sword itself was damaged in an altercation with an oversized delivery van.  Factor in the weekend acts of action painting that renders the granite surrounding the statue’s base abstract with fast food and cola stains, then the vision of the authorised image of Harris in Bedford Row remains increasingly in a flux.

Anchoring the statue in place.

In a casual read, the project seems to have simply wanted to mirror the official process that commissioned a bronze called ‘The Singer from Quimper’ in the nearby Cruises St shopping area in 1992. This particular exercise in city centre regeneration was a notable intervention for its time by the Council and the unquestioned conservative figure spoke simply on its site. This was a direct and uncomplicated process.  On paper a facsimile process for Bedford Row must have sought to channel the simplicity of a time when any act seen to ‘combat recession’ which spoke of an agenda of commercial ‘progress’ had unquestioned universal support.  The foreword to the Limerick city strategic plan of 2008 even quotes the Bedford Row development as an example of how rejuvenated space prompts ‘significant private sector investment’.  Any city centre remodelling post 80’s was reviewed positively.  There was not an automatic update for Bedford Row à  la Cruises St. The idea of a city centre-shopping base with ‘Art’ as a civic cure-all is not a handed down economic given no matter how neat and attractive the concept is.

Commentary of modernist regulation in contemporary city space as critique has profile through the work of Henri Lefebvre who termed the process the (techno-bureaucratic) ‘production of space’. The alternative ‘restoration of ‘a totally human experience’ promoted by Lefebvre is not in evidence here and any consideration of it would register as a complex insertion.  The basic thrust of regeneration in the areas of question prioritises these areas’ maintenance and thus the fixed statue amongst paving has a long history as a popular option/solution. A graffiti stencil with the image of the Joker from the Batman film franchise remains on Bedford Row beside the film-based statue of Harris.  Funny yet? It asks.

On the base of the commissioned statue of King Arthur there is prominent information outlining a mercantile history of the Harris family.  This eulogy has a higher word count on the plaque than the actual biographical details of the actor who is surely the presumed focus of the commemoration.  Considering this and on balance, the word-count confirms the primacy of the overall agenda designed by the commissioning body.  One may speculate on why such detailing is present.  This may then focus on the phrase on the front of the statue which states that the bronze is ‘in memory and celebration of Richard Harris, Actor (and) was unanimously approved by Limerick Co Council’.

To render any information about the commissioning process in bronze, as part of the object seems excessive. To include the word ‘unanimously’ suggests that those involved in legitimising the process were conscious to emphasise the participation and judgment of the civic authority in all decisions regarding not just Harris’s legacy but issues of artistic merit, location and of course the statue as a figurehead for shopping.  Following this hierarchy of information the dominant foregrounding of the family’s mercantile history in Limerick firmly anchors the statue firstly as a component of Bedford Row’s commercial agenda and only then as a representation of an actor who once played King Arthur.

However any intended fixed meaning by the council has been undermined by regular interventions. The site generates its own movement. All contents of the location now exist in a twisted bind of unusual sorts. The representative strands combine aspects of the act of shopping, a tribute to the mercantile achievements of the Harris family, (according to the statue they founded the Limerick County Lawn Tennis Club), urbanist actions and the varied associations with the actor’s legacy.  In total this statue now hosts active agendas in constant change. The intended, almost romantic, meaning of Harris commemorated as King Arthur is undoubtedly reduced.

The Bedford Row Harris stands rendered in bronze and cola forever outside the Bank of Ireland, with an outstretched arm that ambiguously salutes or rallies against Supermac’s fast-food restaurant.  It strives for attention and demands to be heard as an ideal.  But the collective noise from a site that has subsumed the image insists instead that everything must be heard at once calling to mind Walter Benjamin’s description of architecture as ‘the prototype of art which is appreciated by a collectivity in a state of distraction’. (11)

 

Articulated moments and unfixed monuments

Doreen Massey defines place as follows. ‘What gives place its specificity is not some long internalised history but the fact that it is constructed out of a particular constellation of social relations, meeting and weaving together at a particular locus.  Instead then of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around them, they can be imagined as articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings, but where a large proportion of those relations, experiences and understandings are constructed on a far larger scale than what we happen to define for that moment as the place itself, whether it be a street, or a region or even a continent’ (12).

The brief to physically commemorate a figure associated with the City and present a particular reading in a fixed location has in this case generated a continuous monument unfixed from the commercial figurehead envisaged by a dominant authority in fronting a shopping area.

There is another city centre monumental reference to Richard Harris that registers as fixed in its own identity but fluid in another.  It is a headstone in the grounds of St John’s Church in John’s Square, one of Limerick’s oldest Christian grounds.  Amongst the weathered graves in the front of the deconsecrated Church, someone spotted a version of the name Richard Harris on a white stone headstone from 1906. They rubbed that section clean as an imaginary ‘out of copyright’ reclamation of Harris’s name for the City Centre. Within this act of reverse graffiti by another street creative the name Harris has been drawn into the realm of the scrawled commemorations to be seen on buildings from John’s Square to Bedford Row.

Harris’s actual ashes are scattered in the Bahamas.  In Limerick his memory can now be registered in a matrix created in the fabric of a living city that imagines him having an imaginary barfly brother, residing in a sedate grave in a churchyard  whose church building was also once a dance studio, glowering from a secondhand videocassette of The Field in William St, looking brooding from the cover of a greatest hits cd in HMV, in a faded image on the back of a postcard and finally frozen in a bronze statue inspired from a 60s British musical. His legacy mutates yearly, he is continuously being remembered and discussed by the people of in Limerick in Limerick terms.

This open reading of a monument for Richard Harris resists the edited version commissioned by Limerick city Council.  If we designate the council as a dominant authority with an applied subjectivity, then the intention of its ‘mental production’ in regard to a joint commemoration of the legacy of Richard Harris has to be registered as a limited solution supplanted by an agenda that prioritised any reading of the site as primarily a commercial place and not as a repository for a particular Limerick man.

There is something of the unfinished in all this as different methodologies come into play.  Jacques Derrida created the term ‘hauntology’ when writing on the exotic nature of unrealised futures in his 1993 book ‘Spectres of Marx’.  These unrealised futures derive from past points in history and in the contemplation of reconsidered scenarios such as those circling the idea of a monument for Harris —  a creative approach citing hauntology could be sought.  Artists taking part in the AV festival (international festival of Art Technology, Music and Film) in the north of England in 2012 operated on a ‘slow’ approach in formatting creative responses to place. The festival’s statement mentions that ‘in order to re-animate the past, slowness must first occur, perhaps to entice a nostalgia for memories that never happened and a future that never was. (sic)

This new remapping of the statue in regard to the multiple points of input surrounding the legacy of Harris questions the rationale of the fixed monument when a situation is framed as a complex system in the language of urban planning.  Complex systems usually follow nonlinear patterns of cause and effect, which means that most of the situations requiring social interventions require looking for complex forms of causality.  The complexity surrounding Harris, his legacy, and his position within a wider process was recognised and simplified to the extent that monument from the city would not invite any complex forms of causality.

 

FIXED AND UNFIXED OPPORTUNITIES.

 

Commissioning a western civic monument hails a traditional process that errs on the side of the permanent and respects a history of material on a plinth. The subject must be deemed worthy of entry to a civic pantheon irrespective of which city in question.  Deviations or expansions within this process are rare. In London a popular competition set around the empty fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square invites leftfield applications that are intended conceptually to expand the site and the text of the monument.  Part of any reading generated by this allowed process is of course based in the contrast of a chosen work for the plinth reaffirming the traditional agenda.  Once installed, leftfield or temporary presentations on the fourth plinth are tied first and foremost to the Trafalgar site.

Limerick’’s most famous monument is The Treaty Stone.  This is the reputed object on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691.  In the city its image in all shapes and sizes is familiar as a logo freely used by taxis and many other businesses.  It is even neatly replicated carved on another stone monument in Pery Square that commemorates ‘All who died in the service of world peace’.  In a continuation an image of that monument is then used as a photo display in the front of the Limerick City Gallery of Art.  In a Limerick context, The Treaty Stone is a ubiquitous mobile monument, literally in the case of a photo-shopped version that adorns a council refuse van. This unsubtle visual was commissioned as part of an anti-litter campaign and shows a gigantic cigarette being extinguished on the stone.

Without a plinth this ‘sign’ is an ambiguous large stone but when elevated and framed by King John’s Castle it commands first and foremost an obligatory status for tourist bus stops as the premier representative icon of the City.

The plinth itself is celebrated in commemoration with the large inscription on the side facing the castle that states ‘This Pedestal Was Erected May 1865 John Rickard Tinsley Mayor.’  This in no uncertain terms establishes a civic horizon for the viewer by the size of this inscription. Explanations are registered in smaller type.  A fabricated information display outlines the complex chronology that led to the treaty being signed and stands alongside the pedestal.  A version of this information is also repeated in bronze at the base of the stone.  In fact the site is noisy with the amount of related graphics demanding attention.  For example the stone even merits an adjacent plaque that records movement from its previous site 20 feet away (1865-1990).

Unfortunately, for years this display has hosted a typo that in one instance informed readers that the Treaty was signed in 1891.  Again, the stone is just a ‘reputed’ site of history, willed and accepted into place by city authorities since 1865.  Though the typo is small it is still within officially sanctioned text and no less problematic because of its size.

Between the ambiguous site of the signing of the treaty and the confusing nature of the date the fixed nature of the site becomes inauthentic and temporal rather than fixed.

THE CHARACTER OF COLLABORATION

Gaps appear and meanings arise from images in position as situations are activated irrespective of intention.  An unaccredited stone plaque outside the White House bar reads ‘’ The Limerick is furtive and mean; you must keep her in close quarantine, or she sneaks up to the slums and promptly becomes disorderly drunk and obscene ‘’.  Fixed scenarios appear as narrow and unsatisfactory for Limerick when monuments are rendered within monuments and somebody’s headstones commemorate someone else’s ashes on a beach in the Bahamas.  Dates and icons hold confused identity and when only the speculated tales of a virtual man on Youtube offers security is it safe to negotiate the city space.  Maurice Merleau-Ponty spoke for an experience beyond the physicality of architectural objects and beyond the chronological sequence of a programme, not so much for a place for events to occur but the continuous unfolding of spaces and vistas and the continual overlapping of programmes. (13)

There are two significant examples of the act of commemoration unique to Limerick City that may offer the experience called for by Merleau-Ponty.  These two examples expand the concept of a monument and introduce a vernacular continuum to the process. They are publicly generated and follow what Jane Rendell has termed ‘Critical Spatial practice’ by which work is positioned in a way that makes it possible to question the terms of engagement or the projects themselves in relation to site. (14)  

In these works the relationship betwen the commemorative subject and the audience in respect to the legacy of the subject is paramount.  The process recognises the profile of a fixed solution but formulates it by unique modes of address as a type of participatory engagement.  This activates the project for the future and follows the dialogical practice outlined by the British artist Stephen Willats where he says in ‘Society through Art’ (that) ‘a prerequisite for an art work that manifests a counter-consciousness is that the separation which existed between the artist and the audience is closed, that they become mutually engaged, to the point where the audience become the rationale in both the making and reception of the work’. (15)

 

RATIONALE ONE

 

In 2008 the respected Limerick rugby player Shane Geoghegan was murdered in a case of mistaken identity.  His death shocked the immediate and wider community and a response led to a series of public events that united the city in condemming the profile of gang crime synonymous with Limerick City at this time.  Many tributes were paid to the deceased and  much coverage was given to his commitment in organising and coaching young rugby players.

The Pitch for Shane project was devised as a monument to the player’s memory and led by Geoghegan’s aunt Margaret Walsh who is a ceramicist.  The commemorative artwork involves the creation of 20,000 small figures moulded in clay.  When the target figure was reached, this ‘metaphorical pitch’ was displayed in the civic office gallery space in Istabraq Hall in Merchant’s Quay for 6 weeks. Significantly the creation of the figures is undertaken by the public who were invited to mould the shapes.  Each weekend in the city’s Milk Market a stall was set up where members of the public were invited to fashion a figure to add to the field.

This process is supported by a presence on the web and in posters around the City.  One supporter, Mark Quinn,

climbed Everest and placed a small token for Shane at the summit.  This is an example of the engaged process that constantly generates a profile for the project and the Shane Geoghegan trust.  It invites participation and maintenance as a continuous process that references the low-key achievement in civic work undertaken by Shane in his career and continuously by his supporters.  According to the organisers it stands also as a monument to victims of violence.  The trust aims to offer children a range of community-based sporting and creative activities as alternatives to anti-social behaviour.

The process is referenced through a reading of art out of necessity.  The project’s inspiration according to Margaret Walsh drew on the collective image of the Chinese Terracotta Army.  Other factors included an awareness of the year of the Volunteer and the year of Crafts combined with the city hosting the European Year of Sport. The ensuing profile combination allowed the memorial team a publicity stream on the subject daily.

As a physical endeavour the Pitch for Shane overtly references a famous work by the Sculptor Anthony Gormley called ‘Field’.  This art work uses thousands of hand-size clay figures that are installed in galleries where they are intended to, in the language of the press release of the Tate Gallery, ‘return our gaze, which has the effect of making us, and not them the subject of the work’.  Gormley’s Field is intended to ‘act as an invasion of ‘infection’ and the sensation is that of a tide; an endless mass that has become temporarily limited by the architecture of the place where it is installed, but could easily extend further than we can see.’

No reference is made to the remarkable visual similarity of the two projects in any of the commentary or reviews of the Pitch for Shane.  While visual similarities are impossible to ignore, the concept brief and the nature of the respective colaborative practices are diametrically opposed.  It is not known whether Gormley is aware of the Pitch project in Limerick.

 

 

RATIONALE 2

 

THE MAN WHO TOLD A JOKE AT HIS OWN FUNERAL.

 

There stands in Limerick one monument to a man who entertained and supported Rugby with a passion and is continuously celebrated by those who knew him. Here is a statement on the man and the monument to him by one of his friends.

Jock Hunter, wayward son of a Scottish judge, drifted into Limerick after thirty feckless years roaming the world.  In search of an old colleague from The Northern Rhodesian police, Jock also found a family.  In Limerick, he discovered all the things he loved: rugby, storytelling, fly-fishing, good conversation and a willing audience for his tall stories. When he died, his friends created Jock’s Block in his memory, constructing it with some of his ashes and a great deal of love. Today, the block sits outside the White House pub, where Jock held court and where he related some of his finest fibs.

The details of Jock’s commemoration are of interest in their own right but also as a contrast comparison to any fixed commemoration.

When Jock died he was in the process of recording a series of audio pieces for a children’s tale written by a local writer.  At his wake a recording of Jock telling his favorite joke was played as part of the ceremony.  Afterwards his friends decided that his memory should be kept alive in a manner that reflected his contribution to a particular place. It was important that any representation of his character should physically communicate this in Limerick.  This became the brief.

Funding was raised and a decision reached on a monument.  A two-foot concrete cube was finished with a small brass plaque fixed on top.  The plaque simply said, Jock Hunter, a proud Munster Man. Born Duirinish Scotland 6th February 1940. Died Limerick 12th July 2004.  Made for him by his friends.

The block was a repository. It was collectively built by those who oversaw his cremation and as a living vessel for his ashes. The ‘seat’ containing the ashes was placed permanently outside the White House Bar in O Connell St.  It is a monument commissioned by a community of interest, a sculpture, a resting place and a talking point.

One touch that registered the block as sculpture was the lengths of copper plumbing pipe that surrounded the concrete.  Jock was not the best plumber in the world and the physicality of this inside joke resonates with the intimate audience while gently puzzling others.

Any regular of the White House will take queries on the block.  They will give details on both the construction and the history of the man.  Jock therefore is creatively remembered as precisely as it is possible for a character to be remembered.  This welcoming invites a common ownership of Jock’s legacy as each visitor spreads the story.

Jock’s Block is a significant example of the lateral possibilities surrounding the construction of a monument in extrovert space.  In 2011 as part of the Catherine St CATDIG festival curated by The SpiritStore Art Project, one of Jock’s friends produced and performed a short monologue based on the man in Bourke’s Bar in Catherine St.  Titled ‘The man who told a joke at his own funeral’ this performance was billed as a celebration.  To a full house of friends and the curious, the monologue was performed around the actual block which was lent for the duration by the White House.

This commemoration will continue and with this and any similar project the lateral possibilities will always challenge fixed meanings.

‘’An author who teaches writers nothing teaches no one. What matters, therefore, is the exemplary character of production, which is able, first to induce other producers to produce, and second, to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better, the more consumers it is able to turn into producers – that is, readers or spectators into collaborators’’. Walter Benjamin.

 

 NOTES

John B Keane based the story of The Field on the 1959 murder of Moss Moore in Co Kerry.  The chief suspect was a neighbour Dan Foley who denied the charges.  As the incident would still be held in living memory the potential link would presumably have ruled out a representation of Harris as the Bull for a statue in Munster

Before he died Harris feared that he would be best known for the role as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies. In a short sentence the site www.deadoraliveinfo.com presents a description of his career begining with his role in Camelot and finishes with his Dumbledore role.  Thirty years separated the roles.

Contemporary compilations of the Late Late Show interviews introduced by Gay Byrne do not now concentrate on the charm of his guests’ tales of drunken benders.

Initial web searches for Harris interviews will flag the following.

Conan O Brien. 1998  ‘the late great Richard Harris drops by to entertain us with tales of his alcoholism.  The first quote underneath this Youtube clip reads ‘A real legend man, makes me proud to have Irish blood in me’.

The same individual posts on a clip of Harris on the Late Late show. ‘Richard Saint John Harris October 1930 – October 2002 I wont forget you mate, you are missed, and I honour your life by getting absolutely PISSED on this fine day, my role model.  You can’t take life too seriously, this guy knew how to have fun and fun is the most important thing in this life to have I believe, without fun you live a boring and dull life, live it up!! Go wild! Enjoy this one life you get here that’s what matters! RIP!’

The Image of Richard Harris as spectator in what is presumably a Rugby match on the Skiptraces banner was taken by a photographer unknown at present.  The  Limerick man with the glasses has been identified as a Mr John Horrigan and the boy as one Stewart Neilan. The occasion may have been a Young Munsters match in the early 90s

 

Footnotes.

1.  Jelena Stojanovic. internationaleries in Collectivism After Modernism. University of Minnesota press 2007.p33)   

2.  Will Bradley. Art and Social Change Ed Will Bradley and Charles Eche p 12

3.  The class, which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it.  (The) ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas; hence of the relations which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.’

MARX, Karl/ENGELS, Friedrich:  The German Ideology, p.22 /p.23

4.  Grant Kester. Dialogical Aesthetics.  Conversation Pieces university of California press 2004 p90.

5.  Ethel Seno. Trespass.  Taschen 2010. p82

6.  Kevin Lynch. The image of the City MIT press 1960. p101

7.  Michel De Certeau.  The Practice of Everyday Life.  University of California Press. Xxv111.

8.  www.news medianews.com/limcom.php

9.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TP3zJzamAfE

10.  Proinsias Ó Conluain, ‘Ireland’s First Films’, Sight and Sound, Vol.23, No2, October- December 1953. P 96.)

11.  Quoted in Bob Ostertag ‘Collateral Damage’ an article in the Wire magazine Aug 2011 p 20)

12.  Doreen Massey. PLACE. Ed Tacita Dean and Jeremy Miller Thames and Hudson 2004.  p104.

13.  Eoghan McTigue, ‘Eventing Space’ Circa Magazine issue 88 summer 1999.  p38-39

14. Jane Rendell, Art and architecture: a place Between (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006).

15.  Stephen Willats Society through Art (Quoted in Conversation Pieces.  Grant Kester University of California press 2004 p91)

__________

Paul Tarpey

Mar 032012
 

 

In 2007 a poster campaign appeared in Limerick City co ordinated by a group calling themelves A Movement for a Safer Ireland.  The message delivered by the A4 posters’ black on white text was anti-immigrant and racist in tone.  According to the text, foreign nationals were denying Irish nationals work and education opportunities.  This was a standard racist provocation replicated in similar messages by ‘white only’ groups in England and Europe.

The primary display area for the campaign was a regular route beginning at Colbert Station through to John St and it was updated monthly. This route, based on its radius from the station, hinted that the poster team were not Limerick-based.  It could have been a type of public-transport-facilitated tagging strategy where the act is undertaken using the visited city’s transport base as a hub. This is recognised graffiti practice.

Reaction was immediate as the posters were defaced and removed by a coalition of socialists, anti-fascists and offended citizens.  Extra-strong paste initially fixed the posters but after intervention they were reduced to scraps of print on wallspace and street hoardings.  However since the MSI had worked each month to establish their route, even without their full racist text, the scraps began to assert a familiar branded presence.  Concerned individuals began to monitor updates on the route and some even made a habit of carrying tools to scrape off new additions.

For the contested duration, alleyways that were attached to the main poster route quickly became linked units of marked, ripped, and twisted hate text that forced themselves on the walls.  The removal process by the coalition eventually decided on black spraypaint in retaliation, leaving streaks of translucent black lines as a final punctuation.

The remaining poster scraps with their fragmented message were a ragged cartography mapping out a perpendicular route from Colbert Station down towards the Milkmarket.   Even as scraps they continued their taunts on the walls of the area’s flats which were predominantly rented by the racist’s targets

The defeated campaign lasted approximately 9 months. Afterwards there was a report of a MSI team being caught in the act and attacked at one point. This story is regularly repeated but remains unconfirmed.

I began to record the erasures’ finish as end detailing because I participated in the campaign’s removal  and also because I was  interested in the leftover scraps from a communication perspective, an interest that included reflecting on the project’s construction and to identify it as a record of a collective act of protest.

The MSI has a web address printed on the posters and their logo tenaciously floated out and remained in much of the black blobs that marked the route.  The logo remained because often the intervention priority was to erase the printed message quickly, which sometimes meant that the smaller identity in the corners was overlooked.  The posters probably used a type of water-based glue and not conventional paste for application (the traditional term ‘paste’  will always refer to an applied postering process).

The posters were designed to physically bond with Limerick streets.  As much as the volume of racist endeavour is managed on the net there is always a basic street promotion built into the process.  Websites often have templates and encouragement for the application for these posters.  Obliteration by spraypaint became a solution that arose from a late awareness of the rhythms and tenacity of this campaign.

I looked at my collection of decommissioned images.  I had stolen words and half sentences in isolated English.  This archive suggested a reclamation from the overall intervention experience.  I wanted a commemoration of some sort to recognise the work that a group of Limerick citizens, mostly unknown to each other, undertook for the campaign’s removal.  It is continuously mentioned.  When I talk of this time more often than not in Limerick company someone will admit that they too peeled a poster there and then.

“Talk isnt ment about the victims” is a construction of an A0 digital image mounted on shuttering plywood.  Three A4 prints enlarge individual text from the MSI campaign to now read Talk / isnt / about.  These words are then tacked on to a larger image of black paint with the words ‘the victims’ faintly legible.  The final detoured sentence denies a communication of the MSI racist ethos and pays tribute to the collective deconstructive work of the self-directed coalition.

This construction was exhibited in the Limerick Printmakers open exhibition in 2007.  The intention in registering it as an artpiece for the Printmakers Gallery in Robert St took into account that the gallery’s location was in the middle of the route from Colbert Station to John St.  It was hung with a statement on the situation and the process.

 

__________

Paul Tarpey