Tuesday, December 23, 2014

5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

5 Ways To Build a Movement after Ferguson

The following is one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner re-posted with permission from Unity and Struggle.

1. Work to abolish police and prisons, not to reform them. President Obama has passed legislation to put body cameras on police officers, but this won’t stop the cops from killing black folks. Eric Garner’s murder was caught on camera like many others, and it didn’t save his life. Even worse, this reform can be used against the people it’s supposed to protect: a recent study showed body cameras help police far more often than their victims.

The police and the prison system can’t be reformed, because their basic role is to maintain a racist, unjust, unequal capitalist society–and this requires violence. As Kristian Williams documented in Our Enemies in Blue, police forces developed in the U.S. to capture runaway slaves, crush strikes, and prevent hungry mobs from taking what they needed to live. The system isn’t “broken” when it kills someone like Mike Brown, it’s working just as intended.

Instead of chasing reforms, we should work to abolish police and prisons. It won’t happen all at once, but we can guide our efforts with the catchphrase: disempower, disarm, and disband. We can disempower the police on the streets, by building neighborhood groups that respond to police abuse, and deter them from terrorizing us. We can demand the police be disarmed, taking away their military gear and firearms. And we can work to disband police units one-by-one, starting with the most vicious.

2. Build democratic groups, where we create our own leaders. The old Civil Rights-era leaders are falling back. Jesse Jackson was booed off stage in Ferguson in August, when he tried to pass a collection plate. Al Sharpton was booed when he told everyone to vote for the Democrats. The change is long overdue: these leadersgained prominence only when the movement of the 1970s was defeated, by substituting their own interests for those they claimed to represent, and have stayed in the spotlight ever since.

Now we have the opportunity to build directly democratic groups, events and activities, in which poor and working class people can lead collectively. Yes, the movement needs leaders. But real leaders don’t exist just to stay in power, or make themselves famous. Instead they help the movement develop, and help new leaders to emerge to grapple with new problems. We need leaders from our own neighborhoods and workplaces, who fight in the streets with us, and who make themselves unnecessary over time.

3. Judge people by what they propose and do, not by their identity or rhetoric.This movement is about fighting against the oppression of black people. But at the same time this movement holds promise for everyone: smashing racism and the police will help all poor and working class people, and enrich our common humanity. The movement should welcome everyone who’s really about these goals on as equal footing as possible.

Not everyone thinks this way. With good intentions, many people use “ally” or “privilege” politics to try to correct the inequalities of capitalism and racism within the movement. But most of the time, this just causes those not at the center of these struggles (often, white people) to get involved out of guilt or self-gratification. People constantly think about their own identity and how we can’t work together, instead of seeking out how how we can work together, and what we need to do to win. Instead of uniting us through smashing capitalism and racism, these methods actually reduce us to what we are under these systems. As recent zines and blog posts have argued, this keeps us neurotic, divided, and separated.

Even worse, conservative and middle-class mis-leaders use this guilt to draw lines according to identity, and divide those of us who are fighting in the streets. Guilty, confused “allies” don’t know whether to support the radical black rebellion, or the mis-leaders working to stifle grassroots militancy and shut down debate. When we decide if someone is right based on identity alone, we keep the movement from growing through experience and debate. Instead of judging people this way, we should weigh if their proposals and actions actually contribute to liberating poor and working class black people — and therefore liberating us all.

4. Up-shift from disruptive protests to collective care and power. Taking streets and freeways has provided a huge leap forward for the movement, but all tactics have limits. If we stop building our capacity to fight and sustain ourselves, then even freeway occupations could become a kind of militant reformism, simply causing disruption to get the attention of those ruling over us. To keep building the movement’s strength, we need new ways to assert our collective power, and to take control of more and different spaces, for our own good.

One small step is to support one another when we fight back. Some people weaken and endanger the movement by stopping protesters from confronting cops, damaging property, de-arresting their friends, or moving objects into the street. But the system is violent toward us every day, by definition. Calls for “nonviolence” and “peaceful protest” only perpetuate this condition, by insisting the capitalist state alone can use force–on us. Instead of policing one another, we need to have each other’s back.

We also need to hit back against capitalism and the state, and seize the means to sustain our lives and resistance. Encampments around the world, from Tahrir Square to Occupy Oakland, did this in miniature. Now we have to start thinking and acting bigger. To overcome the police, white supremacy and capitalism, we will have to occupy state offices, city halls, and police stations; take over our schools, workplaces and transit systems; and provide education, health care, transport, goods and services to our communities for free. We can start by building groups with others who’ve been protesting, and with people where we work, learn and live.

5. Deepen our knowledge of race, capitalism and revolution. If police murders aren’t caused by a few “bad apples” or a “broken” system, but are instead the logical result of the system itself, then we need to understand how this system works. The experiences of black people, women and queers, and the working class as a whole, are all fundamentally shaped by capitalism and the state. To learn how this world works, we can explore the ideas of Marx, and many others in the history of revolutions. To learn how to transform it, we can look to communists who opposed authoritarianism and the state, and many other great revolutionaries, while drawing on the history of world revolution.

Past revolutions can show us the general features of how capitalism might be overthrown. Russia 1917, Spain 1936, the high points of the anti-colonial revolutions, and more recently Egypt in 2011, offer lessons good and bad. We know that forms of counter-power tend to emerge, first as small seeds, and then on large scales in moments of crisis. We know internal divisions among the oppressed become barriers to the continued growth of movements, and must be overcome. We know movements can generate new would-be ruling groups, who try to stop the revolution and consolidate class power. We know new forms of social life and creativity tend to emerge in the heat of struggle.

We can draw general lessons like these from past revolutions, but each one is different. What will ours be like?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Haiku Review: Buy Into Me

Haiku Review:  Buy Into Me
by Mark Foran
The Cube, Dublin
30 October 2014

Haiku review by Fujimoto Ryouji

Ramshackle constructs.
Layers of perception laid
bare. Photo copy.

Pinochet Porn – The Dictator and the Maid

Pinochet Porn – The Dictator and the Maid 
Works by Ellen Cantor, curated by Dallas Seitz and The Black Mariah.
The Black Mariah, Cork
6 October – 7 December 2014

Review by Darren Caffrey

The Dictator and The Maid by American video artist Ellen Cantor was made as part of her magnum opus entitled Pinochet Porn. Cantor describes the work: “Pinochet Porn, a feature length soap opera on super 8! A story of five children growing up during the Pinochet regime into adulthood.” 


In 2013 she died, at which point her work had been shown in New York's PS1, London's Serpentine, Vienna's Kunsthalle, and Edinburgh's International Film Festival. The work showing upstairs in Cork's Triskel Arts Centre is a 21 minute scene taken from Cantor's full-length film. Presenting simply the activity of two characters in a New York apartment, it contains no obvious dialogue and much strong sexual content from the beginning.

Sex is of course a classification and an act. The act is straight forward, requiring only joy to gain effective proficiency. Its purpose is life, in the moment and in the future of man. As a means of definition, Dictionary.com tells us that sex is also “the sum of the structural and functional differences by which the male and female are distinguished, or the phenomena or behaviour dependent on these differences.” Naturally, this determination of sex is just a guide. Acceptance for various frills of the sexual experience shift with time. This is as true for the act as it is the classification.

For his part, the man named Pinochet ruled the people of Chile for seventeen years. Following which, he stood as Commander in Chief of the Chilean army for a further eight. During his spell in charge he favoured the economic theories of a deregulated free market. This super-capitalist set up was aided not only by U.S. educated economists, financiers, etc... but also by force, leading to countless kidnappings, killings and property seizures. Salvador Allende, the man whom Pinochet replaced in 1973 had by that time shown inclinations toward a clear socialist agenda. U.S. president Nixon and a number of the United States' wealthiest private investors set up an exchange program for select young Chileans to learn and take home the theories espousing the virtues of a free market economy. Back in Chile, these individuals were placed in positions of power, carrying out the will of specifically capitalist programs of reform whilst operating under the protection of Pinochet's brutal regime.

This man's indelible mark has been taken as the inspiration for Pinochet Porn. In particular, his myth has been reproduced as a full length narrative. It takes a liberal approach to the man's true life, choosing instead to portray his effect through the life of his daughters and their various husbands. These characters all appear to reflect the sorts of myths which endure within western culture: the older man, the refined artist, the hard worker, the wasted talent, and the lesbian. Everything from patriarchy to the doomed dreamer to the psychoanalytic trend of archetypes which illustrate a demographic to, of course, the institution of marriage itself and the emancipation of woman, all are lampooned in a story about love. By enmeshing such a figure in the myths of western culture, the politics are consistently light while the drama is always full on.

At times when art strays into the realm of prurience, it becomes difficult. This section of the video by Ellen Cantor, showing her to fellate a man whom she has dressed up to resemble the general frame and virtue of a dictator, might just be that sort of work. Like all exchanges of value, respect for the possession is made explicit at the outset. In this instance, it takes the form of a tender caress. Titled The Dictator and The Maid, we are led to assume that the female role, played by a fifty-something Cantor, is one of submission.

One thing which can be said about this 21 minute scene produced in the artist's own home, which cannot be said about all video art or screen representations of sex, such as television or internet pornography, is that the viewer observes from the point of view of the 'victim' and the perpetrator, both responsible and helpless. In the truest sense, you watch to see what happens. 

Of course what happens is exactly what you think would happen. The interaction between these two characters is one of obvious submission. This is brought to light by what we perceive of dominance. Yet as the male stands over Cantor's tousled bottle-blonde hair which twists beneath him, static appears to cling these chemically bleached strands to the trousered legs of her 'oppressor', as though the composition of the space between the two is itself a living thing, subject to interference and perhaps even containing the properties of self determined outcomes. For a moment, their intimacy permits an exchange which occupies itself with only base materiality, such as the interactions of natural fibres and metals, in the peroxide and the wool fabric. As the video continues to reveal the depth of their exchange, their faces in turn reveal true feelings of anguish and delight.

This scene as a whole provides a parody to a political fantasy of the West. In it, the woman delights in male power. She gives in to what she wants. The male represents a commonality of authority – smooth shaven, well turned out and ever vulnerable to his own wants. It is this vulnerability which produces his orderly conduct. It is this vulnerable state which marks the sensuality of each touch. To break the thing possessed is to undermine its value outright. When such force as an authority is only able to establish the limits of order in the face of human want, the force becomes a negotiation between the object of control and those subject to its force. Throughout the video, the threat of violence is limited to a knowledge held by the viewer. This knowledge is a construct of societal norms and expectancy. It is supposed that the female must engage or risk the threat of upsetting the social order, and in particular his role as an authoritative figure. This is precisely as Cantor herself would have it.

By the time that the female figure is bent over onto her stomach, it makes perfect sense that she would tease the feathers of her fluffy duster over the surface of this very personal and indeed domestic setting. On screen, she suffers the joy of loss, leaving societal function and determinate roles to appear only as jokes amidst the savagery of being taken. More than her dignity, she performs at the knees of her oppressor with consummate simplicity. In a word she is playful. The man's role once performed comes to be defined as an erection. His own will in relation to this mastering of sexual energy and potency is itself the thing which breaks him. In the climactic phase of this work, beyond the reverie of feather dusters and chocolate covered spatulas, it is the man who appears most obviously as the tool of the whole performance. As such, the camera begins to focus more intently on the male's face, providing us finally with a sort of closure. In the closing of his eyes we see his loss to be so much more, and rather than titillation the experience is that of execution. With this, the performance and the scene are complete.

When the video ends and the rousing musical composition which has been following and pushing the narrative throughout finally does cut off, we are left with a projection screen hanging from a cross beam which casts its shadows in the dimly lit space of The Black Mariah. On the other side of this screen is the only other work in the exhibit. It reads 'CHAOS – PANIC – AND – DISORDER – MY WORK – HERE IS DONE'. 


In 2010 a Kickstarter project (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1023148801/pinochet-porn-0) was set up to have the full-length film processed for wider public viewing. A darkly coloured print with a hollow skull set by a flesh-pink type: this picture is a flat-out statement about the fear of loss at all. A gift to each sponsor who donated two thousand dollars to the cause, this signed lithograph/collage provides a token reference to artistic process. In the darkened space of the gallery it is next to invisible, but when it is found it is instantly familiar, as though it came out of an old notebook you thought you had lost. Borrowing from comic book style lettering, the various characters dance within the frame and in the way that a child pokes things, it is pernicious.

What really stands out though is The Dictator and The Maid. The reason it does so may require a resetting of social relations in respect to sexual exchange, such that when we see the body, we see the sex also. But in light of much live performance art, or again the expanse of a seemingly more permissive society, the question of roles and how best to perform them enquires that art is concerned with more than just showing the body's physicality, male or female. Likewise, the social premise that sex is underlying our understanding of one another as individuals need be redressed with some angle offered which suggests at least that sex is still open to interpretation. The role of 'man' and 'woman' must contain such openness or it becomes the property of the ruling classes.

The Kickstarter account, which was set up by the artist herself, closed three months later having exceeded the goal. The full feature-length film, shot on grainy Super 8, is not shown here however. Instead, screened in Cork at the same time each day, this single scene feature is but a taster. It contains full frontal nudity, and yet its action is that of digging into the psychology of sex and the abuse of its power over those it captivates. Horrific stories abound about the man Pinochet and the regime he led alongside the shadowy influence of various foreign interests. But it is the effect on those who lived within this sort of repressed but politically incoherent society which makes the stories so real.

As far as the art is concerned, this work reads as it plays. In one scene, we are able to witness the demise of a dictator and the rise of a feminism which demands more than cock and balls, but crucially, these things also. Consistent with any communion of man, the action between the two characters on screen remains connected throughout and the opportunity to laugh is welcome and purely human.

Numerous faces from the art world do make an appearance in the full length film. British conceptual artist Cerith Wyn Evans plays 'Oshu the sex guru' while New York's gallerist-to-watch, Lia Gangitano, plays both Pinochet's twin daughters, and Jay Kinney of Anarchy Comics is responsible for the film’s art direction. Given the manner through which cultural capital exchanges hands and gains focus, it is surely fair to say that this will not be the only chance to see Ellen Cantor's Pinochet Porn, in part or in full, but perhaps it will be your first, in which case you will most likely remember only the feelings and a few scant details.

Darren Caffrey is supported by an Artlinks Bursary.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A narrative response to Mark Swords

­If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change

A painting by Mark Swords

Exhibited in the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery's Building Sights 
4 – 27 November 2010

A fictional, critical response by Susan Edwards

Every day Richard got up at 7am to make himself ready for work. For convenience sake he wore dark navy trousers, black shoes, black socks and a pale blue shirt. He had three pairs of trousers, 5 pale blue shirts, and 5 pairs of black socks which meant that for convenience sake he only needed to do his laundry once a week. It did make weekend dressing a bit more complicated and confusing as he had to figure out a weekend arrangement of clothes, but after fussing with this issue for a month when he was 21 years of age, he had happily worked out a system of blue jeans and flannel shirts in the winter and cotton t-shirts in the summer. Richard worked as an actuarial technician with a life insurance company. He loved his job. He predicted life expectancies, birth and death rates, health probabilities and columns of numbers gave him an enormous sense of reliability and calmness. Richard loved his job. After college he found a house 1.5 miles from the insurance company, some days when the weather was fine, he could walk to work. He liked doing that as it allowed him to get to work, save money and exercise all with one activity which was very efficient. His parents had died 3 years ago which left him and his older brother Joe as the only remaining family. Joe had a wife and small son. He worked as an airline pilot and traveled all over the world. Richard figured Joe never walked to work.

Every day, Richard would dress, make his lunch for work, walk or drive to the insurance company which took exactly 7 minutes if he drove and there was no traffic in his way. It would take him 23 minutes if he walked. He passed the local park, a supermarket that only sold food and a lovely church on his way to work. On the days Richard walked, he sometimes would stop at the church when he returned home, to go inside and sit in the cool dark space. The stained glass windows fascinated him. They reminded him of puzzles with all their tiny colours of glass, stuck side by side. The stained glass made small planes of colour and those made bigger planes of colour and then the entire window was divided into spaces and squares. It looked very complicated, but in fact was very simple as they were only blocks of colour. They reminded Richard of the lines of numbers he worked on all day. Looking at the stained glass windows inside the church gave Richard a very calm feeling.

On the weekends, some things changed. He did not go to work and he did not pack his lunch. He did things on the weekend to make his week run more smoothly and remain the same. He washed his laundry and shopped for his food. He would clean his car and fill it with petrol. He would open all his mail that he had collected during the week and sort and attend to it.

He did not have a girlfriend and did not think about a girlfriend because he was not really lonely. His brother would invite him for dinner at the holidays. He enjoyed his brother’s house. It was noisy and smelled like cooking all the time, but he knew it made his brother happy so that made him happy too. His nephew Adam was 4 and liked to play trucks. Sometimes Richard would sit down on the kitchen floor with Adam and make truck sounds or engine noises and play with Adam.

Richard was happy, he loved his job, he loved his family, he liked his house and he loved how each week was like the week before. At night he was tired and would fall asleep and in the morning he woke up feeling happy for a new day that was starting.

It was on a Thursday afternoon that Richard got a phone call. It lasted twelve minutes and changed his life forever.

For Richard, life had been humming along with the incredible contentment of sameness. Some would think it was his time to have things change. That he was now deserving of his share of struggles and upheaval, but that might not exactly be true. Richard was kind, he helped others if they needed it, went about his day fulfilling his obligations, he paid his bills on time, never cheated and had no reason to lie to anyone for anything. Certainly karma was not waving him down to give him his fair share.

Richard hung up the phone and sat at his desk. The person on the other end of the line had informed him that his brother Joe and his wife had died from injuries in a car accident less then 2 hours ago. Richard needed to identify the bodies. He had also been made legal guardian of Adam as he was the only living relative left as Joe’s wife had been an only child. As he sat, he wondered if he should stay the remaining few hours left at work. He thought perhaps he should start by telling his boss he was going to need some time off work. Richard was truly saddened by the news. He did find it amazing though that his brother and sister in law had beat the statistical odds in dying far earlier in life then actuarial charts predict.

Every day Richard looked at numbers and statistics to determine the odds of how things would stay the same given the probability of disasters happening in a person’s lifetime. He did not have any deep spiritual concepts that he used in his life for guidance and comfort, but he did have a vague idea that life presented enormous possibilities for chaos. If life were to have an image he thought it would best look like the stained glass windows he liked at the church. If one stood very close to the windows, all the colours and forms looked like a jumbled up, tangled mess of nothing, but standing back it took on a recognized shape and the mix of colours and forms fell into place like a well formed puzzle. The trick Richard mused was picking up the right shape to fit into the correct space and if that didn’t fit, then to pick up other pieces until one piece did fit.

Life was filled with ordinary moments of ordinary people. When a person yearned for dreams, wishes and goals, then those ordinary moments appeared to be extraordinary, but Richard knew they were not. Richard knew that probability showed most things stayed the same, small amounts of things would change and if people wanted things to stay much the same then sometimes they had to change to keep things the same, but it was all an ordinary phenomena and nothing of any extraordinance was occurring.

In a few months time Richard returned to walking to work and on rainy days he would drive. Now he had Adam with him. The nursery school that Adam went to was 2.2 miles from where Richard worked and when they would walk home Adam liked going into the church with Richard and looking at all the statues and stained glass windows. For convenience sake, Adam had 4 pairs of jeans, 5 cotton t shirts, 7 pairs of white socks and a pair of tennis shoes. This made it more convenient to do laundry as Richard only had to do two loads once a week. He packed two lunches instead of one.

On weekends, Adam would help Richard wash the car, do the grocery shopping and sometimes they would go to movies if something funny was playing. At the nursery school where Adam attended, Richard had met a young woman named Charlotte. She liked Adam and Richard had discovered she liked him as well. Sometimes they would all go have ice cream together or she would invite them to her house for dinner at holidays. Adam would bring his trucks and toys and while she cooked he would play on the kitchen floor and Richard would play too, making truck noises and engine sounds.

Adam was sad when he thought of his mother and father being gone, but he loved the house where he now lived. He loved Richard and he loved the hours he spent at the nursery school. He loved the way Charlotte smelled so nice and how she smiled. At night he was tired and would fall asleep and in the morning he woke up feeling happy for a new day that was starting.

Image courtesy Kevin Kavanagh Gallery.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

These Immovable Walls: Performing Power

These Immovable Walls: Performing Power
Pauline Cummins, Maurice O'Connell, Sandra Johnston, Philip Napier, Katerina Seda, Dominic Thorpe, and Carey Young. Curated by Michelle Browne
Dublin Castle
1 – 12 July 2014

Review by Darren Caffrey
Black is all you see. It remains hanging in the mind long after. The work offered by Dominic Thorpe is set in darkness. Overall, the set-up for his performance Proximity Mouth can be said to operate as a system. It begins outside. When the door opens, the previous viewer is released. Only then are you welcome to enter.

Inside, there is a waiting room with five red velvet chairs side by side, each facing a closed door. For a long time, this building housed the nation's Children's Court. Presumed to serve the needs of citizens, from this spot children under state care were institutionalised 'for their own good'. The building today is the place to experience a performance work by an Irish artist.

This performance artist is not working alone. His actions are assisted by a number of appointed guides. These individuals serve the operations of the performance in two ways. Primarily they operate the gateways from beginning to end, ushering in and out each viewer from room to room and to exit. In addition, their presence appears as echo to the ghosts of Ireland's past, specifically those individuals forgotten in their own time, by time.

4353 asylum seekers are currently housed in 35 semi-permanent sites dotted around the country, the majority of them are from Africa. This performance work is assisted by some of those individuals. This is never actually made explicit, instead the greeting is friendly and welcoming. Even so, the exit is about informing of the due process which takes place in the name of Irish citizenship.

With no sign yet of the performer himself, a lady enters the waiting room and takes you upstairs to another room. Before entering this darkened room you are requested to observe the tone of the performance which takes place on the other side of the door. 


When the door opens, the performer is standing beside a large window. Hunched over, his standing body turns slowly to reveal a shining glimpse of light from outside. The light is reflecting in a large pane of mirrored glass turning with his each turn. Soon it encompasses a direct mirror of the room behind you and you are framed by the space which you are in.

The performer continues to turn and you disappear out of view. This slow shuffling continues in a process of illumination and darkness, a transition aided by the heavy curtains which appear as fixture of this grand space. Only one other viewer is present with you in the room. They too appear to be holding the hand of their guide. Acting equal part guide and guard, when they move, you are to follow. Soon a girl of maybe eight or ten wearing a brightly coloured dress asks if you would like an aeroplane or a boat. Examples of each sit on a table alongside a printer and stacks of paper. The phrase Get the boat leaps in the mind and out of the mouth comes the direction for this girl to take up a page bearing the addresses of all the places where men, women and children seeking asylum are sent to await a verdict.

With the careless liberty of a young girl she does as she must. Soon you are again standing in front of the man with the mirror gripped in his teeth. Still fogging the mirror, his breaths mark the struggle to turn with this thing balanced on his feet. You see yourself holding a paper boat in one hand and the hand of an African lady in the other and the darkness once again comes as the curtains close. In no time your guide leads you out into the corridor, where the stairs lead you and your guide down, and you are again outside on your own with only the memory of such darkness.

Questions of sovereignty, independence and contested history produce a backdrop for These Immovable Walls: Performing Power, presented this summer in Dublin Castle. The performers themselves have for the most part taken to engage in activities which lay siege to commonly held human feelings, such as isolation or ambition. The car parked in the courtyard is one of three works which makes reference to a specific aspect of the history of the site. While a suitably dressed assistant paints, with a brush, the regal Jaguar beige from an open can of house-paint, on the edge of the courtyard whispers of a subsequent Union Jack decal dictate that poor taste is exceedingly close to excess in the minds of the public. 


The performances of Philip Napier, Maurice O'Connell and Katerina Seda all took place as a two-day installment, meaning that the intimacy of performer and space could never fully translate to the viewer. To experience the work was to accept also that before and after diminish when weighed with what happens in front of you. What is the role of absence in our understanding of power and its performance? Napier's Soon asserts itself as a consistent presence. Parked up, the car appears to play with the idea of spectacle. The shiny chrome features which detail the cars perceived excellence are deliberately masked off, leaving only tones of beige and a man doing a job on a car.

Immanence, presence or absence may all be a matter of individual perspective but what if viewer participation is defined by a transaction? First Class by Katerina Seda claims to offer a range of once-in-a-lifetime services, leading you into the State Apartments where a taste of the red carpet treatment will cost you at least a fiver. The priciest item on the list is offered at €500. For this you will be permitted to make a call from a mobile phone while touring the once stately home-from-home. For an additional €5 you may wear a pair of complimentary slippers. Indeed, if money was no object you could really gorge like a head of state. Seda offers us the chance to ridicule the performance of state symbols, not withstanding the element of commerce. 


Still Life by Carey Young also taps into the operations of power by association. In particular, she employs memory as a belonging, according to the accumulative properties of both. This performance is carried out in full by an actor. As the actor delivers a will pertaining to the issue of inheritance, we are challenged to evaluate what's on offer. As the executive for this staged event, the actor stands alone. Meanwhile, the audience represent a host of subscribed witnesses. What was on offer was not all that much, only just ideas and fragments of forms not actually present as forms, but rather as details described in tones of measured English. The idea: by recalling the various items described, including a grey vase with wax drips in its centre, the audience may claim to possess them or share them in part with those others in attendance.
On the walls of this State Room, the portraits of men in ceremonial garb look on as equal amounts legacy, and fiction. On the floor, the carpet shows stains created by the spills of previous functions. Maybe it's soup. It is this idea of supplementing fact with new readings and new fictions which makes Young's performance stand out. The fact that she remains removed from the performance only enhances her effective description of absence. In light of such absence, it is the public witness whose participation completes the exchange. Still Life lasted only long enough to take away with you the impression of some sort of power, certainly nothing real.

Sandra Johnston occupied the State Corridor of the drawing room with her performance, Entitlement. Viewed from the hallway or the rooms adjacent, tourists looked on with curiosity as the ongoing performance limited their tour. In a darkened corridor the performer holds a miner's lamp which traces a cable up and down the length of the hallway. Her action is quiet and all that is apparent is that she is looking also. Her focus is forensic, taking each detail of the tour-quality setting and examining its disappearing secrets. Johnston in her accompanying statement takes the visit of Maggie Thatcher and the public statement she made at the time about starving out terrorists as the point of departure for her own investigations. 


While the cordoning off of the darkened hall with velvet ropes presents the performer as spectacle, like the items on display in the rooms surrounding, and offers the performer a sanctioned space, the performance of Maurice O'Connell was free to roam. Bearing various forms of authorised access, including paramedic and security guard badges and qualifications, the viewer may not even be aware who they are speaking to when they ask for... say directions to the gift shop. This sort of invisible performance, while difficult to locate, is surely the best approximation of power and its structural use within society. The point that the performer in this case behaves as an individual within an existing fabric of contexts is not lost on O'Connell. His work titled Audi Vide Tace (Hear, See, Be Silent) takes the Latin motto of the Freemasons and repositions it as the key which literally opens doors to the working life of a place such as Dublin Castle. Appearing also on a panel discussion, O'Connell plays part-interloper, part-interlocutor well. Next to the students of feminism and local history his act stands as that of a jester, but with a secret to tell. 


The Spy at the Gate proved difficult to find as this performance was scheduled during the discussion mentioned above. And so the work of Pauline Cummins cannot be discussed here but what also cannot be ignored is the overall fluidity of the event, bringing together a variety of contexts and allowing them to remain without disturbance. Tourists who would normally represent a body and frequency of ritual were matched and met and party to the unusual goings on at the castle in Dublin's city centre.

In the accompanying fold-out pamphlet, small nuggets of information have been snuck in about the castle and its history. From settlement to protected enclave and finally as the showpiece it is now, the site also marks where the River Poddle once ran. A mix of folklore and official heritage, as well as foreign invasion and administrative procedure, it is apt to play host to this performance of power. In the fluid exchange of visitor and viewer, everybody wins. I have no doubt that similar events are likely in the future.

Performance art may well be able to speak the same language as politics and the extended performance of state power. After all, both maintain power over a subject. This power can be the means to promote policies as much as it might showcase the material of an art performance. In each case, the performer is themselves subject to a vulnerability to the audience or the public. All of which means that it is not so much the performer's activities which concern as their ability to sustain the illusion of distinction.

Ultimately in These Immovable Walls: Performing Power, it is this very distinction which permits the viewer to experience the material conceptually rather than through a raw alienating exposure to potentially disturbing content.

Symbols of power, such as the raising of flags, showing of artefacts and guarding of ground might represent Irish performance art as much as Irish politics. In this light, it may be that These Immovable Walls: Performing Power is an attempt to resolve the emotional weight of Irish politics and citizenship. From political histories and up to present day feelings, this presentation of performances draws its references on the basis that emotional struggle is something which takes its own time to settle, no matter the individual or collective will. What is clear is that the fabric of Irish politics must change if it is ever to represent the voices of those without access to the tools of its own resolutely outdated performance.
All photos by Joseph Carr, images courtesy of the artists.

Darren Caffrey is supported by an Artlinks Bursary.


Sunday, October 26, 2014



Shower of Kunst always welcomes submissions.

Shower of Kunst seeks to support artists and writers in developing new discourses around visual art in Ireland. Those which find some shared ground or agreement with our ethos are particularly encouraged.


Shower of Kunst is a critical online journal founded in 2009. We believe in developing a strong and healthy discourse and community in the Visual Arts. 

Recognising the vacuum that exists in Irish visual arts writing, our goal is to challenge the prevalent mode of art criticism. We place a strong emphasis on the political and embrace an approach to reviewing that is more akin to the academic critique. We are not interested in the default position of arts writing as essentially advertising copy for the artist and gallery, i.e. the conventional positive read of the artists intentions dressed loosely in philosophy. But instead offer a candid gaze that asks questions and makes suggestions.

What we publish:

Primarily reviews of art exhibitions in Ireland, but also international ones. We are open to opinion pieces, rebuttals to other writing, and responses to events that affect artists or our community. In fact we'd like to encourage it. We are looking for new content, so usually don't publish pieces that are already published, or are about to be. Look over the variety of previous articles on this site, www.showerofkunst.com.

House style:

We appreciate an honest opinion. We think your insight and candor is going to be more important to the development of Irish Visual Art than just another well written piece. Of course getting both right is best.

We prefer pieces around 1500 words, although understand that this can vary in either direction if appropriate. Concision is hugely appreciated, so please try to be straight forward and to the point. Walk us through the show; assume we know nothing and literally re-view the exhibition. Feel free to make comparisons to other disciplines outside of art (movies, architecture, music, books, blogs, etc.).

We are open to new approaches, styles, and formats, especially those which utilise online tools, technologies, and potentials.

Technical guidelines:

• Use .doc or .odt format.

• Spellcheck before sending us anything.

• Italicise all titles of works.

• Use a serifed font like Times New Roman.

• Begin your article using the following template:

Show Title: subtitle

Artist, or Artists Names. Curated by a Curator

Venue or Location, City

1 – 15 Month 2016

Review by [Your Name]

Start of your article....

• If suitable, we will send you an edited version with a new file name (e.g. yourfile-edit1.doc). The feedback on your piece will be in comment form (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/insert-a-comment-HP005256528.aspx). Corrections will be made to the text as needed for clarity. Please respond to the comments within the document and make changes directly to the text, before returning it back to us. Again with a correspondingly updated file name (e.g. yourfile-edit2.doc).

Application process:

Email your article or review to showerofkunst@gmail.com and we'll get back to you.

Unfortunately, at present we cannot pay writers. Shower of Kunst has been a non-funded and voluntary organisation since its founding 5 years ago.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Agitationism - EVA International – Ireland’s Biennial

EVA International – Ireland’s Biennial
Curated by
Bassam El Baroni
Various locations in Limerick
12 April – 6 July 2014

Review by Darren Caffrey

The city of Limerick shares EVA 2014 between two main venues. The main gallery is Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA). The second space is a disused milk plant on the other side of the river. This latter site reflects the changing economics of the city, from an agricultural hub to one of culture. Indeed the plant once owned by Golden Vale shows the signs of disrepair.

While LCGA's white walls interiorise and vacate the space for the art work to be shown, the rough and ready, barely prepped walls of each shed, workshop and loading dock offer a countenance to the viewer of videos and professionally produced artworks. A number of locations around the city saw events take place, from performances to locally based workshops and artist talks. The Hunt Museum housed the work of Bisan Abu-Eisheh and Ann-Sofi Siden. While the Bourne Vincent Gallery held works by Uriel Orlow.
In the City Gallery, Raqs Media Collective + Iswanto Hartono provide our first glimpse of Agitationism. This work takes the form of a protest. Phrases like make no promises and take no prisoners can be read on the wall. It is the word NO which stands out. The O of NO is a black abyss, roughly four to six foot in diameter. This giant 'O' is also mirrored and we can see that its circular frame reflects back our gaze.
The added depth is produced by a clever trick of light and suddenly we appear trapped in a space of singularity. We are alone. This work is placed close to the main entrance of the main gallery. Soon your image of isolation is intruded upon and the next viewer appears to share in the same beliefs. The sign reads the same for each who pass. This means that no matter the individual viewer, it is the beliefs of an artist collective that we must address and not our own. Perhaps our own beliefs are too readily replaced by those of the next man. So perhaps we are the ones who should be agitated by this particular work.
Agitationism stands as the title which unites the curators selection. With this word El Baroni refers to a 'working through' of social, political or even artistic systems of activity. This working through implies a conflict of sorts. The work of EVA 2014 has all been presented on this basis.
This being the 36th edition of EVA International, the artworks have been drawn together from across the globe. A number of Irish artists have also responded to the call for submissions. In turn, they have been given pivotal roles in defining the tone and reception of Agitationism.
Providing the anchor to ground is Garrett Phelan's drawings/advertisements for EVA International publications and James Merrigan's +billion- online critical companion. Alongside this local coverage, video works by Patrick Jolley and two Galway artists Tom Flannagan and Megs Morley, a collaborative performance event with local young people hosted by Limerick artist Paul Tarpey, and A Public Discussion About Contemporary Art and Philosophical Ideas (with children) hosted by Limerick City Gallery of Art, all reach into the heart of the issue of representation.
Agitationism refers to a process of agitating systems. One of the single most important attributes for such an operation is criticality. The artist Humberto Velez, who locates his place of living and working as both Mexico and Manchester, also presents a gap in his work THE UNDERDOG or EVA International Cup 2014. For this work Velez employed the local dog track. The names of the greyhounds running in his ceremonial race were all temporarily changed to highlight issues of “politics, culture, identity and economics”. This means that punters could cheer their support for each dog and enjoy the comfortable surroundings of the local nightlife. It also brought together two different social demographics and allowed artists to mix freely with locals. Perhaps this is the sort of agitationism which El Baroni means. 

The work of Luis Camnitzer, a man born before the second world war, addresses the viewer on the stairwell of Limerick City Gallery of Art with the phrase All those who can't read English are stupid. His work, Insults, seeks to poke fun at us. Although we may read the English version and feel excluded from its discriminatory message, we might not understand the version in Russian or one of the other languages which he presents with his black vinyl lettering.
Camnitzers words read the same whether you are going up or coming down the stairs. You do not have to be able to read all the languages provided in order to appreciate his message of understanding. Although you might not understand the Irish word dúr to mean ‘stupid’, it does. Both stupidity and ignorance are presented here to be a universal concern, other people don’t know what you know, they know what you don’t. If language, a tool for communication, is employed as a tool for discrimination, then paranoia comes of its variety. Thankfully, Camnitzer has stressed the short-sightedness of this historically tragic perspective.

LCGA also houses something called
Final Machine. The work is presented as a three channel video installation. In a single room, three circles of coloured light are matched by the repetition of circles cut into the carpet on the floor. Using the circle as a visual formula, Amanda Beech defines, focuses, and disguises what is in the frame. As the channels change, her subjects range from philosophy and spontaneity, to natural science, and even covert operations of the CIA. 

Beech uses sound and images to bridge the various content of this work. Just as it appears that the image is about to collapse, she withdraws the camera and a new landscape rises. Through her vision, the world before us explodes with a bang and a glimmer. The action disappears into a remodeling of the desert floor, composing a universe of rocks and the creatures which surface. As she shows it, the final machine is earth and its ecology, including all human activity. This suggests that although we have the tools to observe and to extract, we have some way to go to utilise this knowledge for evolution. Advancement beyond these essentially primitive means remains concealed behind the means and tools of our understanding.
In this, and in the video work by Jenny Brady, we might witness that nature does all the work for us. Although Brady's parrot in Wow and Flutter does little more than be a parrot, our own natural curiosity about a bird which can appear to mimic our speech is more than enough to promote ideas of escape. In imitation, we are flattered. And yet Brady's subtitles for Rocco suggest that the parrot knows more than he's saying. On screen, the otherwise closed speculation around what parrots have to say about being is covered up by the colours and feathers of a creature born to fly.
Final Machine was located in LCGA, while Wow and Flutter could be seen in a small room of a disused milk plant. In the case of each video, we are shown how nature is a significant constant, one which we can use to support any number of very man-made arguments. In the ways we relate to nature which is not our own, we may in fact be born to agitate. Perhaps this natural relationship is what classifies Agititionism as natural also. 

Brady’s stooge is given the words we assume a parrot might speak. This somewhat mirrors the work of Galway based Tom Flanagan and Megs Morley, directly across from it. Taking a speech written by Karl Marx for the occasion of the 1867 meeting of the International Working Men’s Association, Morley and Flannagan use the medium of video to relay its sentiment. Although never delivered by Marx, its existence appears to locate the island of Ireland as a political stage worthy of the example and recognition. 

Presented here as a three channel video, The Question of Ireland is interpreted on stage by actors. The questions themselves were written to an anonymous public by a sociologist, a playwright and 1970’s political activist, Bernadette Devlin. It is not made explicit whose words each actor is speaking, but if the message is veiled it is also enhanced in ways both cinematic and theatrical. The centre-stage of Galway’s newly rebuilt National Theatre of Irish Language is employed for its empty seats and impact lighting. This staging is furthered by the additional angles and close-ups of each speaker, as provided by the multi-channel set up.
The feelings on show unsettle in more than just their delivery. However, it is perhaps the camera’s clinical examination of facial expressions which affords us the possibility to be morbid about subjects so alive with recognisably local consequence. In spite of, or maybe because of this rhetorical enhancement, we are stirred by our very inaction. We remain merely viewers, while the words spoken on screen are those of actors in our place.

Systems theory is what defines The Tent provided by Elizabeth Price. Along with Punk. Both came out of England in the 70s. In a high-roofed shed, this one video installation dominates the open space. As Price initiates tensions of audio visual experience, she draws out yet others with her use of a tent. In the form of a book called Systems she defines the practicality of systems theory to underpin the book's very standing. Its standing on screen forms a triangle shape, the base supporting a single extended peak. This motif, along with many other architecturally inspired designs, is visible in Price's video construct.
A radio hanging off the wall receives the tinned chatter from local airwaves. Observing the strengths and weaknesses of varying counter arguments of systems theory, Price takes us through a wall of noise to arrive at her impressions of petulance and acceptance. The lights of her studio form a halo on screen. If nature is what defines our relationship to be that of agitator, Price reminds us that it is important not to be too clear about our definitions of nature itself. Perhaps the plainness of such comprehension would only make chaos all that more attractive a proposition to those who understood the simpler forms of such action.

Still on the grounds of the old milk plant, This Monkey, is provided by The Patrick Jolley Estate. It is a short video starring the rhesus monkeys of Delhi's backstreets. Their protest occurs on screen in the absence of humanity. They leap and sprint past the camera. Their behaviour is not for the screen but for the chances which they define as real. They lurk in the abandoned areas as intruders of the city. The video ends with an allusion to violence, monkeys standing over the discovered bones of sacrifice. We may determine that the monkeys know little of our horror. The music for the duration is a haunting and inexplicable score, instrumentalising and identifying locality as the partition which produces culture. 

Limerick City's claim to a product so consistent that it may be called a Biennial in more than name shows EVA to be reaching for a greater visible impact. In a work by Ingo Giezendanner or GRRRR, large scale drawings reveal the black and white outline of the word 'JAM'. This is just one element of the graphic murals inspired by his time in Limerick. Back on the other side of Ireland's largest river, a range of architectures appear as protest, or at the least, inconsiderate. In their very real life setting, the word 'JAM' appears high above a busy street. It is as though the action of the artist's recognition has produced a fabric of the place. By showing the graffiti artist to act locally in the same manner as the EVA itself, the curator reflects how in fact both respond to the conditions and express through them as a part of the city.
When the philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote of agitation in 1790, he was referring to the mind, specifically the impact incurred when we experience the sublime. Egyptian born Bassam El Baroni has shaped his choices for EVA 2014 around works which reflect systems of power through challenge. As we know, this challenge might be born of nature or nurture. The sublime is not simply an aesthetic principle, mathematical in its exactitude. It is defined also as a principle of self-preservation. If we understand our relationship to nature to be good for our survival, we will regard it in terms of the sublime. If we place ourselves above nature, this relationship may only take on the power of aesthetic appeal. Certainly the belief in an awesome force is necessary to agitate the mind.
It is such agitations which compel our future actions. In this light, EVA 2014, Agitationism makes a statement which can be understood as intended to spark future activity. For El Baroni, the viewer is part of a wider community. Agitation is the trigger. It clicks to agitate. 

The last century, if you like, is finished, really, in the political field, so we need to do something really new, but we dont know precisely what.
Alain Badiou
 After the Incident at Antioch, A Tragedy in Three Acts, (provided in the work of Eva Richardson McRea, 2013, Film/Act/Event 21mins)

Darren Caffrey is supported by an Artlinks Bursary.