The Project Arts Centre, Temple Bar, Dublin.
Having visited the exhibition early in the day, I found myself alone, confronted with four video pieces running simultaneously, competing with each other in the intimate space of the Project Arts Centre. I immediately sat down in a position of privilege underneath a dome shaped speaker. Presumably the speaker’s function was to localize sound so as not to interfere with the other works, but to me it also signaled an intention for the work to be viewed individually. I wondered if this had actually been a consideration and if so what it meant; even before watching any of the videos I was aware of my negotiation of this space. Video works are demanding of your time and I couldn’t help but be conscious of this, and of the adoptive function of the gallery space in this experience.
Curator Tessa Giblin assembled an international group of artists from the Netherlands, Germany, France and Serbia, in the belief that art can have a potent voice before public opinion has formed on the crisis that she forecasts. She hopes to influence our understanding by presenting works dealing with the problems of living in politicized space. Of course this is something everyone can identify with, but the focus here is on the experience of migrants and refugees.
Patrick Bernier and Olive Martin, created a sixteen minute video depicting a day in the life of an African immigrant living in France. The title Manmuswak translated into English means ‘man must live by whatever means.’ We are offered a banal account of a person struggling to get by. Looping surveillance from observer to observed changes as easily and swiftly as the two men we see changing jackets as they swap shifts as supermarket security guards. As the video continues we become aware of a commentary on a system that one is either in or out of, or indeed somewhere in between. Cyclical patterns emerge in the piece, successfully evoking feelings of entrapment and paranoia. I move on.
The awkward positioning and lack of sound in Andrijana Stojkovics video ‘Home’ serves to exaggerate the discomfort it’s viewing also promotes. Slow moving and close up footage of banal tasks feels like an intrusion into the lives of the protagonists. When the camera shot widens, their surroundings come into view and you realize that the video is providing an insight into life at a refugee camp. We are faced with a grim awareness of the complete lack of privacy that they are forced to experience every day.
What struck me about these two pieces was not a specific political and historical commentary; like all the pieces in the exhibition, their narrative is ambiguous. These spaces could be anywhere. What they did was evoke feelings of unease, entrapment and paranoia, and while the efficacy of art in political action is open for debate, I couldn’t help but think that they were effective in at least creating an awareness of the difficulties and often ridiculousness of spatial politics.
“Manmuswak” Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin
Upon entry to the Project Art’s Centre’s exhibition space the foreword printed states “A partnership, with artists exhibiting their work for the first time in Ireland. Works produced in relation to the power displacement experienced by both citizens and civil servants.” Curator Tessa Giblin has considered the comparative “Displacement” theme as appropriate and applied it to Ireland’s ensuing recession and the role of the increasing foreign population. My first impression of the exhibition was slightly distracting, in the contained and somewhat clustered gallery space. Throughout the video installations simultaneously projected on each wall, I found myself attracted to the only video piece with a soundtrack and minimal French dialogue “Manmuswak” by Patrick Bernier & Olive Martin 2005.
through the city of Nantes.
The consistence of “Manmuswak” remains applicable to its comparative function to communal issues of the problematique in social subsistence. Despite this, the Project exhibition piece seems politically contextual and devoid of any attempt to expound the aesthetic possibilities of film media. The video piece reminded me of my time in France, and my quotidian encounters with various immigrants (including Irish) who seem to struggle with integration often revert to socializing in small communities. Although conceptually interesting, the video does not actually seem to convey the greater issue of immigrant disposition and the enmity of the system. Instead Bernier and Martin have found an uncontroversial artistic rhetoric rather than radicalised anti-governmental despondency. The issues of immigrant degeneration in France remain contentious and their more recent works seem to explore the themes of immigration in France more effectively than “Manmuswak“.
Stephen Peter Coleman
In the context of this exhibition, which seeks to deal with economic challenges and evolving issues relating to the nation and identity, Mik’s film offers an interrogation of a larger context, focused around uncertainty and insecurity. Mik presents us with a situation which is centred upon chaos, whereby the means of separation are no longer viewed as adequate, or effective. Furthermore, such chaos also suggest some kind of escape, of a break from the established order of things, where the tools of confinement are scrutinised. The ‘prisoners’ are clearly made up of disparate nationalities and backgrounds, and in light of this, Mik’s film may offer some sense that racial distinctions and social status are not confining or fixed.
‘The Prehistory of the Crisis attempts to broach these issues before the period of crisis has hit, at a time when art can have a discreet yet potent voice.’
Who’s voice? The artists? Are they directly affected by immigration? Are they immigrants themselves? These questions need to be asked, but so does the question of who will hear it? I very much doubt that the future activators of such a crisis go to art exhibitions in the Project Arts Centre. These are the youths that shout abuse at you because you have a scarf on your head, the cowboys at the Garda National Immigration Bureau who treat you like dirt, the men who beat you up in the street in broad daylight while heavily pregnant because of the colour of your skin, the ones who attack your chipper in the middle of the night. I very much doubt that these same people would see this exhibition.
The grand claims of this exhibition is encouraged by the intellectual bravado of its audience who will never have a realistic perception of the realities of such a crisis, but will be able to console itself in its phantasmagoria of ‘understanding’ as it takes place.
alternate perspectives of politics and aesthetics, of cognition and intuition, appreciations shift
dramatically, but dialogue falls short in the crossing of an immutable void. And there is,
immanently, and causally, both in the work itself, and in the audience’s reception of it, a brutal
show-down between dialectics and difference: an attempt to resolve and a will to affirm. To my
mind, there is but one work that resists such encroachments. It exists like an island, a pre-historical
punctuation that traverses the shores of this great divide: Home.
and casually, on a household widescreen approximately 22 inches long. And, occupying a
problematizing position in its proximity to the corner, this ‘t.v’ is concretely mounted at a
challenging height that features more than 8 ft from floor to wall. Its resistance is apparent from the outset, signaling something of a crisis – it is hard to reach, visually, no matter where you sit or
stand; and its silent nature aids in consistently un-anchoring your attention, in a room full of noise.
The signifier ‘Home’ is in-itself a pre-historical polemos: both phenomenon and noumenon ; it is at
once concept and intuition, something we can possess and yet to which we futilely aspire. It is
strange and yet familiar. It is difference as origin, and origin as difference: affirmation and
It could be read that the protagonists in Stojkovic’s story are in this way equivalents : a man who
reads and relaxes, a woman who cooks and cleans, but on the contrary it feels as though there is
nothing but time and love between them. They are both elderly; she has a soft worn looking face
with cropped grey locks, he wears glasses and seems to have been treated a little better by time. A
calender hangs on the window behind, a clock strikes or pauses eternally at 11.15. The window(s)
are ever-present and important to the composition, eluding to early Modernist architecture – the
overly functional and utilitarian kind. Plastic tesco-grade tupperware and tin utensils flank the
sideboard where she carefully prepares a meal, old values and traditional methods are instantly
implied. Two pots resembling bed-pans simmer on a two-ring table top stove. The economy of the
camera leaves a lot to the imagination, and two people sit down to eat, in what seems like an
‘other’ room. They are slow, solemn and contemplative, he pairs the crust off a piece of bread with
a knife – nothing is superfluous; everything is readily reducible to being and time.
The woman remains in what we perceive to be the kitchen, sweeping the floors and storing the left-
over food, the man appears to be in the sitting-room fixing a clock, after some time she joins him,
and folds cloths, then begins sewing, later knitting; everything is appropriated and in its ‘place’,
everything is mended, nothing is thrown away. Stojkovic’s critique – given her chosen apparatus –
penultimately purveys a contestation of its origin: ‘ t.v’ dinners and the action-packed. But there is
more at stake here; shrude editing and long steady camera shots that incrementally expand, slowly
reveal two beds pushed hopelessly together – a sort of man-made island – on which the couple
recline. Its all there for the taking now; grey prison-standard blankets, the sideboard one thought
was the kitchen; the deceptive use of space that suggested a second room. The camera pulls out ever further to reveal a sea of these islands, un-partitioned units of ‘living’ in there dozens that silently and respectfully coalesce inside four walls.
And whilst this is a critique not simply of modern life, but of dialectical materialism, it is ultimately
the affirmative and loving kind. Stojkovic’s critique does not have the complacency or vulgarity to
show us unpleasant things, what she criticises she shows us as beautiful. Like Tati’s Playtime this critique is all the more forceful for the love it displays, it admires what it criticizes, and gives it a
new beauty. Paraphrasing Jules Valles, Deleuze once noted that a revolutionary must first know how to love and respect; ‘Good destruction’ he insists ‘requires love.’ Critiques such as this one,
accordingly, provide ‘a little new music’ for insipidly conformist times.
We were told this was going to happen
Back in the day…
As we were hurtling along, unstoppable
Knew it all, as always
The voice of doom
Gravened with insight…
We said to one another
He’s looking for attention
And as for that god-awful pompous ass
On the radio and TV
If we have to hear him again we’ll spit
Soon after that, we were taken to a room
Like this one
Have a seat, we were told
A cushion on the floor
You will be more comfortable…
And as we loll there
Helpless as children
They show us
How it will be
No-one will be able to help you
Give you as much as a sugar-pill
No-one will be unaffected…
The trees will go gracefully
They will retain their form
Fossils in relief against the sky
For you it will be different
You will dissolve internally
Gradually at first
Then, you will panic
Try to escape
There will be nowhere to go
And you will stagger, falter…
We look at one another
And look away
Some of us will be spared
Some place will be safe
Each of us feels like the special one
Each of us feels we will be saved
We told you it would be like this
You were cocky
Thought you had the upper hand
We brought you to a room, like this one
The lighting was calm
Take a seat on the floor
You will be more comfortable
When you are brought down to size
We show you
How it will be
You avoid one another’s glances
You want to disbelieve
You will try to escape
There will be nowhere to go
Your bodies will dissolve
Gradually at first
Then you will falter…
You look at one another
And look away
Some of you will be spared
Some place will be safe
Each of you believes you are the special one
Each of you believes you will be saved
Of the four, Andrijana Stojkovic’s film ‘Home’ is the most accessible and perhaps the most relevant to the question ‘how will Ireland cope? ’ It is a direct insight into one couples survival in crisis. In what appears to be a simple domestic setting an old woman prepares dinner. She is using a camping stove but they are definitely not on a camping holiday. Materials are basic so they must be quite poor. The camera zooms out and shows all domestic activities happening around a central bed. The woman joins her husband sitting on the bed. The reality of this couples situation hits as the camera finally reveals that this cosy little setting is in fact surrounded by hundreds of other similar arrangements set up in a refugee camp. The message, that things are not as they seem, hints at something which is clearly happening in Ireland’s preparation for a crisis – our country being in denial of the full extent of what is to come.
A blurb at the end of the piece tells us that these are people who were expelled from West Bosnia in 1992. Their “home”, the gymnasium is named after the Croatian poet Vladimir Nazor, who was the first President of the People’s Republic of Croatia. There is no sound on the video piece, so this device of pulling back to reveal the situation in its entirety, and the text at the end are the things that tell us the full story.
The device used at the end of the piece, the “reveal all” technique of pulling the camera back to shed light on the context could be considered to be slightly annoying; an easy,obvious, trite method of giving the viewer more information. In this particular context however, it is effective. Having seen the couple perform the rituals of their daily life without knowing the context, we are enabled,at the end when all is revealed, to get a sense of how life must carry on despite everything. When a tragedy or a disaster occurs, that “stop all the clocks” feeling that things cannot possibly move forward because the world as we know it has broken down takes over. Yet, though we feel this, it does not happen. Time still moves forward. We see that happening to the couple in this piece. They may be living in an unconventional situation, but they still have to perform the conventions of eating, sleeping, cleaning etc.
The overall theme of the show is “The Prehistory of Crisis”. This theme deals with the issues involved in the shift in social, cultural and political conditions brought about by the economic downturn.The information provided by the gallery (written by curator Tessa Giblin) explains that in the context of Ireland’s 2008 recession
“The Prehistory of Crisis attempts to broach these issues before the period of crisis has hit…”
and that the video pieces
“…hone in on individual responses to conditions: the pieces are variously referential of particular situations, but they all activate within us some sort of responsibility for coming to an autonomous awareness of the complexity of otherness and the complications of ‘living with others’ ”.
We associate situations like the one we see on the screen (living communally in a school gym) as being the stuff of other places, not of Ireland. We don’t really believe that something like that would happen to us in our lives, even though it so easily could. A hurricane in New Orleans brought about living situations of a similar style, not a war or a recession. The show looks to address these ideas within us with a view to
“changing attitudes in the Irish context.”
It achieves this without ominous warnings, threats or scare tactics. The piece is not saying “look what could happen to you”, it is simply making us aware of what does happen.