TALES FROM THE PROMISED LAND

TALES FROM THE PROMISED LAND; Negotiating a space

When I began researching and documenting my approach to this paper I began by playing with the idea of the Paris Commune and community. I then came across a quote from Courbet during the time of the Commune. It reflects for me the challenge and diversity of practices that Common Ground intersects and forms in order to exist and work alongside partners like artists and community. So how do I find ways to integrate the theory and practice of my work?

With absolute honesty it can be intensely difficult and challenging at times. I laughed out loud when I read Courbet’s quote because for me, and many that I work with, after intense neogtiation or meetings we would be far more likely to assert ‘Me head is melted’ rather than a baked apple metaphor. What Courbet captures really well though is the initial possibility of participatory democracy that the Commune presented as well as the contemporary intensity of negotiation alongside the unknown. The struggle, joy and complexity experienced in negotiating the role of artist, community, Common Ground of making or siting work in the collective or public. Incidently, Courbet was President of the Federation of artists and proposed the de-instutionalisation of art, a proposal that isn’t entirely finalised.

‘I get up I eat breakfast and I sit and preside twelve hours a day. My head is beginning to feel like a baked apple. But in spite of this agitation in my head and in my understanding of social questions that I was not familiar with I am in seventh heaven. Paris is a true paradise! The Paris Commune is more successful than any form of government that has ever been’ (ed., W Bradley & C Esche p37)

This paper acts as a starting point, a critical dialogue space where both my internal work practice as Director of Artistic Programme and that of Common Ground’s can begin to be externalised and tested. (When I describe those practices as internal I do not mean that they are not shared but that they are held within a particular geographic location, that of the Canals area between Rialto Inchicore and Bluebell). Over the next year I would like to construct a dialogue framework that holds a broad cross section of people whose cross sectoral practices, different ideologies, intentions and theories can interact in challenging and diverse ways. My hope is that through publishing this paper I will be able, with others, to test and research how the paradigms of critical theory and actual practice can exist seprately and be bought together. In short, perhaps the process of those spaces will baldly construct and deconstruct opposing positions while building an analysis of why art work made in context can be relevant both aesthetically and ethically.

I need to go back to the protaganist of my thinking and theorising, Tales from the Promised Land. It has a biblical resonance but how did it come to be? What is there to consider, what are tales, are they moral benchmarks or ethical codes that serve to sort and assimilate, define how we can live our life and enable us to become better citizens? Or are they myths, legends or fantasies? Something that inspires us to imagine another way of thinking or seeing taking us out of the everyday, perhaps an escape? For Jean Luc Nancy in his essay the Inoperative Community he states

‘the gravest and most painful testimaony of the modern world, the one that possibly involves all other testimonies to which this epoch must answer (by virtue of some unknown decree or necessity, for we bear witness also to the exhaustion of thinking through History),is the testimony of the dissolution, the dislocation or the conflaguration of community.’ (Participation ed Bishop C p 54)

Tales from the Promised Land can be described as a public site specific event that held singular narratives; stories from a specific place in Dublin City which exists in the present. Prior to attending the ‘On the idea of communism’ conference in Birkbeck London I had been playing with the idea of the Commune in Paris and what it was supposed to achieve in terms of equality and liberty. Its provided France, for a moment in time, with with a participatory democratic model. I imagined how I could connect the intention of the Commune, of participatory democracy with Tales from the Promised Land and St Michael’s Estate. At the same time I am acutely conscious of Tales from the Promised Land as an alternative assembly of narratives and a position taken by community puts itself at stake, creates the double bind, where the ideal of a community taking its place in a participatory democracy is faced with the reality of a failing and failed regeneration process, but still sits and stays at the negotating table. I am also acutely aware of the problems and promises of translating Tales from the Promised Land through the formats of aesthetic and ethcial theorising so that it is valued. Even its biblical title evokes for me a sense of loss described by Nancy as a lost or broken community ‘amplified in all sorts of ways, by all kinds of paradigms: the natural family, the Athenian city, the Roman Republic, the first christian community’, ( Participation Bishop C p 60). So again I raise the question for myself what do I know, what is real?

What I do know is that when I witnessed Pimp My Irish Banger’s installation in the yard in NCAD away from the larger narrative that is Tales from the Promised Land’s I began to challenge my thinking about whether it had really finished as a site specific piece of work. When we were moving ‘Pimp’ from St Michael’s to NCAD and even though there was a definite celebration of achivement for the young men and for the project to enter the Academy, there was at the same time a loss with its removal from the site of St Michael’s and an uncertainty about its reception. I was challenged by a need to respect each narrative’s singular existence but at the same time, I and others in the working group felt there was a loss of the power of the collective narrative with the removal of ‘Pimp’. As a result we began to have quiet conversations that posited Tales from the Promised Land as an inconclusive site of work. Seeing ‘Pimp’ in NCAD presented possibilities of opening to the outside but when the young men who made the work were present on site to witness the panels installation and be interviewed by the press their innocent football game was immediately and agressively challenged by staff. The reaction challenged me to think about how far the institution has to go to change an established mindset and challenge stereotypes that exist internally on so many levels. It reinforced my analysis that Courbet’s call for deinstitutionalisation has far to go.

The working group who planned and managed Tales from the Promised Land have reformed to consider building a website and at the same time look to build our a critical thinking space within a virtual assembly. At the same time I have also started to reflect in this paper and while reading Jean Luc Nancy’s essay The Inoperative Community I found an alliance of ideas and positions that are incredibly relevant in how I might consider the relationships Common Ground has formed in St Michael’s Estate and how to move forward with the next phase of working together and forming the virtual assembly,

‘The political, if this word may serve to designate not the organisation of society but the disposition of community as such, the destination of its sharing, must not be the assumption or the work of love or of death. It need neither find, nor regain, nore effect a communion taken to be lost or still to come. If the political is not dissolved in the sociotechnical element of our forces and needs (in which, in effect, it seems to be dissolving under our eyes), it must inscribe the sharing of community. The outline of singularity would be ‘political’ as would the outline of communication and its ectasy. ‘Political’ would mean a community ordering itself to the unworking of its communication, or destined to this unworking: a community conciously undergoing the experience of its sharing. To attain such a singification of the ‘political’ does not depend, or in any case not simply, on what is called ‘political will’. It implies being already engaged in the community, that is to say, undergoing in whatever manner, the experience of community as communication: it implies writing. We must not stop writing, or letting the singular outline of our being-in-common expose itself’ (Bishop C ed Participation p68)

I exist in a paradox at times, always seriously considering in thought only, how Common Ground takes up its various roles and how other partners understand what is does. Until now extending those thoughts have only taken place externally through snatched conversations. I have rarely have the appropriate time and space to consider deeply my work over the last number of years. Until now that is. I can now position myself in real time and seriously consider how Common Ground brokers the relationships it establishes between artists and groups not just the act of ‘making’ and as Nancy outlines, I am beginning to consider Tales from the Promised Land through writing, through communication. I am also working with a group of people who work and live in St Michael’s Estate, open to unworking and conciously sharing their experience of many fora, like Tales from the Promised Land, regeneration structures and a recently published book called ‘Regeneration, public good or private profit?’

The initial intention of siting Tales from the Promised Land was to celebrate the diversity of work that had been created in St Michael’s Estate over the last four years and to site the work as both individual and seperate visual and sound narratives within the larger narrative. A sense of hope and idealism had been palpable in St Michael’s up until early last year. Through other local structures (the establishment of the regeneration board and the regeneration team) there was a sense that local residents and community groups had created the conditions for a collective will to take place. The reality shifted though when the proposals from the alternative assembly, the ‘public good’ model were rejected by the ‘legitimate’ assembly Dublin City Council, with their preferrred ‘public profit’ model, at the end of the day they owned owned the public land. (Bisset J pg 113)

As the working group built the rationale for siting Tales from the Promised Land the constant possibility that hung over us was the rumoured collapse of the Pubic Private Partnership process. This became fact in May 2008 when the developer Bernard Mc Namara pulled out of five PPP’s that he was awarded by Dublin City Council. The impact of the announcement effected how we would communicate the work, initally we had played with all sorts of names that would house the multiple narratives within and of the site of St Michael’s. With the impact of the PPP’s withdrawal, real loss became apparant. The loss of the promise of a future and the biblical sense of stories and land that are benchmarks for how we should respect the human condition in all its fraility. Reading Immaterial Labour I am struck that I want to test what it is and was. Perhaps we created a commodity, where Tales from the Promised Land was the ideological product that recongnised its own powerlesness to change a wider democracy?

‘What the transformation of the product into a commodity cannot remove, then is the character of the event, the open process of creation that is established between immmaterial labour and the public and organised by communication. If the innovation in immaterial production is introduced by this open process of creation, the entrepreneur, in order for further consumption and its perpetual renewal, will be constrained to draw from the ‘values’ that the public/consumer produces. These values presuppose the modes of being, modes of existing and forms of life that supports them. From these considerations there emerge two principal consequences. First, values are ‘put to work’. The transformation of the ideological product into a commodity distorts or deflects the social imaginary that is produced in the forms of life, but at the same time commodity production must recongnise itself as powerless as far as its own production is concerned. The second consequence is that the forms of life (in their collective and cooperative forms) are now the source of innovation’. (Lazzarato, M)

Again I must return to what I know in order to understand what I don’t.

To reflect on Tales from the Promised Land may be to reflect on the establishment of subjectivity, the visibility of the body in public space or the public realm and the dialectic of social movements. These constitute important factors in the construction of rigorous spaces to reflect on and define the process of making art in and with community and artists, these are starkly rare and absent spaces at present. Investment and articulation of the variety of practices and the construction of a concrete praxis needs to be presented in order for a varied and informed critique and assessment to take place. I am struck by John Molloy’s recent presentation in NCAD of Bourdieu’s two positions in his essay A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, he presented both aesthetic and ethical dispositions, the weights from which we may judge. We are earnest in our assesments, our seeking and understanding but for what purpose and to what end? Whose agenda weighs in in a more superior and authorative tone? In the book Art since 1900 under the section 2003 lies the following quote;

‘Such works which exist somewhere between a public installation, an obscure perfromance and a private archive can also be found in nonart spaces, which might render them even more difficult to decipher in aesthetic terms, nonetheless they can be taken to indicate a distinctive turn in recent art’. (Art since 1900 ed Foster, Krauss, Bois, Buchloh p 665)

I have heard indirect comment, rumour and gossip from peripheral NCAD sources and others about how Pimp My Irish Banger is recieved, ‘It’s crap, oh but its by poor kids, marginalised you say. Ah yeah its okay so.’ In response to the limits of that type of analysis I feel a responsibility in creating interesting dialogical spaces that explore and challenge ideas, that build important parrallels between theory and practice, form diverse understandings and perspectives of working in public, collaboration and the public realm that all sit alongside. There is a desire in the area I work in and with the artists and community that I know to build a challenging public dialogue that can inform ideas about thinking and practice.

I am currently embracing Negri’s term ‘constituent practices’ it ties the difference that needs to exist. At the ‘ Idea of Communism’ conference Michael Arendt spoke of equality in terms of multiplicity in conjunction with the common. Culturally there are corrupt terms – community development has been corrupted by the state, democracy does not exist. The challenge is to build alternative spaces where values, ethics and social responsibility can be discussed in terms of art, how its made and who can make it. I would like to invite responses to inform a critically challenging debate.

Bibliography
Bishop, Claire (ed) Participation – Documents of Contemporary Art (2006) Whitechapel Gallery / MIT press
Bisset, John Regeneration – Public Good or Private Profit (2008) tasc @ New Island
Bradley Will and Esche Charles (ed) – Art and Social Change – A Critical Reader 2007 Tate publishing
Lazzarato, Maurizio – Immaterial Labour www.generation-online.org

Appendix
Brief history of St Michael’s Estate

St. Michael’s Estate is a place with a long history. Its land is historical and has come through many changes over its years of existence. In the early part of the Century ‘Richmond Barracks’ was home to the occupying English army and became known as Keogh Barracks. In 1916 the signatories of the Proclomation of the Irish Republic were bought to the hall in Richmond Barracks prior to being taken to Kilmainham Gaol. In 1945, the Barracks closed and was donated to the local authority for housing purposes. Keogh Square became home to many new tenants of Dublin Corporation and for many, the memories of Keogh Square are warm and happy – for others not so. Some of the people placed in one part of the square were place there because they were poor and becasue they could not afford to pay rent in the tenements of Dublin City or to Dublin Corporation were evicted and came to live there. The Square became known as one of the worst slums in Dublin and many of the older people of the city remember the Square and its resonance.

In 1969 changes in housing policy for the city saw the development of Ballymun. A French style of Architecture – high rise, open space, closed in balconies and entralised heating system. Thirty six years down the road of history, their faults can be identified, but back in the 1970′s the initiatives to overcome bad housing and deprivation was welcomed. People who lived on the Estate in the 1970′s were proud of their Community. They were a people who contributed to many of the struggles in relation to housing issues in the city. The Rent Strike by the National Association of Tenants Organisation (1970′s) being one of them.

The Estate for the first ten years of its life was stable, the conditions were good and in the 1980′s things began to change. Tenants who could avail of the Dublin Corporation Housing Grant of €5,000 did so and they moved out to Tallaght, Clondalkin and Cherry Orchard. Many of the tenants who moved were active leaders in the Community and this resulted in creating a gap and began a process of ‘transience’ that has continued through to today.

The turnover of tenancies had detrimental effects for St. Michael’s Estate. It created an imbalance between young and old, single and those married, employed and unemployed. The Estate became predominantly single parents, many who suffered poverty and its effects. The 1980′s saw the flats begin to deteriorate with poor maintenance, broken lifts, vandalised flats, crime and drugs. Drugs took over the Estate in the 1990′s resulting in the people seeking to have their community demolished and regenerated.

Unfortunately the drugs have continued to this day, and the new drug of choice is cocaine which is having very serious effects on the direct community and surrounding communities.

Since 1998 the process of regeneration has been in place. In April 2003 the first groups and families of people moved to their new homes. In July 2004 the first six blocks were demolished making way for land to be developed. A plan for St. Michael’s Estate was rejected by the Minister of the Environment making way for a public/private partnership. This put the community into conflict with Dublin City Council. Delaying the development further. In 2005 there has been a settlement and the project continues with the plan of 720 units on the site of St. Michael’s Estate including existing community facilities. In the year 2006 following intense work by the community on the St. Michael’s Estate Regeneration Board and its sub groups – a design for four acres to house the existing tenants was agreed and planning permission gained progressing the regeneration. The developer was chosen in November 2006 but to date no agreement has been signed with developer. Unfortunately we are now in 2008 and despite all the funds, work, time, energy and commitment not one brick has been laid on St Michael’s estate since the PPP process began!

www.stmichaelsestate.ie

Posted By: siobhan geoghegan (194.125.14.47)