The professional, the amateur, the enthusiast and various shades of…

In the last couple of weeks (under both artist and arts manager hats) I’ve had several conversations about artist’s fees; being paid to make new work; how public funding does or doesn’t support the process of developing new work and what kind of art making needs financial support.

In the recent Visual Artists New Sheet (Sept / Oct 2012) Chris Clarke talks eloquently about the distinction between ‘space’ and ‘place’ and what artists really mean by space.  This idea of ‘space’ goes hand in hand with the question of public funding and the supports that artists might need to make and/or show new work.

For the emerging artist the work and the artist need time, to let the process breath or ferment, this is one kind of support.  As is often the case the emerging artist or emerging work isn’t evolved enough yet to stand up to the competition for resources that public funds attract and the rigour that public funds demand.   Early career artists and established artists require different kinds of support.

I realise that this might read as an argument against public funding for early career artists and that I risk undermining the ideal but seemingly contradictory climate that we all crave i.e. an environment where we are free to express what we want with the support of the public purse.

To complicate things even more you might say that there is a distinction between the public purse and state funding.  The former could be attached to an idea of civic and civil cultural production, that is supported from within civil society, intrinsic to it’s discourse and a worthwhile endeavour reflective of an active civil society.  While the later i.e. state funded cultural production could be potentially tethered or obligated in some way to exercise itself as official ‘Irish Culture’.   This ‘space’ that Chris talks about is of course what the ‘arm’s- length’ principle and autonomous cultural support bodies provide for – a space where art can seek both practical and financial support adjudicated by peers with the support of strategically employed public resources.

What questions should we continue to ask ourselves as artists?  What kind of artist do I want to be?  What I may say, point at or reveal may differ radically in its address to either a private or public patrons.  Can anything really radical be expressed in the full glare of the state apparatus?  What kind of civil cultural life do we value, and how should that function?

Of course we should question how our institutions work.  Decisions about public funding should be transparent but to claim one is not in receipt of public funding because of arbitrary decision-making, ad-hocracy or administrative bottlenecks isn’t useful.  By participating in this professional sphere, in either paid or unpaid capacities, we are stakeholders in our institutions as artists and public and can contribute to this social, cultural ecology and discourse.  In taking a stance of being outside or ‘not at the party’ we forget that we are also amongst peers and may and do thrive through reciprocity and a sense of collegiality.

To use the analogy of a river, creative work develops within a network of streams and rivulets until eventually it journeys into an institutional mainstream.  Cultural value, traction and track records are built through: the development and exhibition of work; through a developmental journey and through interaction with terrain.  How can we artists simultaneously navigate and address the margins and the centre and how can the centre support the margins?

I think as artists we function as enthusiasts, amateurs and professionals concurrently and shift between these modes in our creative lives and interactions.  There is a distinction between being paid and being a professional artist.

To lighten this pondering and to continue with the watery analogies I just recently came across a book while browsing in Chapters called – Sketching in Water Colours, a book for Amateurs by an Amateur by James Steuart Nelson & Sons Ltd, London, 1938 Edition.  Setting some of his gender assumptions aside I’m enjoying the humours advice that Steuart has to offer.

‘This book is written by an amateur for amateurs.  The author has sketched since he was a boy with little professional teaching and he has wrestled and is still wrestling with difficulties. With the experience thus gained he has found that he has sometimes been able to smooth the path for other strugglers and with this object before him he has penned these pages.  There is no intention of raising class distinctions in excluding the real live artists from our conference…An amateur may become an Artist, but an Artist cannot become an Amateur, grappling with the most initial difficulties long since forgotten by the Artist, but which are ever with us…Lakes have also an irresistible attraction for the many; in fact, the younger the artist the bigger the lake, and the more muddy the water.  One of the objects of these pages will be to try and lead him to simpler themes and to endeavour to inspire in him enthusiasm, without which progress, not to speak of success, is impossible.’

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The Hoard

A launch into group reading again last night thanks to Catherine Barragry for getting things started.  The Call of the Hoard, Jane Bennett’s talk at Vera List Centre, brought up lots of similar interests for Catherine, Ciara and I.

This is just a loose collection of notes but will also hopefully be a text object in itself.  While lying in my bed just after waking this morning this object was already calling me to give it a form. It occurred to me that if I posted notes, slide share or wordpress would do a really good job of helping this object draw similar material to itself.

I love tags – Francis Halsall’s text Little Trapdoors, read in parallel to Jane Bennett, provided some pointers on how to move beyond language in our consideration of objects.  But here I am using tags (language dependent digital objects) that I hope will open a ‘little trapdoor’ to the world that considers objects in themselves.

Let the OOO hoard begin!

Jane Bennett (A link to Bennett’s talk at the Vera List Centre for Art & Politics)

Shem the Hoarder in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake

Hoarding – a somatic attraction to things – a raised sense of awareness of the draw (or ‘ruckus’ as Bennett describes it) of objects, more pronounced in people who hoard compulsively.  She does not see it as aesthetic attraction per say, as some hoarders describe the objects in a way as part of their being or bodies, it seems more visceral.  To have objects from the hoard removed creates anxiety, a fear of dismemberment and physical injury, a loss of bodily integrity.

Bennett suggests the lens of hoarding could be used to examine the object relationships that other groups and individuals demonstrate e.g. fetishists and collectors or their antithesis, religious groups whose beliefs are non-materialist with an emphasis on poverty, Franciscans and Buddists.  These object practices or relationships might point to how objects persist in the world.

Voluntary poverty is counter to the lure of material possessions.  Minimalists – those who desire a minimum of objects in their environment, seemingly the opposite of hoarders, but yet with a strong sensibility of the way objects should ‘be’ in their environments.  Feng Shui – a way of giving objects space to influence us and also a way of living with them in a productive way.  Feng Shui like Bennett gives objects some potency and power.

Warhol is raised later in the q&a session – he constantly gathered and hoarded stuff which was then boxed at the end of each month and sent to a warehouse, so that his space could be free of the clutter of objects.  The idea of ‘sensory styles’ or orientations.  Hoarders seem to have very similar inclinations to artists!  The potentiality of the hoard, what can arise, what can it become or manifest?

Ideas of slowness and a desire for permanence, a refusal of death, there is eros in the hoard! Hoarders might point to non-human practices at work inside the hoard.  Bennett feels that these insights might help us with issues  of sustainability: how to consume differently; to relate to objects differently; to allow objects to relate differently to us; to slow up and move in a more object-like fashion through the world.

The agency of the hoard, hoards that gather themselves – The Pacific Garbage Patch.  This notion of agency reminds me of Slavoj Zizek‘s and his ideas about ecology i.e. that nature is not something that we can control or have effect on.  From the Zizek point of view we humans are embedded in nature, we are subject to natural forces.  This runs counter to green political ideas around sustainability and the idea that a change in our consumerist behaviors will change the course of a predicted ecological end time.

The q&a offered some further tags, snags, threads to follow and Trapdoors to open: ‘Actor Network Theory’ & Bruno Latour – energy and agency such as geological forces, electricity; spatial relationships.  One audience member asked the interesting question – is our real problem how we relate and communicate i.e. if we solved that problem would politics be necessary?  Are content and function separate or linked are the one and the same?

Taylor – the porous self a bilateral relationship with each other and with objects.  Ciara reminded us of the relationship between human and bicycle in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.  ‘The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycle.’  Sergeant Pluck, on The Atomic Theory, in The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brien.

Autism – a different orientation to objects and their meaning, a desire to focus on certain objects, less filtering of perceptions and sensations.  Bennett mentions filtering and our quite tight ability to filter our surrounds, the language of her hoarders suggests a different ability to filter or read objects in the environment.

Objectum Sexuality – an emotional and sexual orientation towards objects – not quite the same as fetishism where the object stands in for something or someone.  This former concept is an aside from Bennett’s idea but does point towards a different relationship and awareness of objects.

Catherine, Ciara and I talked about this elusive, pre-lingual thing about objects and in particular art objects – a glimpse of ‘the Real’ – the Real breaking through the symbolic.  

Bennett also mentions Barthe discussing why he was drawn to particular photographs as objects – the uncanny, the punctum the non-verbal aspect of the photograph that eludes semiotic analysis. Catherine suggests I go to Zizek for a more approachable interpretation of Lacan’s ‘Real’,  ‘symbolic and ‘imaginary’ concepts.  

This session has been really helpful as I’ve been vaguely dipping into Levi R.Bryant’s blog  Larval Subjects and it will be an opportunity to delve further into this.  Interestingly both Bryant and Bennett are involved in a new journal on OOO -‘O-Zone‘ where I found this interesting video by Paul Caplan on Object Orientated Photography.

In the next session we’re hoping to look at both Bryant and a UCD cognitive scientist Fred Cummins who has some interested things to say about cognitive science and eastern philosophical ideas of self and subject hood. See Fred’s Pink Monkey Farm blog.  In terms of cognitive science developments Ciara also talked about machines which are developed to programme themselves and to share knowledge.  A.I. organisms that function like members of a hive or swarm in how they share knowledge, develop and endure.  

This led back again to Taylor’s ideas of interdependence between man and technology which finds it’s nth degree in The Matrix.  How might we avert being taken by (our machines) a self-created technological monster?  Should we embrace technology completely, as Zizek suggests, is technology embedded in nature just as we are?

 Lets see where these tags take us 🙂

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The Center for Genomic Gastronomy

Interesting speakers in Dublin soon, Zack Denfeld and Cat Kramer from The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy will present at TEDx Dublin 22 Nov, 2011

The Center for Genomic Gastronomy –  an independent research institute engaged in exploring, examining and understanding the genomes and biotechnologies that make up the human food systems of planet earth..

One of the groups projects is: FoodLab Bangalore –  a 3 week workshop the Center for Genomic Gastronomy conducted with sophomores from the Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology in the fall of 2011. Students will examine innovation and conservation in South Asian food cultures, building on recent research of the Center (utopian cuisines, mutagenic meals) and working towards the next edition of the Planetary Sculpture Supper Club to be held in Bangalore on Nov. 12th. From:

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the market says…

Recent comment from Martin Naarendorp, thanks Martin.

‘Nice one Monica…
The market say’s…
The market is free
Who is ‘the Market’?

A bear market is one that cannot rise even on good news.
A bull market climbs a wall of worry.
A bull market is one that can shake off bad news.
A rising tide lifts all boats.  [or yachts]

As goes January, so goes the year.
As goes the first week of January, so goes the month, and so goes the year.’ Follow this link for the full version of Martin’s comment.

Follow this link to the project’s facebook page

the market says is a project which invites you to give the market alternative voices and emotions – think slogans, pithy sayings, aphorisms, admonishing or peppy rally cries. The resulting statements will be displayed on a moving text display in a commercial area as part of The Market Studios event Namarama and within the Namarama exhibition.

In the media ‘the market’ seems always to be represented and to represent itself as embodied, sentient and emotional, as Slavoj Žižek has described it a systeme of economic exchanges driven by ‘beliefs about other peoples beliefs’. Essentially human risk taking behaviour based on collective hunches. Why are the people and companies involved in this behaviour able to so influence our circumstances and why in the current climate should ‘the market’ take precident over human and social needs?

Could our own consumer behaviour influence it to any great extent?

Setting aside wheather or not we agree with the ideology that is part of the entity called ‘the market’ how might we embody or reclaim its voice or embody ‘the market’ differently?

This is project is part of ongoing research that I’m doing on alternative economic models and forms of exchange.  It also springs from personal attempts at living differently.


Possible examples:

‘The market says, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’
‘The market says, riches have wings.’

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The fractured self

An email dialogue with the artist Cecilia Bullo and some unresolved thoughts.  This text accompanies Cecilia Bullo’s exhibition The Fractured Self , running 28 May – 13 June, 2010 @ The Market Studios, Dublin 7.

Monica Flynn:

Hi Cecilia, great talking to you too.  The work is really interesting and thanks for your statement.  I will come back to you by email on Friday or Monday hopefully.


Cecilia Bullo:

Hi Monica, Thanks for that.  I was going to ask you if you could help me with a name for the exhibition.  I was thinking of not using METANOIA  anymore.

If you come up with any ideas I would appreciate it.
I thought of: Complex Quixotian Escape
or I was looking at the burial American Indian scaffolds which is connected to my coffin/table.



MF: I was trying to think of a name for the text and ‘the fractured self’ keeps coming to mind or something like that. There is an element of self-healing to the work.

I met an artist recently whose son has schizophrenia she also agreed about ‘the quest’ aspect of the condition, for her son.  Coincidentally we were talking about mysticism or the possibility that mystics were experiencing schizophrenia as we now call it.  She mentioned that Beckett thought that Schizophrenia or madness was a way of seeing the world without any filtering where all experiences are pouring in and over whelming the person but that this was a natural state.  It is true that many of Beckett’s characters are involved in ritual behavior and what has been described as pathological language and thought patterns. For Beckett  ‘the role of the artist is to find order in chaos’.

I’ve also read a bit by Deleuze & Guattari who see the condition as an individual rebellion against society.  The quest aspect does remind me of the Native American Spirit Quest, a rite of passage generally linked to discovering a totemic animal and connecting with this animal or spirit guide.

I’ll have a bit of a think and get back to you.  I know you are probably not overly concerned with schizophrenia but the divided self a link between psyche and body I think is there in the work.

I tend not to go for cryptic titles more for poetic ones, perhaps de-medicalise the title a bit more, after all medical labels can cause more stigma than healing.

Just some thoughts.


CB: Thank you Monica,

I found very interesting what you wrote and very relevant to the work.  On the original email that I was writing to you yesterday, in regards to the names for the exhibition, I thought of “the fragmented self” myself…, then I scrapped it as I wasn’t sure.

It’s great that you were thinking on similar terms!
(I had the image of the fragmented porcelain stick joined by the shunts.)

Artaud to me is a total anarchist, who indeed was an individual who was rebelling against society.

I thought of the American Indian funerary scaffolds in relation to my coffin/table/apparatus, like a resting place. But I wasn’t really thinking about the concept while in the making, it was a visual image that reminded me of the funerary beds after I had made my structure..

Have you read the “Divided Self” by R.D. Laing?
I must I agree with you that even though the work is not solely based on schizophrenia, there are definitely strong references to it; the “divided self”.
I was definitely thinking on those terms while making the work.

This is a quote from Artaud which was also very important in my work and kept creeping up in my head:

“ the cataclysm which was my body…this dislocated assemblage, this piece of damaged geology”.

Reference source:

“Acid Dreams” p.67

It was with the hope of alleviating his own tortured mental condition that Artaud made an intercontinental trek in the 1930s to participate in the peyote ritual of the Tarahumara Indians in the Mexican highlands. Artaud did not undertake such a risky journey as a tourist or an anthropologist but as someone who wished to be healed, as a spiritual exile seeking to regain “ a Truth which the world of Europe is losing”. The desperate Frenchman experienced a monumental bummer-“ the cataclysm which was my body…this dislocated assemblage, this piece of damaged geology”.

In the installation I was thinking of including a photograph of the peyote flower, which I may have shown you, when you came to the studio.

Thanking you,


PS. I will be away during next week so I may not be able to get straight back to the emails during that time. I am hoping to make a decision in the next few days for the title.

MF: Hi Cecilia, sounds like you’re really busy but I’ve been thinking further about your work and gathering some thoughts this morning.  I’ve gone back to Anti Oedipus again which I’ve had difficulty getting to grips with but thinking about your ideas and concerns it seems to make more sense. Yes I have read some of R.D.Laing’s case studies of schizophrenics and their families.  As with Artaud and Deleuze & Guattari he also sees the condition as a resistance and reaction to the untenable or contradictory realities imposed by family and society.

The seeming polarity between man and nature, nature and industry for Deleuze & Guattari are null and void, all these elements are interconnected in what they describe as a process of flows of production and consumption.

I’m struck by the image of your walk up Croagh Patrick where you are carrying the rubbish bag.  It seems to suggest a number of things for example excess material no longer needed, but which you are unable to dispose of.  This motif could perhaps also reference what you describe as a desire to reconcile the different interests and ideas carried in your work or perhaps the resulting detritus of over consumption and insatiable desire.  From my point of view I think this looseness in the mesh of ideas and concerns is what makes the work open to the viewer.

Framed within a Marxist-Freudian construct of the world, Deleuze & Guattari describe the body as a ‘desiring machine’ our organs functioning within processes of desire, production and consumption coupled with other ‘desiring machines’.  That our bodies and psyches are caught with in this web, that we are subject to forces beyond ourselves,  such as the family (a supposedly normative unit) and a functionality determined by one’s ability to be productive and to consume,  would suggest an impasse or impossible circumstance for anyone whose desires are at odds with the larger social machine.

Thus from the D&G perspective all ills commence from this locus where the individual, ill at ease within this framework for her being, seeks to disconnect or uncouple herself.  Without being explicit in the work I think your interest in Artaud as an artist and schizophrenic would suggest ideas around mysticism and self-healing, where ritual and ritual objects become important in stepping outside reality in order to seek healing and to examine the fractured self.

Your walks both urban and rural, the ritual element of quest and the stick or ritual object involved in this quest suggest a Shamanic notion of the artist as someone in a process of ritual and psychic healing.  In Shamanic terms illness is a loss of part of the soul and the Shaman is the interlocutor between the material and spirit world.

MF: I think ‘the fractured self’ might work well it seems to refer to your work in a visual way while also addressing the ideas behind the work.

Interested to hear your thoughts in response, I have some other observations that have been simmering.  I should probably also point out that Deleuze and Guattari were very interested in Artaud and Beckett.  They borrowed the term ‘the body without organs’ from Artaud as a description of Schizophrenia.


CB: Hi Monica,

In relation to “the body without organs”, BwO, that was what attracted me to Artaud in the first place. That’s where my interest in Artaud began.

I am aware of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing and read some of their work. I did not go into it too much into it though, as was afraid I would be influenced too much while making the work.

But you have pinpointed very well my interests in their theories. It is difficult to extract and edit what is relevant to the work but it seems very clear the way you have written about it.

In relation to the rubbish bag, it has all the elements that you have so well described. It is also for me a carrier of the essential elements in our lives, a bag of “last resort tricks”, perhaps to help us survive.  Also the image of contemporary homeless people, I have seen them carry their belongings in these bags, some could be contemporary Artaud’s. In some hospitals (in Italy anyway as I have witnessed it) if you are taken to the emergency unit, they put your clothes and your belongings in a black rubbish bag. The essential self, private belongings are put in bags where we usually put refuse.  That image stayed with me.

Precious, essential/Waste, refuse

I have used it in the video to give that sense of precarious living, a sense of lack of stability.

There is definitely a Shamanic element to it also of course, indeed a bag of tricks, a bag of hope, a bag of weapons.

Hope it makes sense.
Thanking you again,


MF: Your performative walking brings many cultural and artistic references to mind.  You mentioned having worked as a tour guide, in a sense tourism is a contemporary quest or pilgrimage.  The guide like the Shaman is a mediator, but of culture and landscape.  Perhaps you felt ill at ease with this contemporary role which often mediates a cannibalistic engagement with landscape and the culture of ‘the other’.

For example your theft of hotel towels to create something, while a cliché of sorts, could also be perceived as an act of resistance.  To steal from the soulless environment of a hotel room and to fashion something of almost magical qualities, your puppet-double, is again a transformative exercise.

This creation of stand-ins and replicas has analogies with religious beliefs and rituals.   Your wooden walking stick, you might say, transmigrates into porcelain becoming both natural and man-made and as we discussed works on a number of registers, as talisman, guide, support, weapon of defense and fragment.  Your motif of ‘the double’ and ‘the split’, is present on a number of levels in both video and sculptural work; your split screen video showing your walks posits urban against rural and culture versus nature similarly your act of carrying your puppet-double suggests a restorative or reconciliatory task in operation around this split.

You mentioned metamorphosis as a concern in the concepts behind your object-organs e.g. Wound X.  These objects have an animated yet abject quality.  Their animation is at odds with the preciousness of the marble material you have used causing them to hover uncannily between life and not-life.   A physical wound is healed when sutured together but how can we heal a psychic wound, you seem to say?  Just as the flesh can be made to knit together can we then have faith that the psyche may also heal itself?

Wound X

‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’.

The scaffold in the Edward Curtis image you sent also has the quality of a mythical creature stalking through the environment carrying away the dead.  I did some further research which described Choctaw burial rituals.  The dead were left for several weeks on these scaffolds until their flesh had putrefied, a ritual that directly sought the transition from the human to the abject.  At this point Elders, whose role involved seeing the dead to the spirit world, would strip the bones of flesh with their long finger nails and burn the flesh and entrails, retaining the bones for communal burial or safe keeping.   According to one nineteenth century account only those who had died by their own hand or enemies were excluded from this ritual and buried beneath the ground.

The concept of the outcast brings me back to the idea of individuals as part of a social body and notions of what it is to be human.  In his exploration of the history of madness Foucault[1] points out that those mentally at odds with society bear a long precedent of being rejected and confined outside society.  During Renaissance times the mad were cast out to wander on the edge of towns or in Germany placed on ships which dispatched them elsewhere.   Foucault points out how our language has absorbed the imagery of these practices i.e. ‘the walking wounded’ and ‘the ship of fools’.  But he also makes reference to ambiguity between the practice of casting out the mad and a tradition of pilgrimage by those who were considered mad.

Whatever about this ambiguity, historically a spatial delineation has been created between ‘the mad’ and the ‘non-mad’ the sick and the well, the clean and the unclean.  Do we fear madness because we cannot bear to acknowledge the possibility of our own dissolution? Who decides who can remain within and who is to be cast out?
There are two specific gazes that you address in your work that of the tourist and medic.  During our discussion you spoke about time spent in the College of Surgeon’s and how fascinated you are by the contradictory nature of surgery as an action i.e. the body is wounded so that it can be healed.

The surgeon is in a sense the contemporary Shaman or Witch Doctor, do you think that we perhaps imbue these roles with too much power and thus feel powerless to help ourselves when conventional wisdom fails us?  Your table/ platform piece Metanoia I, suggests these tensions between the medical subject and medicine as a discipline. While medicine sometimes distances us from an understanding of our own bodies it seems in this piece that the body is evading medical observation.  It has absconded, escaped the sanitised distant medical view, connoted by medical instruments which, cut, tear, probe in a sterile yet violent contact with the body.

Metanoia I

Un-reconciled notes

Religious symbolism or tropes – heads of the enemy invested with power, the prophet wandering in the desert, asceticism

The therapeutic process: re-experiencing trauma to understand and assimilate the experience and move past the neurosis that a previous trauma has caused.  Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ has parallels with this process in that it seeks to throw the audience into another emotional register in order that they experience theatre rather than consume it from the distance.

Thinking about your work tipped me back into revisiting a number of writers and thinkers that I’m interested in.  On the topic of walking Rebecca Solnit discusses the notion of wandering and getting lost and the potential of the unplanned journey.  This also reminds me of  the Situationist dérive and Vito Acconci’s Following Pieces a mapping of space through the act of shadowing another person on the street.  The shadow, the double, the doppelganger.  There are references to mountain climbers and Arctic explorers experiencing someone travelling with them like a reassuring presence. Shackleton referred to what he called ‘the third man’ in his final journey towards the South Pole, he had only two companions with him.

Sophie Calle, having herself followed to define who she is through another’s observations.

We did discuss a feminist perspective in relation to your earlier work Wound X, which references the vagina dentate.  The body which is ultimately and historically ‘other’ the female body, the body to be looked at, probed and understood rather than subject in itself.  It strikes me that the references in your work to the female body has further potential.  The female body in particular has been subject to the medical gaze.  You mention the use of doubles and memisis but also the use of mirrors in the table piece reminds me a little of the Medusa myth, where Medusa whose gaze cannot be met can only be viewed by looking at her in a reflective surface.

It is fitting that your table is surrounded by mirrors the body or metaphorical body can only be viewed through the mirrors.  Might this invisible body be the powerful female body which is able to bring life into the world?  At various time in history women who were healers were often persecuted as witches.  This power to heal was seen as evil and dangerous and its power was subsequently undermined by institutions like the church but also by the growing science of medicine.   The tall inaccessible table also suggests the remove that we have from conventional medicine as discipline as rarefied knowledge. There is a contradiction in traditional gender roles which place woman as carer, but in a neutered sense, with the loss of the role as wise woman and healer.


As I’ve been writing this over the last few days I’ve been pacing and writing. It seems that writing and walking are interdependent.  There are also some amusing coincidences in the background for me as I approached this dialogue.  I’ve been following the course of a friend’s sailing journey online.  He is on his way to A Coruna or Camarinas in Galicia and from there by foot on the Camino to Santiago.  I’m not sure what he is seeking but I do understand his need for this pilgrimage and hope he finds what he is looking for.

On my desk is a piece of quartz crystal given to me by my Canadian friend Mike. It was given as a temporary gift of protection and will return to him when we meet again.  For Mike this quartz shard has magical qualities.  He first noticed it in a shop window but driving away could not get it out of his mind and had to return and make it his own.

The first lines from the Kavanagh poem Advent keep surfacing.

‘We have tested and tasted too much, lover
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.’

Cecilia your mirrors refract our gaze and by so doing bring wonder and discovery to the experience of looking.  Last night my friend Diana reminded me of the need for poetry and of the staleness in the rational explanation.

Monica Flynn

May, 2010

[1] Michael Foucault , Madness and Civilisation, Routledge, London and New York, 1989


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Space and Collaboration

Monica Flynn interviews Rachel Brown and Brighdin Farren about their curatorial project Brown & Bri.

An interview on behalf of the Visual Artists News Sheet, May-June 2010,published by Visual Artists Ireland.  All Images selected by Brown & Bri from the photographic archive at Belfast Exposed Photography’.

Monica Flynn: How did your collaboration begin?
Brighdin Farren: Rachel and I joined Catalyst Arts in Belfast in 2007 as directors. During the summer of 2008 we worked on The Garden Project and thought we should work together more. Neither Rachel nor I knew Belfast or each other before 2007, so Catalyst gave us a very direct route into the heart of the contemporary art scene and a comprehensive understanding of how it functions and maintains itself, we could therefore see how we could build on this.

Rachel Brown:  I moved to Belfast solely for Catalyst and arrived here not knowing the city or anyone in it. Naïve as it sounds, I found the experience completely inspiring. Being at Catalyst placed me in the middle of an existing community, where Bri and I developed similar ideas for how to contribute locally.

MF: What in particular about Belfast interests you both?

RB: Belfast has a great base and tradition of artist-led, grassroots initiatives. I have a lot of respect for the work that is being produced and how the scene here supports that production – including how it has supported us.

BF: Belfast is a gem. It doesn’t give much away to the uninitiated, you have to spend time, to look and listen, but as you do, it becomes very apparent that it’s a special place. Not unique. There are a lot of post-conflict cities, a lot of places with quality product and poor infrastructure, but for Rachel and I, the attraction lies in the potential.

MF: Can you briefly outline your curatorial approach?

BF: Brown & Bri is a curatorial project. Our work is very much a creative practice and in some ways difficult to define. We are interested in the machinery of the art world, interpreting its formats and functions and discovering how we as curators or artists or two people working together can contribute.

RB: Design by committee can be problematic but the feeling of being a necessary part of something good – a genuine collaboration – is what we’re trying to instigate with Brown & Bri for both ourselves and the people we work with. Overall we are concerned with space and collaboration.

MF: Would ideas like Mary Jane Jacob’s interest in creating a non-authoritarian ‘spaces of permission’ (1) have influenced your approach?

RB: I wouldn’t use the word ‘permission’, but we are interested in providing the frameworks that allow work to happen. The restrictions and opportunities that we encounter here in Belfast are shaping what we do more than anything else.

We’re learning a very broad trade through the very specific case study of Belfast. Some individuals and organisations here have been supportive and influential – including Hugh Mulholland, Pauline Hadaway, John Duncan and Factotum.

Artists who work collaboratively are of interest to us, for example Broomberg & Chanarin, who we’re working with currently on a commission for the new gallery at Belfast Exposed. Or Elmgreen and Dragset. The Centrifugal project is also interesting to us (of which Daniel Jewesbury and Aisling O’Beirn are the Belfast wing). More generally, Paul O’Neill’s writings have been very useful in trying to define what it is we’re doing.

BF: I think ‘permission’ for us is as much of a complex term for us as it was for Mary Jane Jacob. While we manoeuvre ourselves into positions of being able to allocate practical and necessary things, like funds and venues, we do try to approach making work, curating exhibitions and in turn steering experiences with subtlety and sensitivity.

We are concerned with creating space for artists and for audiences. Each requires different considerations, in order to provide a sense of support without necessarily determining or demanding outcomes. Our key concerns are to create an environment that allows for rest; along with constructing experiences of working with us that leave our collaborators / audiences with understandings that have arisen quite intuitively.

I like Mary Jacobs’s thoughts about listening (2), to listen helps to build an awareness of why you’re doing something, whatever it is, and for whom you’re doing it.

MF: Your approach brings to mind Agamben’s idea of the ‘coming community’ (3) – in that you utilise social occasions that encourage connections.

BF: Your parallel makes sense, at least in the beginnings of what we try to do. However it is important for us though that the majority of times there is a realisable outcome, whether that’s a photograph, an exhibition, an event or initiating an ongoing collaborative relationship.

Creating and orchestrating circumstances for certain selected people to meet is a large part of what we do. Food is an important tool we use to help with this. Meeting and inviting interesting artists to come to Belfast and in turn having them meet with local practitioners generates a certain discussion. Meeting and inviting curators, critics and collectors into Belfast generates another, different, discussion; that of a greater awareness and interest in the good contemporary art being produced here.

RB: We’re concerned with Ireland’s position on the peripheries and how that affects its artistic output and international profile. The Northern Irish arts scene is of exceptional quality, wonderfully self-sufficient and largely free of bullshit. We want to support that. Often that’s through establishing and strengthening existing links locally and generating a more active, supportive (though not necessarily larger) arts audience. The next stage of this is to establish and strengthen links further afield, pricking the ‘bubble’ of the scene here with new work and new connections.

MF: Are you specifically aiming to engender a greater confidence and dismantle the sense of being on the periphery?

BF: Most people I know that devote their time to making art or would call themselves professional artists or photographers – they have plenty of confidence. They don’t necessarily need outside appraisal or approval.

Through working with other organisation’s budgets, we’ve brought interesting arts practitioners over to visit, but the main funding bodies here don’t allow for applications to bring curators, critics, collectors, which is frustrating. We’ve never been funded as an organisation, which is fine as we’re relatively new. However, you find ways. For example, we, along with the Contemporary Arts Society in London are organizing a group of 18 curators and collectors from major galleries and museums throughout the UK to visit Belfast in September 2010.

RB: Being on the periphery isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I wouldn’t want to dismantle that. The periphery of Europe is where we are. But where’s the centre? London, Berlin or Venice every two years? Our aim with bringing people over is just to open up new paths a little, whether to the ‘centres’ or to other peripheries. The arts community here has a huge amount to offer to other communities.

MF: So you don’t really think, as such that the Irish art scene is too turned in on itself?

RB: I don’t think we’re too turned in on ourselves. But I don’t think we reach out enough either though. Basically, the two should go together and find a balance – generating local energy and pushing for international profile.

BF: In an ideal efficient world, everyone has a fixed purpose and defined role that they can focus on and get really good at. Obviously that doesn’t happen, especially in a smaller city or region. Everyone here is stretched and we all on some level have to work as ambassadors. The contemporary art community is already working in these ways, looking out, looking in, bringing out and bringing in. We need more initiatives, agencies or official bodies whose role it is to shine a spotlight on this.

MF: Gatherings, be they collections of archive material or people seem to be important to what you do.

BF: It’s fair to say we are really excited by collections of photographs and of people. One of our current projects is working with Belfast Exposed Photography on commissioning and developing new work in response to their photographic archive of over 500,000 negatives. This is a huge project for us, which has several strands. It’s an amazing resource, both for research and focus for photographers, artists and academics as well as for us.

Less output driven projects would be The Sunday Society, Blind Date, Free Time and Sundays in Spring. These are about encounters and possibility. For example The Sunday Society relies on and is shaped entirely by the people who buy into it. Anyone can join the society, as long as they eat lunch with us and pay a fiver for it. Their fiver also allows them to submit an idea for a small-scale project. All the money goes into a kitty, which builds up until the society decides to cap it – at around a few hundred pounds. Over one of the lunches, society members vote on all the ideas proposed so far. Whichever idea gets the most votes gets all the money. So far we’ve collected a dozen or so proposals.

RB: This is just beginning really – our role in it is to host, coordinate and lead discussion when necessary. We try to keep a really light hand with it though, as it isn’t supposed to be Brown & Bri thing. We will shape the society and its decisions, but only as much as anyone who attends every one.

Our aims for the Sunday Society are similar to our aims for the Beggar’s Banquet, which we hosted as part of the Exchange Mechanism project at Belfast Exposed recently. We invited artists, architects, arts council and city council representatives, policy makers from home and further afield along with the public to attend a banquet. We had thirty guests around a banqueting table in the gallery for a three-course meal. The subject of the dinner table conversation was set out in the invitation – “A country that doesn’t invest in culture, is a country without a soul …how do we argue for the value of our work in the wake of economic crisis and cuts?” Everyone was invited to prepare a short toast to an event, individual, exhibition, policy or idea of their choice. We decided who would sit next to whom, people had to pass and pour for their neighbours. Certain dishes were for sharing … it was orchestrated, but hopefully in a subtle way.

Since Bri and I were cooking, we had to just set the scene and leave it. All we could hear were intermittent clink-clink-clinking of knives on glasses as people began toasts. It was better that way, I think. We had to exercise a bit of restraint – asking people to talk about their ideas is one of those things that shouldn’t be over-worked.


1. Mary Jane Jacob, “Making Space for Art”, in What Makes A Great Exhibition, Paula Marincola, Ed. (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative/Pew Charitable Trusts, 2006)

2. Ibid.

3. Giorgio Agamben, “The Coming Community”, Trans. Michael Hardt, from Theory Out of Bounds Series Volume 1, University of Minnesota Press, 1993


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All places contain all others

Making worlds / Domhain á gCruthú, the 53rd Venice Biennale

I’m aware that I’m writing this report following many reviews in both local and international art publications.  As a rule I generally try to avoid reading others reviews until I’ve drawn my own conclusions, so what can I say here that doesn’t reiterate what you may have already read else where?  In the case of this report on the Venice Biennale my ideas are now coloured by proposed cuts in arts funding that may affect the future international mobility of artists’ based in Ireland.  But let’s hope that my sepia tinted sun glasses don’t extend to a more general nostalgic view of Ireland at these events.

This Summer I was once again working with Visual Artists Ireland who was given the opportunity to launch the 11th edition of Printed Project ‘Farewell to Post-colonialism’, at the Irish Pavilion.  The launch was accompanied by a panel discussion led by the issue’s guest editor Sharat Maharj and a stellar cast of contributing speakers including Homi K. Bhabha, Daniel Birnbaum, Charles Esche, Chris Dercon and Gao Shiming.

At this 53rd Venice Biennale Daniel Birnbaum proposes ‘La Biennale’ as a space in which to ‘emphasise differences’ and assert creative agency as a counterpoint to nationalistic or homogenised views of the world.   Following his appointment as curator he identified three central concerns for his proposed exhibition ‘Making Worlds’: to present work in a way that highlighted process, ‘… an exhibition that remains closer to the sites of creation and education (the studio, the workshop) than the traditional museum show’; to emphasis the continuing influences of a generation of artists such as Gordon Matta Clarke, Yoko Ono, André Cadere; and given the dominance of moving image work in the last number of years, to explore painting and drawing in an expanded sense of these media.

Getting the hard facts, art-tourist stuff out of the way  ‘Making Worlds’ included: over 90 artists from all continents; 77 Participating Countries (the largest number so far), in the Giardini and throughout the islands of Venice and 44 Collateral Events (presented by art institutions and groups), also dispersed throughout Venice.   If you intend travelling these are a few guidelines that will help you get quickly orientated. The trick to finding your way around Venice if you’re not already aware of it, is simply to reference the area of the city e.g. Castello and follow the four figure numbers on the buildings.  The official Biennale map (grey cover) lists all the collateral venues with area and street numbers and also opening times for venues, this is available free at the entrance to the Giardini and Arsenale it also lists opening times and days.  The British Council Map available at the Northern Ireland venue is also really good as it lists all venue addresses.  The Short Guide to the Biennale is worth it as it provides maps of the main venues, images of artists’ works and short statements about the artists concerned.

As is customary the Biennale centred on the curated exhibition in the Arsenale and what was previously the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini now the Palazzo delle Esposizioni della Biennale.  This later venue included a Café, Book Shop and Education areas designed by Tobias Rehberger[1], Rirkrit Tiravanija and Massimo Bartolini respectively.  This venues refurbishment also incorporated the newly reopened library, the Historic Archive of Contemporary Arts; open to researchers and exhibition visitors.   Birnbaum’s Arsenale exhibition has less of the cavern and more of the grotto about it than its predecessor and the rhythm of wall, discrete sculptural works and installation was well paced.  Other highlights from the Arsenale included: Ceal Floyer, Giant Bonsai; Falke Pisano with a sculptural installation and text; Anawana Haloba, The greater G8  advertising market; Aleksandra Mir’s Venezia, all places contain all others; Ulla von Brandenburg’s film shot in Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and Atta Poomtangon’s, Keep something for a rainy day.  In contrast to Robert Storr who seemed to favour documentary lens based works Birnbaum included many moving image works with a narrative approach and photography with an eclectic array of approaches to presentation and an expanded sense of the medium.

UAE video interviews with individuals within the Dubai and Abu Dabai art world discussed art scenes, the art market and speculation on art even at a local level.

It would be a bit misleading to describe exhibitions as national representations as nationalism was troubled by a number of curators and pavilions, Germany’s  Nicolaus Schafhausen chose to present Liam Gillick (U.K.) for the German pavilion and the  Danish and Nordic (Finland, Norway and Sweden) Pavilions  jointly presented a narrative driven installation titled ‘The Collectors’.  This exhibition, curated by Elmgreen and Dragset, showed the work of 24 artists.  The curators wittily and pragmatically employed the modernist structures of the Danish and Nordic pavilions to present stories of dysfunctional excess, sex, death and bankruptcy.  On a more serious note the Danish Pavilion’s ‘For Sale’ sign was a reminder of the art market’s entanglement with other markets and the ills of an economy driven by speculation.

Gillick’s enigmatic Cat in the Modernist Kitchen literally addressed the space of the German Pavilion and its history as a fascist structure, with Gillick also engaging the audience through other channels including the pavilions chirpy invigilators and a Deutsche Welle documentary.

As well as the exhibitions above the other highlights of the Giardini were: Péter Forgás’ Col Tempo  – The W Project at the Hungarian Pavilion. Forgás mined Nazi archival material in an installation that examined: the congruence of photography, film and the scientific gaze during the Nazi era, drawing attention to the history of both media and their dubious links with science and documentary forms.  Roman Ondak afforded us a subtle passage through the Czech and Slovak Rebublics pavilion, a break from the heavily underscored space of art, in his gentle garden path titled Loop.  Bruce Nauman’s work was spread over three locations in Venice and a visit to see his work  at the Università Ca’ Foscari was particularly rewarding as it was a chance to experiece his early text pieces and more recent work, while exploring the exciting environs of the market and University area.

Participating Countries outside the Giardini that remained with me were: Palastine;  Ireland; Lithuania; Latvia; Australia; Mexico; Iceland; Singapore; Union of the Comoros and the Central Asian Pavilion.

Collateral events

Susan MacWilliam represented Northern Ireland; Martin Boyce, Scotland at Venice and a particularly interesting gathering works East West Divan, presented by Turqouise Mountain, provided an opportunity to see the work of emerging artists from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.  In MacWilliam’s work the intimacy she has with her subject and subjects is immediately evident and her blending of documentary and creative narratives draws us in to a world that merges, science, celebrity and the ongoing facination within popular culture with the uncanny.

Public space often comes into focus wherever the biennial.  Themes explored at the Printed Project talk and within the work of Sarah Browne and Gareth Kennedy brought issues of globalisation, migrancy and labour to the fore.   While the historicity of Venice and the events that it hosts give it its’ vibrancy there is an underlying idiosyncrasy in the sterile regulation what happens within its’ public spaces.  Gareth Kennedy’s buskers amongst other street events were waiting for their official civic authorisation in order to busk, reminding me of Homi Bhabha’s discussion on authority and who has the right to narrate.  On the ground migrant African bag sellers were shifting at a moments notice to avoid the Caribinari and temporary information stands, spreading their wares in the same way, warned tourists of fines and that these brand rip-offs were made by child labour in China.  The city itself seemed to reiterate Aleksandra Mir‘s title ‘all places contain all others’.

Monica Flynn, July 2009.

[1] Tobias Rehberger  received a 2009 Golden Lion award for the best art work

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