Preamble to Dublin Contemporary (DC) Programme Announcement

Starbucks, Dawson Street, Dublin,

June 23rd, 2011 at 9:44am.

I sought out Starbucks before the “Dublin Contemporary Programme Announcement” because I felt it was an apt rest spot after reading an intriguing blog entitled teach4amerika, which gave a humorous account of a meeting at a Starbucks in Albuquerque, New Mexico, between the art collective – The Bruce High Quality Foundation BHQF (who you will see at Dublin Contemporary 2011) and the art critic Dave Hickey. The whole tone of the text “bemoan[ed] the debt-riddled professionalizing homogeneity of America’s art academies.”[1] At Earlsforth Terrace I was expecting artists, curators, and gallerists dressed to the nines so to speak. Not to mention such ‘professionals’ being doused in perfume and aftershave. My own amateurism would be uncovered when I was asked for my name on entering, which was not on the list. Although only a few moths away we can only assume what Dublin Contemporary (DC) will turn out to be in early September of 2011. It is really guesswork at this point because, although there was some ‘transparency’ earlier in the year when the torch was passed to the new curators of the event, which was followed by another period of ‘Silence’. The organisers and curators can be defended, as this was a period of researching spaces and gathering artists with limited time, but (to my mind), the ‘ruin’ of Rachael Thomas’ DC (the original and now MIA curator of Dublin Contemporary) is still an unshakeable context that has not beenfar enough under the mat; and cannot be glossed over with the new Irish literary mascot of DC in the form of William Butler Yeats. The curators should do what art does so well and make an ironic gesture by having something like a “Rachael Thomas Room” at the main venue?

But seriously, the words ‘transparency’ (the so-called new policy of the Irish Government) and ‘Silence’ (the jilted theme of the previous incarnation of DC) provoke associations with power, hierarchy, elitism, class; all combining to breath more cynicism into an already cynically inflated Irish public. We can joke about ‘Silence’ and the ironies of such a thematic for an international art event that was hidden from the Irish art public, not to mention other publics, until it went to the wall.


The DC Programme Announcement Earlsforth T errace, Dublin,

22nd June, 2011 at 10.30am.

As I entered the impressive venue at Earlsfort Terrace I successfully swept the debris from the “wall” of Thomas’ DC under the proverbial mat, but, as we all know, by doing that we imagine a bigger mess underneath – not to mention the unavoidable residual crumbs which any good naysayer will make a mountain of criticism out of.

The programme announcement was held in a lecture theatre setting with staggered raised seats, that revealed a surprisingly large crowd. The centre aisle was reserved for press, but unsurprisingly artists and curators were the majority. As I got comfortable I learnt that the room where we sat would be the home of ‘The Office of Non-Complience’. Biennale-type canvas tote bags were left on the seats with a press-release and flash-drive wrist bracelet. Images, biographies and other information is stored on the flash drive. This was more of a business model than you’d expect from an art event, but in the context of the not so rainy day economy, business and art have never been such close friends. “The Programme Announcement” was just that – it announced the programme, but details are still foggy as to what The Office of Non-Compliance is? I assume it will be a live performative space where happenings generate dialogue and discourse?

Anyway, listening to the two curators Jota Castro and Christian Viveros-Fauné, the main focus of their words was the Irish Economy, something they feel akin to through their shared experience of the Latin American economic crisis. This default thematic of ‘crisis-tourism’ was compounded by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, who understandably stood uneasy before the art audience, with the term ‘Tourism’ tripping off the tongue one too many times.

My immediate response after a quick scan of the artists – emerging and established – was surprise. It will most definitely be a pre-existing installation by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, who has spent all his energies on his current ‘big crystal maze’ installation at Venice – or maybe we will get the small but efficient zirconia edition for DC. Although we got bucket loads in 2009, I cannot get enough of James Coleman. The Irish artist‘s projected slide work and audio narration, Charon ( MIT Project), 1989, at the RHA, was one of the best works shown in Ireland in the last decade. Coleman is showing again at the RHA in September; Aidan Dunne reports that the artist will make a new work for Earlsforth Terrace.[2]

The big question is what Irish artists were selected and which were not. Time is a big obstacle here and although we live in a fast track society, art-making takes time; although some art practices lend themselves to short deadlines (well, if you have already made the work). I hope that time constraints do not compromise a good showing by the emerging artists who have been selected, all of whom have a great opportunity to push beyond their existing practices and make work that challenges themselves and the viewer.

It is not the right time to consider the Irish artists who were selected, but there are some conspicuous absences like Alan Phelan and Bea McMahon. As I have mentioned, a decisive curatorial thematic is not evident yet. Also, I am surprised not to see the French artist Aurélien Froment in the lineup, who is just on our doorstep, and has shown some of the more challenging and beautiful work on our shores over the last four years. Of course there are many other artists who fit the profile, and maybe there are other reasons or circumstances that are still under the mat as to why they are not part of this event. It maybe the case that the artists that are not in the lineup were (in retrospect) the unlucky few that were selected for the unmade prequel?

Out of the ninety strong bunch of artists I eagerly anticipate what the art collectives pull off, such as The Bruce High Quality Foundation and Claire Fontaine. I presume they will make art for DC in an accumulative/performative way – leaving the audience with a discursive element that expands beyond preexisting or fabricated art objects. These collectives will fare better in the time constraints, due to numbers and less individual responsibility to impress. William Powhida is another artist to look out for, who merges notebook art-making with critical commentary on artworld mercantilism. His caricatured drawings and installations are revelatory and provocative to the extreme, although maybe too provincially East Coast America to translate fully over here.

In The Irish Times Dunne writes how there are “few big names but this major exhibition will hope the public buys into its policy of ‘non-compliance’.” I don’t know what “big names” or what “public” Dunne is imagining here? DC was always a hard sell, and although the democratic universality of Hirschhorn’s concepts and materials will draw a crowd, the art public want to see good art that generates interest for the arts in Ireland that goes beyond one event. Creating a new art public is probably asking too much, but this exposure to challenging and ‘spectacle art’ will hopefully get the general public to approach art in a less cynical and fearful way. Personally, the lack of “big names” is a blessing. dOCUMENTA 12 was better off with a relatively unknown cohort of artists. But we must not judge DC as if it were Venice or Kassel. This is our first effort at art on such a grand scale. It took the whole boom era to figure out that we are shit at building roads compared to the Spanish. Let’s hope we can do better with art.

A placard with the partners of DC was placed to the side of the speakers in the venue at Earlsforth Terrace. Some big Irish art institutions were missing – we know the case of one of those institutions, but others were surprisingly absent. These are the rents in the armour of DC, that are creating aftershocks in the form of disgruntled whispers. This is an unavoidable side-effect of artworld moving and shaking. But maybe DC will benefit from this gossipmongering, which will keep the energy of the event combative rather than lackadaisical. There is nothing like a disgruntled art public to provoke a much needed discussion concerning the territorial nature of artworld demographics on a local level. But then again, we are perhaps better at keeping silent and cradling grudges.


The Sequel, or the Unmade Prequel?

Dublin Contemporary 2011

Programme Announcement

Earlsforth Terrace, Dublin

June 23rd, 2011.

Dublin Contemporary flash-drive with event information; courtesy of author.



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