Visualising Contemporary Ireland #1
Analysis of a financial crisis is conducted almost exclusively in the jargon of politics and economics. Economists have become the new ideologues, whose fiscal solutions, wrapped in the technical language of the discipline, are readily absorbed and discussed in everyday conversations, alongside the weather, sport and fashion. Political analysis is pervasive too, but at the same time limited to the conventional and formal framework of the State, government, party politics, trade unions, social partnerships, citizenship and the Constitution. Whatever the crisis is, it is a position of knowledge, so if we frame a set of questions in a different way we may get different answers. What would happen if we analysed crisis in terms of visual culture: those elements of cultural production that rely on visual representations such as newspapers images, campaign posters, film, billboards and artists’ projects?
Visualising Contemporary Ireland is a new project from The Future State. Engaging with Carl Schmitt’s theory of ‘the political’, it will examine Ireland’s ‘financial ‘crisis’ through visual culture, on the understanding that aesthetics can reveal and perform the daily antagonisms that society must negotiate in order to overcome or re-affirm hegemonic narratives. At stake is the possibility of foregrounding Ireland’s visual culture in the formation of a new society.
Visualising Contemporary Ireland #1
This image appeared online in The Guardian newspaper on 18 November 2010 as part of a minute-by-minute report covering developments on the Irish bailout, which had just been announced. The article was updated at intervals throughout the day. The image above was published in the report at 11.23am. It depicts Ajai Chopra, the deputy director of the European department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), along with a colleague, making his way towards the Central Bank of Ireland for the start of the bailout talks. A homeless man sits on the pavement holding a paper cup in his hand. The disparity is deliberate; later on a second photograph appears depicting another homeless beggar, cup in outstretched hand, just as the IMF officials hurry past.
The next report entry was published 28 minutes later and referenced another online article in the same newspaper that focused on the sense of shame and humiliation around Dublin that day at Ireland’s loss of face on the international stage. It carried a quote from rival newspaper The Irish Times, taken from an article titled Was It For This?, which stated “It may seem strange to some that The Irish Times would ask whether this is what the men of 1916 died for: a bailout from the German chancellor with a few shillings of sympathy from the British chancellor on the side. There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.” Ireland’s postcolonial past was placed side by side with the ‘shame’ of its new status as debtor to the EU/IMF. Loss of financial sovereignty was equated with loss of national independence.
Postcolonial theory points to the construction of the Other-coloniser relationship, whereby the coloniser always has the upper hand. The coloniser sets itself up as the authority on the Other by virtue of the fact that he is there in the colonised land and thinks about the Other because “he could be there, or could think about it with very little resistance”. The coloniser becomes a distributor of knowledge or awareness of the Other by “making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it: in short… dominating, restructuring and having authority over” it. The perception of a distinction between the coloniser and the Other becomes the reality. If Ireland does have a new colonial master in the EU/IMF can it be said that this narrative/reality has, in part at least, been created in reverse, by Irish society rather than the coloniser? And can it follow from this, that in narrating the distinction between the coloniser and Other, as visualised in the image above, Irish society continually performs and reinforces its colonised identity?
Email your thoughts to stephanie[at]thefuturestate.org.uk
 Said, E. (1978) ‘Orientalism’ in Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., and Tiffin, H. (ed.) (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York. Routledge. P. 90.
 Said, E. (1978) ‘Orientalism’ in Ashcroft, B., Griffiths, G., and Tiffin, H. (ed.) (1995) The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. London and New York. Routledge. P. 88.