Reflecting on LAND LABOUR CAPITAL

Reflecting on LAND│LABOUR│CAPITAL

14 October 2013

Artist Denis Buckley in conversation with Future State's Stephanie Feeney.  Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.
Artist Denis Buckley in conversation with Future State’s Stephanie Feeney. Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.

Spatial politics was on the programme long before a panel of speakers was drawn together under the same title. To not talk about spatial politics would have been to ignore the peripatetic nature of LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL as it, and its participants, crossed over and back between the host gallery, Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA), and two contested spaces: 69 O’Connell Street; Occupy Space. Financial uncertainty means that 69 O’ Connell Street, formerly the Belltable Arts Centre, no longer runs as the city’s multi-functional space for dance, theatre, visual arts and music that it was intended to be, despite the high spec. interior and impressive technical facilities. Occupy Space (no relation to the Occupy movement), an artist run space, had itself existed as an itinerant organisation for a considerable time due to irregular support from funding partners. Indeed LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was one of the first events in Occupy Space’s new, permanent, home on Cecil Street. In fact the entire Georgian Quarter of Limerick is contested, punctuated by empty buildings, like the ironically title The Bank public house, and multi-coloured ‘To Let’ signs. It felt appropriate that LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was part of the politics too.

Spatial politics and contested spaces exist everywhere, not just in Limerick. Lukáš Matoška, a philosophy student at FFUK Charles University in Prague, reflected on the many appropriations of Hotel Praha in Prague, a monument of the Czechoslovakian era and a state socialist regime. Hotel Praha has had a varied past: used for accommodating state VIPs during the socialist era; privatised and operated as a private hotel after the fall of the Iron Curtain;  more recently, purchased by a private financial group that intends to demolish it and build a private school. Matoška likened the planned demolition to a tool for the ruling classes to erase traces of a former regime, one which it supposes has already been erased from the collective memory. Public protests and demonstrations in Prague show that this is not true. The demolition of Hotel Praha is a violent, neo-liberalist, re-mapping of psychogeographical space.

Dr Angela Dimitrakaki in conversation with Future State's Stephanie Feeney.  Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.
Dr Angela Dimitrakaki in conversation with Future State’s Stephanie Feeney. Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.

So when the question of whether the artist is the embodiment of the neoliberal worker was asked by Dr Judith Stewart, herself an artist and Independent Researcher, there was a moment of rupture. Stewart questioned whether socially engaged art, a form of art production that seemed particularly pervasive in Limerick, is an ethical process of art production and the complicity of artists in maintaining a flawed and unfair system. Stewart cited examples of artists engaged to work on social projects who are expected to bring about change within unrealistic time frames and little or no budget. By continuing to accept conditions of low pay, long hours and unrealistic outcomes, precarious working conditions for artists become performative and iterative.

Keynote speaker Dr Angela Dimitrakaki, Curator and Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at University of Edinburgh, echoed Stewart’s words. In her paper she pointed out the irony and contradictions in being repeatedly told that cultural work is valuable and important yet there is no funding to support it. The cultural worker goes unpaid and works late into the night. This is why, Dimitrakaki argued, that the art work as object or output must be separated from the process of the production of art. It is important to realise, she argued, the more successful the artist, the more access the artist has to autonomy. The successful artist establishes a studio, employs artist assistants to support production of the art, has access to a superior infrastructure and is in a better position to produce better work.

Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.
Image courtesy of Paul Tarpey.

From artist as labourer to an artist whose research engages closely with themes of labour and land, Dr Deirdre O’Mahony described her art practice as a ‘right to speak’. O’Mahony, who teaches at the Centre for Creative Practice at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, was one of the contributing artists to Labour and Lockout, a group exhibition running at the LCGA simultaneous to the conference. O’Mahony’s installation, titled T.U.R.F. (Transitional Undertandings of Rural Features) featured archival material and art objects that drew attention to the conflict between the social and the natural landscape or, more specifically, the conflict between the use of rural landscape for leisure and livelihood. The ‘right to speak’ that her practice affords her is necessary, O’Mahony states, in the face of DAD (Decide, Announce, Defend) tactics employed by top down power structures against rural communities. She cites examples of the closure of rural post offices without due attention to the social impact on the rural community and unfair, if not illegal, processes for implementing EU Directives against farmers that impact livelihoods and long standing cultural traditions. The appropriation of cultural activities to re-present (alternative) narratives makes a difference, she urged, not least because one European policy maker described it as ‘qualitative research’ and something of which policy makers need much more.

O’Mahony went on to facilitate a T.U. R. F. Mind Meitheal, a part of her practice which creates a cultural space to examine, in this case, the effect of the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive on domestic turf cutters and their families. Mind Meitheal was something that Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff had in mind when he urged us create a ‘commons’. Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University Steinhardt and cultural theorist, has been closely involved in the global social movements that have arisen since 2011, in particular what we now know as the Occupy movement associated with the “We are the 99%” slogan, writing a daily observation of the movement’s development in 2012. Resonance, Mirzoeff urged, is the means by which social change spreads and resonance can come about when a commons is created. O’Mahony spoke of the ‘right to speak’, Mirzoeff talked of ‘the right to look’. A commons is created when we look at one another, acknowledge one another, show love. Commons, followed by resonance, comes into being at interstitial points: collaborate; network globally; visualise (he cites Visualizing Palestine as a strong example). Mirzoeff describes himself as a militant researcher, an activist academic, an academic who not only comments on activism but engages in it directly. The research he engages with is not simply about the activist causes, but designed to strengthen the cause further. The recently available Militant Research Handbook that Mirzoeff co-produced is an invitation to its readers to engage in militant research in a way that fits. It urges vision, re-imagining new spaces, changes from the ground up and optimism.

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff in discussion with Dr Mark Curran  Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.
Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff in discussion with Dr Mark Curran Image courtesy of Ruth Annett.

In recent weeks The Occupy Card was launched by the Occupy Money Cooperative, a banking co-operative that offers ‘low-cost, transparent, high quality financial services to the 99%’ and whose aim is to ‘revolutionize the current financial system by offering alternative products and services based on the principles of democracy, inclusion, and fairness’. But what are we really talking about when we say ‘the current financial system’? Do we really understand how the financial markets (dys)function? These and other questions are at the root of Dr Mark Curran’s current art research project THE MARKET, which, alongside O’Mahony’s work, was installed as part of Labour and Lockout. A quote transcribed from a telephone conversation between Curran and a London based investment bank trader in February 2013, which features in the installation, succinctly captures the point that Curran makes in THE MARKET, that the global financial system is central to our lives yet our understanding of market mechanism is scant or misinformed:
…what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…

Curran claims that the market is constructed and there is widespread complicity in creating and maintaining the construct. He pointed to more than one image of members of the Irish government photographed in global stock exchanges ringing the exchange bell to signify the opening of that day’s trading, even at a time when Ireland was itself out of the market because of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and EU bailout, but still desperate, it seemed, to create the impression of normality. In his research and art objects he makes visible and audible the hidden functionality of the global markets so that it can be observed and explored. One hidden functionality is algorithms, employed in algorithmic/high frequency/black-box trading practices that replace human decision making and risk taking in market trading. The algorithms are capable of experiencing and self-evolving, which, it has already been warned could, over time, give rise to ‘normalisation of deviance’. Curran reported alarming statistics in the growth of algorithmic trading that now account for as much as 80% of market trading in the US. Curran, along with Ken Curran, designed an algorithm to identify how often the Irish Minister of Finance used the words ’market’ or ’markets‘ in public speeches since taking office in March 2011. The algorithm’s output is manipulated into visual and aural forms and makes up part of THE MARKET installation. The extent and depth of Curran’s knowledge was impressive and he confirmed that he continues to work on THE MARKET, buoyed by what he senses is a thirst from the general public to understand more.

There was more, much more than what has been mentioned here. Justice cannot be done to all of the rich discourse that evolved over three days, framed in the issues raised by Allan Sekula and Noel Burch’s The Forgotten Space (2010), which was screened on the opening night: precarious labour, capital and information flows, global resources, global citizenship, exploitation, borders, art and visuality, activism. LAND │LABOUR │CAPITAL was rich, stimulating, invigorating, profoundly affecting, optimistic and collaborative and, without doubt, a formative milestone in Future State’s existence.

Recordings of the event will be added to this website soon.

by Stephanie Feeney

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Nature has a History

Nature has a History

31.8.2013

Next month, Deirdre O’Mahony, Artist and Educator, (Centre for Creative Arts, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) will present her art practice and research at the upcoming Land│Labour│Capital conference at Limerick City Gallery of Art. O’Mahony gives Future State a preview of what to expect.  

 


‘John And Colm Harrigan banning notices’. Image courtesy of Deirdre O’Mahony.

Dennis Cosgrave argues that we ‘cannot know nature outside the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves. Nature has a history.’(1) That history; the culture of agriculture, has been shaped by agricultural practices that were informed by local, tacit knowledge. Called dinnseanchas in Gaelic, this specific local knowledge of geneology and agricultural practice, was a way of holding onto the practiced knowledge of place developed over generations. ‘Tacit’ knowledge could not be explained through words alone but had to be demonstrated in practice. It applied only to the specific place where it had been developed, and it made sense as part of a wider understanding of one’s relationship to one’s holdings.’(2) Over the past fifty years official agricultural policies have devalued that knowledge in favor of codified, scientific knowledge that was more efficient and ‘rendered methods developed for specific locations redundant.’(3)

 


Tom Ward turning his turf Sat. 13 July 2013

The decline in the numbers of small farms in the west of Ireland slowed when Ireland joined the European Economic Community, the EEC in 1973, however that also marked the moment when farming practice diverged from tradition and became linked to subsidy. A resentment towards agricultural “experts” and decades of official disregard of local knowledge, has led to sceptical and often cynical attitudes amongst small farmers towards “official” rural policies. The emphasis has further shifted to the promotion of the farmer as custodian of the landscape and environment, prioritising the history, meaning and appearance of the land over its arable utility. In this light of previous experience, it is no surprise that farmers are slow to become involved with the contemporary rural development agenda further exacerbating the social and cultural isolation of many small farmers.

 


‘The last turf saved by the Harrigan family pre-implementation of ban on turf cutting on SACs’. Image courtesy of Deirdre O’Mahony.

The psycho-dynamics of competing subjectivities being played out in rural public space today continues to engender tensions and conflict within rural communities when interests collide and particularly noticeable in relation to planning, tourism and heritage developments. The effect of globalisation on local agricultural practices is most evident in contemporary rural Ireland by the shift from food production to high-value cultural production. Responsibilities that were once the landowners are now a matter for National and European regulatory agencies. Visual decisions were once a part of the commonsense, commonplace knowledge of everyday rural life; field management, wall construction, ploughing, planting, or inventing ways of ‘making do’ in order to make tasks easier. They have a social and aesthetic value which is of enormous relevance in contemporary culture, particularly in relation to sustainable development.

 


‘Lazybed at X-PO_2013’. Image courtesy of Deirdre O’Mahony.

My research has been focused on examining and unpacking the power relations playing out in conflicts between competing perspectives on landscape and identifying new methodologies that use cultural space to re-examine and re-present complex questions, perspectives and voices that are unheard or cannot yet be heard. Sustaining rural culture is a problem across Europe as food production moves to cheaper supply bases and EU policy, and subsidy, changed so that the farmer is now the custodian of the landscape and environment and prioritising the history, meaning and appearance of the land over its arable utility.(4) This move away from traditional farming has prioritised a post-productivist agenda; areas such as “alternative” food production, local tourism development and through LEADER, a focus on activating participatory, “bottom-up”, governance models where the design and implementation of development action is handed over to local stakeholders. (5)

 


‘Spud Archive X-PO_2013’. Image courtesy of Deirdre O’Mahony.

Áine Macken-Walshe recently published a report for Teagasc, the Irish agriculture and food development authority, that examines the socio-cultural factors governing the “poor engagement” of farmers and fishers in adapting to recent changes in rural development polocies. A signifigant number of traditional farmers continue to follow “non-viable” small–scale farming and are slow to become involved in economic activities – the ‘cultural turn’, in line with the contemporary rural development agenda, maintaining a sceptical distance from “official” rural policy development. Macken-Walshe notes that many farmers experience occupational and cultural estrangement from new policy driven agricultural practices such as organic food production, farmer’s markets, cultural tourism initiatives etc. (6)

written by Deirdre O’Mahony

(1) Dennis Cosgrove, Draft notes from the Landscape Theory seminar. Emailed text from James Elkins received Friday 24th September 2007. 4.

(2) Aine Macken-Walsh, Barriers to Change: A Sociological Study of Rural Development in Ireland. Athenry: Teagasc/RERC, 2009.  Web. 28 Jan 2010. 45, citing Jorgensen, A. ‘Fields of Knowledge’, in (eds.) Corcoran, M.P. and Peillon, M. Uncertain Ireland: A Sociological Chronicle 2003-­2004, Institute of Public Administration, 2006, 101 – 102.

(3) Jorgensen, 2006, p120 – 121, cited in Macken-Walshe.

(4) Macken-Walsh, 6.

(5) Ibid, 36.

(6) Macken-Walsh, 42.

On Reality

On Reality. An Interview with Dr Angela Dimitrakaki.

19.8.2013

Future State interviews Dr Angela Dimitrakaki, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Art History and Theory at Edinburgh College of Art about reading, writing, research and curatorial projects ahead of her keynote presentation at the Land│Labour│Capital conference at Limerick City Gallery of Art.

What immediate thoughts come to mind when you read the words Land│Labour│Capital and, going further, in what way do they resonate with your research interests and curatorial practice?

My immediate thought on ‘land labour capital’ is one word: reality. It may sound strange to say ‘reality’ rather than ‘production’, as land, labour and capital, drawn from an economics discourse, are seen as the fundamentals of modern production, but there is a reason why I prioritise ‘reality’. We live in an extraordinary time in the history of capitalism: the way production is being re-configured today is transforming the very consistency of reality. Production is changing – this is what we are experiencing in terms of an economic ‘crisis’. An entire way of life is being undone: the welfare state, pensions and time to get old, the link between capitalism and democracy, the consumer society as a Western society, the idea of the middle class, and so on. All this, and a lot more, is changing because capitalism is re-organising production. And in this context, certain questions become urgent: what is the role of labour in its struggle against the appropriations of capital? Is there an oppositional working class? What is its current composition?

My research , I suppose, tries to make art history (the art history of the contemporary) contribute to a broader effort, across disciplines in the humanities and social science, to answer the above questions. For example, I am very interested in how the institutions of art become productive spaces. Or how globalisation on the ground (the materiality of globalised space) becomes a production site for the contemporary artist. And I think it is now impossible to understand the deeper transformation of ‘contemporary art’ if we don’t consider the fact that in postmodernism (late 1960s to early 1990s) everyone talked about consumption, consumerism and the like. Now, in globalisation proper, suddenly everyone talks about production. The discourse changed because the material conditions we address as ‘capitalism’ changed. This is pretty much what Kirsten Lloyd and I tried to suggest in ECONOMY, a curatorial project we initiated in Scotland earlier this year.

You mention the ECONOMY exhibition that you curated along with Kirsten Lloyd of the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh.  Could you say a little more about the curatorial concept behind this ambitious group exhibition?

ECONOMY was an art historical show, based on research in the field of contemporary art. This means that it did not seek to just showcase new art attending to economy or art that responds to the so called ‘crisis’. Rather, its starting point was a reflection on the periodisation of contemporary art, a periodisation deemed necessary because of the changes brought about by capitalist globalisation. So, the curatorial project sought to identify and interpret an important shift within contemporary art overall, and this was realised in the two parallel exhibitions, the residencies, the events where specific issues were discussed with the public and also the website which, for example, includes a Reading Room and a public image archive documenting the many faces and meanings of ‘economy’.

The exhibitions brought together work from the past two decades, attempting a re-contextualisation of this work in hindsight. For instance, a well-known piece by Tracey Emin from 2000 received a different interpretation in the show. We paid a lot of attention to the captions accompanying each piece and to the information available in the exhibitions guide, because ECONOMY was a genuinely collaborative project among its two curators and it arose from extensive discussions, which led us to work together and develop a specific political position, which is what we openly presented. In ECONOMY, we explicitly identified Phase 2 of contemporary art (from the 1990s to date) with an economic turn witnesssed across the making of art, writing about it and in the curatorial field as well. The website Reading Room shows a notable increase in exhibitions and writings on questions of production, labour, class – subjects that were marginalised in Phase 1 of contemporary art known as ‘postmodernism’. And we wished to explore what this new economic subject was about, to the extent possible. I say this because we could have included many more artworks but in the current climate of funding cuts this was impossible. We had to be selective and opt for artworks that represented entire sub-paradigms – for example, artwork about ecology, or childhood or sex or work or love or migration or finance and so on. Our key question was: If economy was no longer just the economy, how did this become manifest in art?

But this ‘how’ did not just address thematic units but also the very transformation of artistic production, artists’ ways of working. For example, we looked at the fact that some art at least was no longer about display and representation but attempeted direct intervention beyond the art institution, to which it only returned as a social document. Or we ended up with many women artists, regrettably still an unusual feature of a mixed group show – and this despite decades of feminist critique in the art world. Funnily enough, we did not deliberately select more female than male artists but the importance of the gender divide for a globalised capitalist economy meant that much radical art recently was made by women – often women conversant with feminist politics. A telling example is Tanja Ostojic’s investigation of the sexualisation of the migrant in her Looking for a husband with EU Passport (2000-2005). And of course Eastern Europe was central to our argument as the region became the test ground of an accelerated implementation of ‘global capitalism’.

Of all the art works and films in ECONOMY, including Tanja Ostojic’s Looking for a husband with EU Passport (2000-2005) and Tracey Emin’s work, which you cite above, what piece or pieces divided opinion among the audience the most and why?

I wouldn’t say that a specific work truly divided the audience. But to the extent that I was able to discuss things with members of the audience, a lot of people were shocked by the situation presented in Jenny Marketou‘s video of children art collectors in New York. The video shows in unambiguous terms what ‘privilege’ means, and how it shapes the art world. Privilege shapes subjectivity, including the subjectivity of children. We were keen to show this video in the same space where a video by two Swedish artists portrayed the lives of other children as slaves. The two social groups, the offspring of New York financiers and the ‘other’ fiercely deprived children, exist in the same world and they are both ‘the future’. The fact that they are children, and so formally unaccountable, raises myriad questions precisely because the subjectivity of children is not associated with ethical responsibility. The subjectivity of children is where you can observe the true power of the economy, of an organised form of production and consumption and the abysmal divisions it relies on and perpetuates.

To the extent that we, as curators, invited a more concrete response by the audience, this had to do with the WochenKlausur residency and the paradigm of ‘socially engaged’ art. As is known, WochenKlausur have since the early 1990s pioneered this type of work as action, leaving behind ‘art as representation’ of social ills and moving on to art as a pragmatic, focused intervention in a given social context. In our case, the context was a deprived community in Glasgow. We organised a public forum to discuss the contradictions this situation entailed, and the artists were present. These contradictions have certainly divided contemporary art criticism, for example Claire Bishop and Grant Kester a few years back. We did not wish to bury these persistent contradictions under the carpet but rather confront them. For example, is this art a license for the welfare state’s withdrawal or a pioneering avant-garde practising citizen solidarity? It is very hard for me to summarise the different responses of the public to this work, but what I learned is that ‘the public’ is in itself a group divided by class, gender, political beliefs and so on, and this is as important in understanding a response as the work done, which is measured by conventional or not criteria of ‘success’. I also admired the resilience of the artists and their collaborators. My understanding of artistic labour changed completely after I had the opportunity to encounter this process of work. I hope the same holds for some members of the audience at least.

Turning now to your university research and writing, what academic text/s are you reading right now and why?

I recently read Peter Osborne’s Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art as I remain interested in the question of periodisation of contemporary art and in the criteria or terms deployed today to explicate what we mean by ‘contemporary art’ in the first place – or even just ‘contemporary’. Anyone who teaches ‘contemporary art’ as a subject at university level is perplexed by the fact that the contemporary is linked to duration and not to a soon-to-disappear moment. The constitution of the contemporary has become a theoretical problem in its own right – and a political problem as well. Suffice to think of how (hastily, and even mistakenly, in my view) some anti-capitalist theorists eagerly recognise post-capitalist practices at the heart of the capitalist enterprise today to understand how critical the imperative for a history of the contemporary has become.

I am now reading Nancy Fraser’s Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neo-liberal Crisis, a collection of her essays over many years. Reading them makes easy to grasp the fallacy that occurs when theories of capitalist globalisation, including those on its so-called crisis, disregard gender and its role in the extremely complex production process that global capitalism has become. I am interested in an anti-separatist feminism and Fraser’s writings help me see why.

And I am also reading an older book,from the 1930s, Curzio Malaparte’s Tecnica del Colpo di Stato, about the seizure of state power. I have been shocked by the anti-democratic tendencies of the current mode of production, the massive loss of confidence in representative democracy and the increasing erosion of the link between capitalism and democracy – a link that was very crucial, for example, in capitalist hegemony as served by Cold-War America. The production model promoted by contemporary capital where all time becomes work time leaves no time for being a citizen. And the massive poverty it generates turns people to religion, which is associated with a supreme authority in all its expressions. China’s success in the capitalist markets is demonstrating that contemporary capitalism does not need democracy, and this is a fundamental aspect of it. Yet the rejection of democracy seems to inspire at present both neo-fascist and progressive forces – although I despise any short-sighted and ideologically spurious attempt to establish any conceivable links between them. Yet I’m reading anything that has something to say about the rejection of democracy, as I am trying to understand where and when such a rejection emerges. And I am of course interested in contemporary art’s nods towards an anti-democracy impulse, although art remains too polite mostly and is disinclined from crossing health & safety lines – which, yes, does reveal something about its potential and limitations as praxis, as doing.

Aside from academic publications you have also sucessfully  published a number of works of contemporary fiction in your native Greek language.  What sort of fiction do you write and can we look forward to one of your works of fiction in English one day?

I published my first novel at 28, in the course of doing my PhD in England. I suppose this says immediately three things: that I found reading all this new (for me) theory inspiring, that writing fiction in Greek while abroad was a way for me to remain connected to my language, and – crucially- that I had time to do so in a broader context of intellectual stimulation. I stress this last factor because although I used to think that writing fiction and being an academic were compatible activities, the UK academia’s total control by a neo-capitalist ethos of ‘production for production’s sake’ and draining administrative hell leaves no room for anything else. I think a lot of us did not realise what we were walking into, and what our passive acceptance of a status quo has engendered. I sometimes want to point my doctoral students to an escape route.

I have written four novels, a collection of stories and various shorter works. I can’t possibly summarise here the themes (especially as I write stuff with a plot) but everything is written with Europe as its background, or even the world. There is a lot of movement, that’s for sure. And a lot of parody. And harsh language. I am interested in parents who abandon their children, in the opportunism that mediates human relations, and so on. One novel, The Manifesto of Defeat (2006), is a re-writing of The Magus by John Fowles but in a way that addresses the devastating impact on Southern Europe of its stereotypical rendering as a holiday land and as a land that belongs to an idealised past. Curiously, it is also a book about fascism and metaphysics, and a book that expresses a terrible opinion about the pretensions of art.

I mention this novel in particular because it gives the answer to your question whether my fiction is likely to be translated or not any time soon. If the answer is not obvious by now, let me cite the response of a German publisher to a Greek writer I know, just a few years back: ‘We don’t want Greek authors to write about Kafka, we want them to write about windmills’. That said, the new portrayal of Greece as a land of riots and capitalist drama may finally liberate us from the beach-plus-Acropolis curse…

Normalisation of Deviance

Mark Curran’s Normalisation of Deviance

13.8.2013

Normalisation of Deviance is the title of an visual and aural art installation by artist Mark Curran. Part of the basis for the installation is an algorithm, designed by Ken Curran, to identify how often the Irish Minister of Finance, Michael Noonan, used the words ’market‘ or ’markets‘ in public speeches since taking office in March 2011. The algorithm’s output is manipulated into multiple forms: visual and aural; manifesting as soundscapes accompanying spectrographs. The artist describes the installation as “attempting to represent the defining and ceaseless sound of the global markets through a pivotal conduit of capital, the nation-state“.

 

Installation shot of ‘Normalisation of Deviance’ by Mark Curran.
Image courtesy of Helen Carey.

The first installment of the work is currently on display in Limerick City Gallery of Art as part of the group exhibition Labour and Lockout. As well as photographs, artefacts and transcribed converstions the installation incorporates the Michael Noonan algorithmic soundscape and a 6 feet column of A4 paper representing the data generated from 14,000 positions taken globally on a single financial stock in one nanosecond (measured by  Chicago based researcher in 2011). The text on the paper is a quote transcribed from a telephone conversation between Curran and a London based investment bank trader in February 2013:

…what people don’t understand… is that what happens in the market is pivotal to their lives… not on the periphery…but slap, bang, in the middle…

The trader’s quote tells us that trading of stock market positions is occurring faster than humans can communicate; we think we understand the mechanics of the market but we have no realistic way of knowing.

 

‘The Normalisation of Deviance II’
(Algorithm to identify Michael Noonan’s application of the words, market/markets in public speeches since taking office in March 2011 from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

The title of the installation, Normalisation of Deviance, and Curran’s use of algorithms draws attention to the increased use of algorithm trading in the global stock markets, also referred to as ‘black box trading‘ or ‘high frequency trading‘[1]. In his research Curran points to a 2012 report by the British Government’s Office for Science, which predicts that algorithmic trading will replace human trading activity in the global stock markets within a decade. Curran observes:

In the same report, the authors state algorithms will eventually be able to self-evolve through their ability to experience i.e. building upon their previous market experiences and therefore requiring no human intervention. However, they also warn, that within such a framework, there exists the potential for what they describe as the Normalisation of Deviance, when ‘unexpected and risky events come to be seen as ever more normal until a disaster occurs‘.

The Normalisation of Deviance installation also raises questions about the normalisation of citizens to economic concepts and market ideologies as a result of  neo-liberalism and globalisation.

 

‘The Normalisation of Deviance I’
(Spectrograph of selection of audio generated by Michael Noonan’s application of the words, market/markets in public speeches since taking office in March 2011) from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

Normalisation of Deviance will be installed simultaneously in galleries in Dublin and Belfast later in the month, where spectrographs will appear in place of the trader’s quote to reproduce the paper column and therefore revealing the true source of the soundscape which envelopes the entire installation.

The Normalisation of Deviance is part of an ongoing research project titled THE MARKET, undertaken by Mark Curran and curated by Helen Carey, Director of the Limerick City Gallery of Art. Described as a “transnational multi-sited project… [that] focuses on the functioning of the global stock and commodity markets“[2], Curran has sought access, with, to date, varying degrees of success, to the trading floors of the stock markets in Dublin, London, Frankfurt and Addis Ababa, key nodes in the network of stock markets that play out the global financial crisis.

Curran’s point of departure is to propose that the market is a construct, a myth, an ideal that does not resemble reality. The invisible control of the world‘s resources, the complex relations of power, algorithmic trading of stock market positions faster than humans can communicate: we think we understand but we don’t.

 

‘Bethlehem, Trader’
Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX)
September, 2012 Addis Abeba, Ethiopia
from THE MARKET, a project by Mark Curran.

In his book The Right To Look, Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff describes the set of contemporary social conditions in the West as a “military-industrial complex” where “the real goal is maintaining a permanent state of crisis, rather than achieving a phantasmic victory” and “the point is less to win than to keep playing, permanently moving to the next level in the ultimately massively multi-player environment”[3]. Military – industrial complex is separate to capitalism but it is not difficult to imagine the same game being played out in a global financial crisis where the reward for survival is a place in the market and a crisis solution, unless it benefits the market, is ignored.

Curran’s Normalisation of Deviance is on display as part of Labour and Lockout, an exhibition marking the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout: a key moment in Ireland’s industrial history when employers refused to recognize workers in an attempt to break worker solidarity and the trade union movement. Curran has been invited to speak about this work at Land │ Labour │ Capital, a free, public symposium taking place 26-28 September in Limerick City Gallery of Art in collaboration with Future State, and Goldsmiths, University of London.

[1] Curran, M., (2012) ‘About’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913  Dublin Lockout. Available at: http://lockout2013.wordpress.com/about/ (accessed 31/11/2012)
[2] Curran, M., (2012) ‘Normalisation of Deviance’ in Lockout 2013. A Visual Art Research Project Marking the Forthcoming Centenary of the 1913  Dublin Lockout. Available at: http://lockout2013.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/normalisation-of-deviance/ (accessed 9/8/2013)
[3] Mirzoeff, N., (2011) ’The Right to Look, or, How to Think With and Against Visuality’, The Right to Look, Durham & London. Duke University Press. p. 21.

Memory and migration: Towards a hybrid space

Memory and Migration: Towards a Hybrid Space

19.5.2013

In his book Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization Michael Rothberg writes that,

…pursuing memory’s multidirectionality encourages us to think of the public sphere as a malleable discursive space in which groups do not simply articulate established positions but actually come into being through their dialogical interactions with others; both the subjects and spaces of the public are open to continual reconstruction. [1] 

He continues that the borders of memory and identity are ‘jagged’ and that memories are not owned by a certain group. The anachronistic quality of memory, he asserts, is what gives memory its ‘powerful creativity, its ability to build new worlds out of the materials of older ones’. [2]

The discussion of migration in this series owes much to Rothberg’s concept of multidirectional memory and its, ‘potential to create new forms of solidarity and new visions of justice.’ [3] Having spent the two previous pieces discussing the problems of hegemonic single narratives in the context of migration, I want now to explore the alternative spaces of myriad voices, as articulated by cultural theorists and created by artists.

In an interview with Jonathon Rutherford in the book Identity: Community, Culture, Difference Homi K. Bhabha articulated a ‘third space’, a space of hybridity. He explains that it is not a position of identity itself but an identification, a process of identifying with and through another object, an object of otherness. Like Rothberg’s multidirectional space Bhabha see the hybrid space as a site of potential: ‘The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognisable, a new area of meaning and representation.’[4]

The cultural theorist Ien Ang also notes the creative potential of this ‘third space’. In the forward to her book On Not Speaking Chinese Ang suggests that the, ‘diasporic intellectual may in fact be especially well placed to analyse this complicated entanglement [of the hybrid space] because it is embodied in her own life trajectory’. [5] She asserts that:

[A] critical diasporic cultural politics should privilege neither host country nor (real or imaginary) homeland, but precisely keep a creative tension between ‘where you’re from’ and ‘where you’re at’… the productivity I am referring to fills that space up with new forms of culture at the collision of the two: hybrid cultural forms born out of a productive, creative syncretism. [6]

I would argue that this is exemplified by the work of Arambe Productions, an African theatre company based in Dublin who create opportunities for often excluded African actors by, ‘ producing classic and contemporary plays in the African tradition, [and] reinterpreting relevant plays in the Irish canon’. [7]

In 2006 Arambe staged The Kings of the Kilburn High Road during the Dublin Fringe Festival. The play, written by Jimmy Murphy in 2005, is set in London twenty-five years after a group of Irish men sailed to England in hope of making a fortune and returning home. They meet up to drink to the memory of a dead friend and look back at their ‘lives, lost dreams and their place in the new Ireland’. [8]

Poster for The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, 2006, Arambe Productions.

In an essay entitled Who’s Laughing Now? Comic Currents for a New Irish Audience Eric Weitz notes how the humour in the production demarcates in-groups and out-groups of belonging in the audience, at once demonstrating cultural differences and creating a space of positive potential. [9] On the subject of articulating the traditional migration narratives of Kings through the African voice he writes:

Remarkably there are passages of text from Kings which played like an up-to-the-minute cautionary tale for African-born spectators who have emigrated to Ireland for economic betterment… Speaking through the mouth of Irish characters, there were many poignant opportunities for the Arambe actors – all but one of whom were born in Nigeria and spoke in their own accents – to give voice to yearnings and disappointments concerning the concept of ‘home’. The spectacle of five young black men caught in similar circumstances and enacting the potentially destructive social rites of their adopted country implies a hard glance in the rearview mirror at a wave of Irish emigration, even as it looks forward to our African-born immigrants. The oscillation between them evoked lament and warning simultaneously, though surely in different measure for the two main groups of spectators. [10]

At this juncture it should be clearly stated that I do not believe that expressing the cultural experience of one group through the voice of another automatically creates a site of multidirectionality or hybridity. Indeed I believe it can often be used to present an acceptable face of competitive memory or as an exercise in multicultural containment.  However as Weitz notes, it is the view of contemporary African migration to Ireland, through the renegotiated memory of Irish migration that opens up a space of solidarity in this case. [11]

In so doing the Arambe production created within the audience a site of collected memory. James Young suggests collected memory, as an alternative to Maurice Halbwach’s problematic concept of collective memory, proposing a space where,

… we recognize that we never really shared each others actual memory of past or recent events, but that in sharing common spaces in which we collect our disparate and competing memories, we find common (perhaps even a national) understanding of widely disparate experiences and our very reasons for recalling them. [12]

Like Bhabha and Rothberg, Young is proposing space, physical and theoretical, that brings memory together in recognition of inescapable differences.

The video installation How Capital Moves by Kennedy Browne also opens up a site of collected memory by creating space within the work to understand the trauma that globalisation exerts on local communities through the disparate and overtly competitive experiences of communities affected by the migration of transnationals. The work features six avatars, played by the same actor, each delivering a monologue addressing a particular experience and attitude to The Company, a large multinational computer firm which relocated from Limerick to Lodz in 2009. [13]

Image still ‘believed_in_company’ from How Capital Moves (2011) Kennedy Browne

The script is ‘an accumulation of translations and transcriptions’; from the language of the online accounts, into the written UK English of the script and then into the spoken Polish’. [14] This process of translation is extremely important; as Bhabha says, ‘the act of cultural translation (both as representation and as reproduction) denies the essentialism of a prior given original or originary culture then we see that all forms of culture are continually in a process of hybridity’. [15]

Denying this essentialism is vital. The real event on which How Capital Moves is based is in its very nature a site of competition. It is the nature of multinational companies to site themselves in the most competitive context, creating a climate of competition where countries lobby for business, often by undercutting their own citizens. Press reports at the time, exemplified by the Irish Independent’s headline Poland celebrates: ‘good for Lodz, bad for Ireland’ [16] gloss over the company’s role in the job losses in favour of drawing comparisons between Ireland and Poland, sites of capital migration, in a contest of economic hardship and unemployment woe.

Rothberg writes that ‘Comparison, like memory, should be thought of as productive – as producing new objects and new lines of sight – and not simply as reproducing already given entities that either are or are not “like” other already given entities’. [17] In contrast to the narrative presented by mainstream media outlets the work by Kennedy Browne presents the memory of the event through the medium of the Polish actor’s monologue, thereby ensuring the remediation of the memory to include and be read through the Polish perspective. [18] In so doing they transfer the critical focus onto The Company and their complicity and draw a ‘new line of sight’ through the integration of the Polish voice. [19]

It is in this use of voice and readymade, in the form of anonymous online testimonies, that multidirectionality is anchored. In the foreword to the script that accompanies How Capital Moves they state:

These fictions tend to be developed from existing, marginalised materials from within the plots and subplots of global capitalism. The use of readymade, found material in combination with a collaborative method of scripting ensures that Kennedy Browne’s fictions are networked to a multitude of referents rather than tied to a singular author. [20]

By presenting a ‘multitude of referents’ and weaving them together through the process of fictionalisation Kennedy Browne build on the strength of these combined stories and what they reveal about each other, to direct a critical refocusing on the effects of global capital migration. This, says Bhabha, is the power of the third space, to displace, ‘the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through received wisdom’. [21]

The third or hybrid space, multidirectional or collected memory, all foreground the conflict that is inevitable in the collision of cultures that is commonplace in our contemporary world. As citizens we need to advocate for these spaces and their potential for building new visions for our future states. They reject the negation that is inherent in multicultural containment and in doing so make room for the creative tension in those spaces of complex, antagonistic entanglement. Here we can redraw critical focus onto the hegemonic voices of power which have privileged single narratives in the name of cohesion but instead breed xenophobia and fail to make room for migrant memory.

Written by Ruth Annett

[1] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.5

[2] ibid

[3] ibid: 4-5

[4] Bhabha, H (1990) The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha in Rutherford, J. [ed.] (1990) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence & Wishart, p.211

[5] Ang, I (2001) On Not Speaking Chinese: Living between Asia and the West London: Routledge, p.3

[6] ibid: 35

[7] Arambe Productions, 2013, Accessed:18/3/2013 Available at Arambe Productions online.

[8] Playography Ireland, 2013, Accessed: 22/4/13 Available at <http://www.irishplayography.com/play.aspx?playid=284>

[9] Weitz, E. (2009) Who’s Laughing Now? Comic Currents for a New Irish Audience in Brady, S. And Walsh, F (2009) Crossroads: Performance Studies and Irish Culture, London: Palgrave MacMillan, p.226

[10] ibid: 228

[11] ibid; Rothberg, 2009:4-5

[12] Young, J.E. (2010) Memory and Monuments after 9/11 in Crownshaw, Kilby and Rowland (2010) The Future of Memory Oxford: Berghahn Books p.81

[13]  Kennedy Browne (2011) How Capital Moves – The Script [online] Accessed: 18th April 2013Available at<http://www.kennedybrowne.com/> p.7

[14] ibid

[15] Bhabha in Rutherford, 1990:211

[16] Byrne, C. (2009) Poland celebrates: ‘good for Lodz, bad for Ireland’ The Irish Independent 9th January [online] Accessed: 18/4/2013 URL:http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/poland-celebrates-good-for-lodz-bad-for-ireland-26504420.html

[17] Rothberg, 2009:19

[18] Erll, A. (2011) Travelling Memory, Parallax, 17 (4), p.12

[19] Rothberg, 2009:19

[20] Kennedy Browne, 2011:35

[21] Bhabha in Rutherford, 1990:211

Memory and Migration: Imaginary Homelands

Memory and Migration: Imaginary Homelands

12.5.2013

When thinking about diaspora I return again and again to the writing of Salman Rushdie:

It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the knowledge-which gives rise to profound uncertainties- that our physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost; that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, lndias of the mind. [1]

In the context of contemporary Ireland looking back has become a demand of the migrant individual and the inter-generational Irish diaspora throughout the world. The language of imaginary homelands, Irelands of the mind, saturate public discourse on the transcultural flow of people, leaving little room for other narratives, as I discussed last week. However an image of Ireland is increasingly being sold that does not reflect the country it is but rather portrays an imagined homeland demanded by a global market.

On the website of UCC’s EMIGRE project a fascinating array of media representations of diaspora and homeland have been gathered. The most recent addition, the animation Origin from 2012, portrays the journey of a man trying to leave the country who gets drawn back by connecting with a mythic past.

The emotive imagery of this piece exemplifies the problematic understanding of emigration and diaspora, assuming that all who leave are driven away by the problems of modern life and can only be drawn back by the imagined purity of a romantic past.

This type of narrative has also been consistently seen in the promotion of The Gathering which purports to ‘provide the perfect excuse to reach out to those who have moved away, their relatives, friends and descendants, and invite them home’, assuming and indeed demanding a look back from those who have left. [2] The question of whether or not this is a commoditization of culture, a cynical peddling of Irishness to reap economic benefits, has been exhaustively debated so far this year. Nonetheless I would like to revisit it within the context of this discussion on memory and migration.

On the webpage What it means to be Irish on thegatheringireland.com we are told that:

From a rock in the middle of the ocean, we have populated the globe with approximately 70 million O’Sullivans, Murphys and Walshes, not to mention the roughly one million Irish-born people who are currently living abroad.

On the page Global Community this theme is continued:

The point we’re trying to make is that you’ll find people with Irish blood scattered right across the globe, and that many of them made a huge contribution to society in their new homes.

It is hard not to view the latter statement cynically, given the obvious source of much needed revenue that such an initiative provides, and the obligation of diaspora that is implied.  Indeed as we cast the critical eye of hindsight on the recent history of globalisation in its economic guises, it is worrying that such an initiative has become a national calling card. Given how the unquestioning embrace of global capitalism has damaged the collective Irish self, continuing to cater to it seems an odd choice.

In the foreword to the book The Irish in Us, published in 2006 Diane Negra notes that;

Over the last ten years a particular set of cultural and economic pressures has rapidly transnationalized Irishness. Recruited for global capitalism, Irishness has become a form of discursive currency, motivating and authenticating a variety of heritage narratives and commercial transactions, often through its status as a form of “enriched whiteness”. 

There is obviously demand for Irishness as a product. In the essay Still “Black” and “Proud”; Irish America and the Racial Politics of Hibernophilia  from the same book, Catherine Eagan explains that much of this appetite comes from America where pervasive hibernophilia not only manifests through consumption of identity symbols but more insidiously through an assertion of alterity and the (re)appropriation of suffering. [4] This I would argue is a condition of postmemory, a term devised by Marianne Hirsch who explains:

[It] is a powerful form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through projection, investment and creation… [it] characterizes the experience of those who grow up dominated by narratives that preceded their birth , whose own belated stories are displaced by the stories of the previous generation, shaped by traumatic events that they can neither understand nor re-create. [5]

In the case of Irish America these narratives are derived from a collective ancestry of famine émigrés and the well-documented historic oppression of Irish immigrants in the United States. Generations of Irish Americans have acted as carriers of this memory which has been fed and mediated by the memory of late-twentieth and twenty-first century economic migration. The contemporary experience of Irish Americans has, however, no parallel with the oppression of earlier Irish immigrants, leading to the conflation of Irish and African American oppression, interest in the Northern Irish conflict, and solidarity against racial oppression against contemporary African diaspora. [6]

While aspects of this solidarity have positive out-workings there is an edge to this identification of ‘ethnic’ Irishness.  While there is potential to understand discrimination against the Irish through the subjugation of the black community and vice versa, in line with a multidirectional reading as proposed by Michael Rothberg, what has taken place so far has been distinctly competitive. [7] Writing of the push to educate the American public with an awareness of famine history in 1997, Eagan notes that ‘[d]espite the scholars best efforts, the attendees of these events were at times overeager in their excoriation of the English and their willingness to engage in competitive suffering matches with Jews, Native Americans, African Americans, and other oppressed peoples.’  [8]

It follows that the identification with suffering that has become an inherent part of ethnic Irishness should not lay emphasis on the collective histories of migrant suffering as this fails to recognise the differences in cultural experience. It also ignores the conflict that arises between migrant communities, in favour of a harmonious narrative of collective suffering. The equation of Irish and black oppression in American pop culture products, exemplified by the film Gangs of New York (Scorsese, 2002), eradicates conflict in favour of a narrative of cohesion, in this case by failing to acknowledge the lynching of African Americans carried out but Irish Americans angry about the inequality of the Civil War draft. [9]

This act of negation demonstrates how highly mediated Irishness travels between the diaspora and home nation in a cycle of re-appropriation, or as Hirsch puts it, ‘projection, investment and creation’, reinforcing problematic stereotypes. In the words of Chimamanda Adichie, quoted last week and who warrants reiteration, ‘the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete’. [10]

Though the commoditization of Irishness has been widely debated in the year of The Gathering what is equally difficult to stomach, but less often discussed, is the incompleteness of the commodity it seeks to sell.  Though its cheery colloquial tone does not venture anywhere near the darker side of this collective identity, by quietly implying an ethnic Irishness it is nonetheless implicated. By emphasising the ties of diaspora to their homeland, whether for economic gain or not, these problematic understandings are underlined. For those in Ireland’s racially diverse population who identify themselves as Irish, this is especially unhelpful as these narratives, as they are broadcast to the diaspora, only serve to restate their alterity. As such by catering to this global demand for Irishness through this commoditized view of imaginary homelands and ‘politically insulated ethnic whiteness’ a stereotype is peddled that leaves little room for the many who don’t fit the profile, and little opportunity for a contemporary re-negotiation of Irishness.

Written by Ruth Annett
 

[1] Rusdie, S. (1992) Imaginary Homelands London: Granta Books p. 10
[2] The Gathering, 2013 Available at < http://www.thegatheringireland.com/About.aspx#.UUbyUxfQaSo&gt;
[3] Negra, D. (2006) The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture in Negra, D.(ed.) (2006) The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture, London: Duke University Press, p.1
[4]Eagan, C. (2006) Still “Black” and “Proud”: Irish America and the Racial Politics of Hibernophilia in Negra, D.(ed.) (2006) The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture, London: Duke University Press, p.23
[5]Hirsch, M. (1999) Projected Memory: Holocaust Photographs in Personal and Public Fantasy in Bal, M et al [eds.](1999) Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present Hanover: University Press of New England, p.8
[6] Eagan, 2006:28-29
[7] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization, Stanford: Stanford University Press p.3
[8] Eagan, 2006:41
[9]ibid: 32
[10] Adichie, C (2009) The danger of a single story [online video] Available at <http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html&gt;

Memory and Migration: Dangerous Discourses

Memory and Migration: Dangerous Discourses

4.5.2013

Over the next few weeks The Future State will explore the nexus between migration and memory through discussion of the complex interweaving of contemporary and historic experiences of migrant communities in Ireland, and the Irish diaspora before turning to explore how the alterity of the artistic position can aid the opening up of spaces to embrace alternative narratives that foreground the creative potential of difference.

http://embed.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

In a 2009 TEDtalk the novelist Chimamanda Adichie warned of the danger of a single story:

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person… The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. [1]

The recent call by Limerick County Councillor Kevin Sheahan for an ‘Irish first’ housing policy demonstrates how this principle of nkali operates within migration discourse in Ireland. The absence of an apology by Micheál Martin and the widespread failure by other party leaders to censure others who make similarly racist or xenophobic statements, enable such exclusionary narratives to flourish in Irish politics. [2]

These dangerous discourses stem from a cultural atmosphere that foregrounds competitive migration memory and negates minority experience. Instead it reinforces classical narratives of westward migration as progress, as articulated by Henry David Thoreau:

Eastward I go by force; but westward I go free… I must walk towards Oregon and not towards Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west… We go eastward to realise history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westwards as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. [3]

 Thoreau’s pronouncement of westward travel as progress, and eastward migration as (racial) regression, may be a century and a half old but it illustrates a narrative that remains problematic in the contemporary understanding of migration. Homi K. Bhabha calls this the ‘potent mythologies of ‘progress’’, which in Ireland’s case are inextricable from historic emigration to Western centres. [4] To borrow from Stuart Hall, these mythologies fail to make room for a transformation or ‘becoming’ of identity and memory that is not defined by an essentialised past. [5] Failing to recognise the constant renegotiation of that past in relation to the present, i.e. the active nature of memory, denies the stories of those who migrate to and from Ireland beyond the heavily mediated memories of the white majority. [6]

Irial Glynn notes that in addition to a well-documented emigration history there is an equally rich, yet rarely referenced, history of migration to Ireland. This lack of fanfare may be due to the difficulty of romanticising the experience of immigrants; Glynn describes the ‘unsympathetic treatment of outsiders seeking to enter the country’, and notes that those who were accepted were ‘treated nonsensically by an ill-informed and ill-equipped state’. He notes that there has been only one marked period of support by politicians towards asylum, during the 1995 famine commemorations, when the emphasis laid on interpretations of Irish immigrants as refugees produced a conflation of this period of commemoration with national asylum debates. [7]

The conflation of contemporary migration and the mediated memory of historic emigration is problematic, as it leads to a binary understanding of migration as loss/gain. Furthermore the constant reiteration of the link between emigration and economic hardship leads to an assumption of the motivations of other migrant groups. This creates an atmosphere of competition within the host community, as exemplified by Sheahan, which extends beyond physical resources to the psychocultural space available for recognition. Homi K. Bhabha asserts that, ‘the universalism that paradoxically permits diversity masks ethnocentric norms, values and interests.’ [10] By glossing over cultural difference in favour of a homogenised melting pot of assimilated culture, conflict is fostered, explaining the continued presence of racism in multicultural societies, and atmosphere that breeds and permits comments like Sheahan’s.

In the book Crossroads: Performance Studies and Irish Culture, Holly Maples provides a fascinating account of how this was performed within the microcosm of the 2007 St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin. She describes the conflict that arose between official policies of assimilation and the desires of migrant communities to highlight their distinct identities within a larger celebration of Irishness, writing:

The tension between universal signs of post-national society favoured by the artists and the need for iconic displays of national identity by the community groups provided an arena for the creation and loss of identity inherent in the performance of multiculturalism. That this occurred during a parade in honour of St Patrick’s Day, a holiday traditionally intended for a specific national community, illustrates widespread anxiety in Ireland around issues of cultural identity, nationalism, immigration, globalization, and the performance of Irishness on the Irish social stage. Cultural signifiers, no matter how subtle, indicating unique cultures were consistently sought by the Polish, Lithuanian, Igbo Associations, and others to celebrate not a fusion of cultures but particular contributions to the Festival.[11]

By enforcing cultural diversity both in the management of community participants and within the storyboard of the parade, the organisers performed the containment of migrant populations, negating difference in favour of a homogenised multicultural Irishness. As an alternative to cultural diversity Bhabha posits cultural difference which foregrounds, ‘the unequal, uneven, multiple and potentially antagonistic, political identities’, and creates a ‘position of liminality… that productive space of the construction of culture as difference, in the spirit of alterity or otherness’. [12]

A renegotiation of how multicultural Ireland deals with migrant communities is important and requires the renewal of national debates to include migrant experience. A tragic example is found in the death of Savita Halappanavar, the subsequent reigniting of national debates on abortion and refocused attention on the lack of clarity in Irish abortion law. The response of midwife Anna Marie Burke to the request for an abortion by Halappanavar and her husband was that it was not possible, “because this is a Catholic country”, demonstrating the precarious position of the migrant body within the inflexible systems of the host nation. The crisis brought about by this case has led to the redrawing of arguments, in a debate that has traditionally been framed in term of Ireland’s national Catholicism, to make room for citizens who do not share that cultural or religious heritage.

Moments of crisis are an occasion for the troubling of accepted understandings of cultural identity, opening up the potential for Ireland to understand itself beyond its past and to embrace cultural memory as an active process that makes room for interactions and antagonisms with other cultures. [13] Using post-Troubles Northern Ireland as her field of interest, E.M. Quinn explains that the liminal state of a country in crisis holds immense potential for the construction of an intact collective ‘self’ and the formation of new paradigms. She notes that, ‘opportunities emerge for the reshaping of narratives so that aspects of identity heretofore overlooked, unheeded, or unrecognised can be emphasised’. [14]

Utilising this moment of crisis to focus on issues which are central to understanding contemporary Irish identity, is vital in order to bring a critical focus to the problem of Irishness, nationally and where the diaspora bring it into question. By understanding the link between migration and memory and by acknowledging the damage that it caused by singular hegemonic narratives, a space is opened up to understand Irish identity as a complex entanglement, and a site of immense potential.

Written by Ruth Annett

________________________________________

 

1. Adichie, C (2009) The danger of a single story [online video] Accessed: 19/4/2013 Available at <http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html&gt;

2. Canon, M (2013) Column: Micheál Martin’s response to anti-immigrant rhetoric was lily-livered The Journal.ie <http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/kevin-sheahan-micheal-martin-immigrants-886658-Apr2013/&gt; Fianna Fáil’s response to Cllr Sheahan’s ‘Irish first’ comment is ‘unacceptable’ 2013 <http://www.thejournal.ie/fianna-fails-response-to-cllr-sheahans-irish-first-comment-is-unacceptable-856721-Apr2013/&gt;

3. Thoreau, H.D. (1993), Walking in Thoreau, H.D. Civil Disobedience and Other Essays, New York: Dover Publications Inc, P.57

4. Bhabha, H (1990) The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha In: Rutherford, J. [ed.] (1990) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence & Wishart, p.209

5. Hall, S (1990) Cultural Identity and Diaspora in Rutherford, J. [ed.] (1990) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence & Wishart, p.225

6. For more on how this I would suggest reading The Irish in Us: Irishness, Performativity, and Popular Culture, especially Catherine Eagan’s essay Still “Black” and “Proud”;Irish America and the Racial Politics of Hibernophilia

7. Glynn, I. (2012a) Famine Commemorations and Asylum Debates in Ireland Conflated in Glynn, I. and Kleist, J.O.(2012) History, Memory and Migration: Perceptions of the Past and the Politics of Incorporation London: Palgrave MacMillan, p.173-174

8. Bhabha, H (1990) The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha In: Rutherford, J. [ed.] (1990) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence & Wishart, p.209

9. Maples 247

10. Bhabha, H (1990) The Third Space: Interview with Homi Bhabha In: Rutherford, J. [ed.] (1990) Identity: Community, Culture, Difference London: Lawrence & Wishart, pp. 208-211

11. ibid; Nora, P. (1989) Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire, Representations 26, 7–25, p.8

12. Quinn, E.M. (2009) Taking Northern Irish Identity on the Road: The Smithsonian Folklife Festival of 2007 in Brady, S. And Walsh, F (2009) Crossroads: Performance Studies and Irish Culture, London: Palgrave MacMillan, 215)