Dreams of Freedom? Stephanie Feeney

Dreams of Freedom? Conversations on Aesthetics, Ethics & European Democracies

Stephanie Feeney (podcast recorded Saturday 9th March)


The United States of Europe exhibition has been touring Europe since 2011, debating European citizenship and exploring the ties people have to it. In March of this year the exhibition took up temporary residence at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, where a two day event entitled ‘Dreams of Freedom? Conversations on Aesthetics, Ethics & European Democracies’ organised by the National Sculpture Factory accompanied the exhibition. As part of a panel on ‘Propositions for a Future State’ researcher Stephanie Feeney introduces the collaborative research work of The Future State’. In this podcast, recorded at the event, Stephanie explores the visual narrative of the contemporary European resistance movement that is emerging in response to economic and social crises.  She contrasts this against the visual narrative of resistance in response to specific and localised Irish crises and suggests that a narrative trap sustains a false assertion of quiescence in Irish society.  Shes goes on to introduce the work and plans for The Future State.

A gallery of images to accompany the podcast can be found here.

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Dreams of Freedom? Anthony Haughey

Dreams of Freedom? Conversations on Aesthetics, Ethics & European Democracies

Anthony Haughey (podcast recorded Saturday 9th March)


The United States of Europe exhibition has been touring Europe since 2011, debating European citizenship and exploring the ties people have to it. In March of this year the exhibition took up temporary residence at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork, where a two day event entitled ‘Dreams of Freedom? Conversations on Aesthetics, Ethics & European Democracies’ organised by the  National Sculpture Factory accompanied the exhibition. As part of a panel on ‘Propositions for a Future State’ artist Anthony Haughey spoke of Contesting Citizenship: Collaboration and Dialogue’. In this podcast, recorded at the event, Anthony explores the precarious position of migrants and the process of negotiating citizenship with reluctant hosts. He asks how, when migrants are stuck between states, can they exert resistance, and be seen beyond accusations of victimhood and passivity. The works discussed in the podcast can be viewed at anthonyhaughey.com.

Memory and migration: Towards a hybrid space

Memory and Migration: Towards a Hybrid Space


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


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


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.


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)


The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part II)

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part II)


Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’, along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and, over the coming weeks, will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.


Image from ‘Working at Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

As cognitive capacity replaces physical capacity to become the essential productive labour resource, Franco “Bifo” Berardi foregrounds the psychic turn in the economy. Part I explored Bifo’s Schizo Economy[1] through Mark Curran’s art work The Breathing Factory[2], a multimedia installation that illuminates precisely this shift in labour conditions, revealing the impact of advancing technologies on Hewlett Packard factory workers in the small town of Leixlip in Ireland.  In acknowledging the shift, what do we understand are the implications?

Bifo argues that to fully understand the current condition, particularly the global economic crisis, the “psychic and emotional state of the millions of cognitive workers” must be taken into account and further he proposes that the depression of the psychic worker is the cause of the financial crisis rather than the result.

Contemporary capitalism manifesting as increased competitiveness, complex digital networks and the concept of Business @ The Speed of Thought has, he puts forward, placed the worker under such constant “attentive stress” that it induces “a state of permanent electrocution that flows into a widespread pathology which manifests itself either in the panic syndrome or else in attention disorder”.[3] Technology, or the “mediascape”[4] is in a race to evolve.  Apple, Samsung, Sony and others battle to develop smarter, faster, more innovative and more mobile functionality.  In parallel the “infosphere”[5] is expanding exponentially, new components transmitting more signals day by day: Google, Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, blogs, YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest and more. But the third component, the human mind, and in particular its processing power, has largely remained the same, creating a lag between the transmitting technology and signals and the receiving human mind.  This has foregrounded the psychic collapse of the individual.

According to Bifo, this collapse, evidenced by the rise of the psycho-pharmaceutical industry selling millions of packets of drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin, is due to oversaturation in informatic stimuli, which in turn triggered a collapse in the economy and society. Whether or not the wellbeing of the global financial system can be attributed to the psychic health of the globalized, networked brain-worker is arguable but the acceleration of digital stimuli and the resultant increased burden on the worker is irrefutable.


Image from ‘ Working at Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

Artist Pilvi Takala’s work can be used to think about how modern working practices have evolved to accommodate the acceleration of informatic stimuli. Her project The Trainee exposes workers’ values that are tightly bound to a continuous cycle of receiving, evaluating, processing and communicating information.  Takala does this by passively subverting normative working practices and challenging the dominant narratives that exist around working and efficiency. In The Trainee the artist spends a month in the Marketing Department of Deloitte & Touche, a global tax, accounting and consulting firm, one of the so called ‘Big Four’, as student intern ‘Johanna Takala’. Only a few people within the firm are aware that her presence is part of an artistic project.

February 26, a Day at Tax & Legal  documents Johanna’s day spent in the library of the Tax and Legal department of the firm. She doesn’t consult any books or seek to engage with visitors or staff while she is there.  She sits and looks out the window.  When asked what she is doing, or more truthfully why she is not doing, she explains that she is a trainee from the Marketing Department and is doing brain work and thinking about things. This passive subversive act of ‘non-activity’ generates surprise and concern and an email exchange captured between Deloitte & Touche workers reveal that some people even find it ‘scary’.  In capitalist value systems it becomes unthinkable not to want to desire efficiency, productivity and competitiveness and explicit non-conformance is interpreted as a threat.

In February 25, a Day at Consulting Johanna spends a day in the Consulting Department of Deloitte & Touche. Consulting services offer expert resource to clients on a short term, project basis.  Clients can buy as much or as little cognitive expertise as they wish, when they wish, and consultants typically charge an hourly or daily rate for cognitive capacity. Consultants maintain records of the time spent working for each client and the firm charges the client accordingly. Consulting services exemplify what Bifo describes as the fragmentation and fractionalisation[6] of contemporary labour whereby a worker is no longer perceived as a human but as cells of time that can be bought in accordance with need, without recourse to offering social protection for the worker.  In the film Johanna sits quietly at a desk in the middle of a busy office. One work colleague is taken aback when she notices that Johanna does not have a laptop. Johanna explains that she is thinking / doing brain work.  In a space where time not spent working for clients is categorised as non-chargeable time, Johanna’s non-activity is unexpected and unsettling. She cannot be competitive unless she is connected to the digital network. The absence of a machine and technology is a refusal to contribute economically to the firm.


Still from ‘Working for Deloitte for a Month’ Powerpoint presentation from ‘The Trainee’ by Pilvi Takala

What strategies for the future?  Bifo proposes three. Firstly, collective deceleration, a refusal or cancellation of potentialities, but he rightly acknowledges this is almost impossible. Secondly, upgrading to post-human by bio-engineering digital components into human bodies. This would seem a natural direction for the already voracious development in the mediascape.  Finally, a distancing from the vortex, a retreat from capitalism.  A possibility perhaps for a privileged minority. What would you choose?

Written by Stephanie Feeney

[1] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[2] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[3] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part I)

The Psychic Turn in Labour (Part I)


Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’, along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and, over the coming weeks, will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.

“In the semiotic becoming of capitalism, the soul is set to work.”[1]

Rapid and significant shifts in working practices in the last decades of the twentieth century have seen production turn away from physical capacity towards cognitive capacity. To an increasingly greater extent the knowledge economy is replacing manual labour; mind is replacing muscle. Franco “Bifo” Berardi asserts that today “cognitive capacity is becoming the essential productive resource” a a progression from the industrial age where ” the mind was put to work as a repetitive automatism, the physiological support of muscular movement.”[2] Now the mind is being put to work in new ways. Economic production has become cognitive, spurred on by a continuous evolution of technology, media forms and the speed of global information flows. The industrial age has given way to the information age.


From the series of work ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

In Ireland the industrial revolution and subsequent industrial age didn’t feature to a significant extent. Ireland’s economy continued to rely on pre-industrial agricultural production for the home and export market. But by the late 1990’s Ireland’s economy had leap-frogged into the post-industrial knowledge economy by nurturing the economic, labour and political conditions that encouraged multinational corporations in high tech industries to establish manufacturing bases there.  Thus contemporary factories, the manufacturing plants of Dell, Hewlett Packard and Intel, were built “in the middle of country fields, on the edge of a historic town, within a short bus ride of a global city… amidst new industrial locations and new communities that sit halfway between the rural and the urban, where people draw on elements of the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’”. [3]

The Breathing Factory by Mark Curran, a photographic documentation of a Hewlett Packard site in Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland, takes its title from an economic concept developed by Peter Hartz.  Hartz describes the desire to achieve a ‘breathing’ factory, one that opportunistically flexes to the constantly changing demand of the market. Inside the factory, production processes, working conditions and hours expand and contract to the rhythm of the market. Equally, the factory boundaries are porous, drawing external factors such as education, social behaviours and the labour market into its rhythm too.


From the series of work ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

The Breathing Factory foregrounds some pertinent and complex issues that arise from contemporary labour conditions including migration flows and multicultural societies, gendered labour, the longevity and sustainability of neoliberal economic policies, the precarity of contemporary working patterns, the hegemony of the market and the continual competition to follow capitalism’s ever mutating vortex.  Curran’s work illuminates the shift in labour-power from manual to cognitive, exactly that to which Berardi refers.[4]

Interviews conducted with the Hewlett Packard factory employees, by the artist, reveal the true implications of technological advance: shifts from labour intensive to machine intensive production, job losses, redundancy and obsolescence, relocation, re-skilling and unemployment. In one interview, Susan, Logisitics Co-ordinator, asserts that the work is getting “easier”. But for whom? Fewer and fewer humans are required to manually control the machines as information technologies evolve at super-human speed.

for production lines out there … they … they seem to always need less and less people to operate them there … every different production line we bring in, it has more capabilities within itself … whereas the first one, we probably needed 12 and now we only need 6 people to run it … so technology is constantly changing … machines and computers are doing more work all of the time … life, work is being made a hell of a lot easier … I think

Susan, Logistics Coordinator, Samuel Beckett Meeting Room, Hewlett Packard Ireland, 23rd October 2003.[5]


From the series ‘The Breathing Factory’ by Mark Curran

The shift to the cognitive is, nonetheless, still evident in the context of a factory, a place historically associated with workers and manual labour.  What The Breathing Factory tells us is that the contemporary factory has cognitised too, inhaling technologically advanced machines and exhaling manual labour.  In high tech industry the cognitive capacity grounds itself on the digital technology of the machines. Workers with the cognitive skills to cope best with the increasing volume, speed and complexity of information, those with the mental agility to decipher specialised digital signals and semiotics, can contribute to the corporation’s drive for maximum development, progress and competition.  Cognitive skills become increasingly valuable; the higher up the cognitive chain, the more valuable the labour.

we have 4,200 employees here in Ireland at the moment, 1,800 in the manufacturing side here … and we are growing that investment, we are growing it on the R and D side … up the value chain …

Una, Director, Government and Public Affairs, Canteen, Hewlett-Packard, June 1st, 2004[6]

Berardi calls the new economy that demands more and more cognitive capacity, a schizo-economy.[7] He points to the increasing use of anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac as symptomatic of the economy’s psychic collapse.  Capitalism, he argues, has created the constant drive towards competition, a need to be at the forefront of development and progress that is manifest in, for example, investment focus in research and development (R and D) activities by Hewlett Packard, as evidenced in Mark Curran’s The Breathing Factory.  Capitalism’s schizophrenia is in demanding mental energy, cognitive capacity and brain power, while simultaneously exhausting it by bombarding the mind with informatics stimuli. According to Berardi, society is, as a result in “a state of permanent electrocution”.

Written by Stephanie Feeney.

Next week: expanding Berardi’s schizo economy to unpack the effect of contemporary labour conditions on individuals and groups.


[1] Berardi, F., ‘Alterity and Desire’, translated C. Mongini, Deleuze, Guattari and the Production of the New, ed S. O’Sullivan, S. Zepke (London, Continuum, 2008)

[2] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[3] O’ Riain, S., (2006) ‘Space to Breath in the High Tech Workplace’ in Curran, M., The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[4] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

[5] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[6] Curran, M., (2006) The Breathing Factory, Heidelberg, Edition Braus.

[7] Berardi, F., ‘Schizo-Economy’, translated M. Goddard, Il Sapiente, Il Mercante, Il Guerriero, unpublished (online).  Available at http://www.erinmovement.com/htm/text/bifo%20text.htm [accessed 14/4/2013]

Strike! Labour and Violence

Strike! Labour and Violence


Labour is described, in classical economic terms, as a ‘factor of production’ along with land and capital. The Future State turns its attention to labour in a year when Ireland commemorates the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout and over the coming weeks will explore cultural engagement with labour related themes: working, migration flows, workers’ resistance and violence and contemporary work phenomena such as outsourcing, flexible working, working from home and the mobile office.


The title of Limerick City Gallery’s exhibition Strike! could be a double entendre, open to multiple interpretations.




Hit forcibly and deliberately with one’s hand or a weapon or other implement.


A refusal to work organized by a body of employees as a form of protest, typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions…: “local workers went on strike”

Either interpretation will fit the pieces that were selected for the exhibition exploring industrial disputes and workers’ resistance.  Strike! takes its title from Sergei Eisenstein’s feature film The Strike (1925), a story about factory workers’ resistance against the factory’s management that ends, after a lengthy battle, with the massacre of the workers.

Violence, bloody battle, vicious beatings, fierce fighting and suffering are recurring motifs throughout Strike! eventhough each piece selected for the exhibition deals with specific instances of workers’ resistance in terms of place, time and the cause of resistance. The commonality of the violence makes it difficult to detect differences between the workers’ struggles and it acts as an obstacle to deciphering the true nature of the resistance. How can we see past the screen of violence?

Walter Benjamin’s essay, Critique of Violence,  unpacks the nature of violence and in doing so offers an alternative  point of departure for assimilating cultural responses to industrial strikes and strained labour relations. It confirms that violence and workers’ resistance are closely intertwined, as foregrounded in Strike!, but goes a step further to deconstruct the relationship between them and in doing so sets out a quasi-framework for understanding the underlying power relations in workers’ resistance .  Firstly, Benjamin identifies two distinct categories of worker resistance: the “political general strike” and the “proletariat general strike” and, secondly, he proposes that violence be evaluated in the context of law rather than in terms of sanctioned/unsanctioned violence or in terms of the brute force of violent actions.[1]

Benjamin proposes that the ‘political general strike’ is used by workers to “escape from a violence indirectly exercised by the employer”.  It is a temporary “withdrawal” from the employer in order to attain distinct and reasonable ends such as better pay or working conditions but, crucially, it does not seek to fundamentally change the worker-employer relationship.[2] In this sense, Declan O’ Connell’s film 161 Days: The Vita Cortex Workers Struggle,  capturing the occupation of the soon to be closed Vita Cortex plant in Ireland by the workers after it was announced that redundancy payments could not be paid, documents what Benjamin would call a ‘political general strike’.  Technically an occupation rather than a strike, the Vita Cortex factory struggle is nonetheless a refusal that remains within the existing worker-employer framework.  And, although the narrative is that of a non-violent sit-in, there is violence in the way that Benjamin proposes as the occupation of the factory is used as a means to extort redundancy payments that are due to the workers from the factory owners.

For the same reason Mike Figgis’ documentary, The Battle of Orgreave (An Injury to One Is an Injury to All) (2001) that captures artist Jeremy Deller’s re-enactment of the infamous British miner’s strike of 1984 at Orgreave during Margaret Thatcher’s time as Prime Minister, also depicts what Benjamin would categorise as a violent political general strike. Violent not because of the heavy handed and bloody battles between the police and the miners or because of the fighting within and between mining communities but violent because the miners were acting within the given framework of the worker-employer relation, in this case the British government as employer, and using a temporary withdrawal from the framework to extort concessions from the government.

In contrast, Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s film The Take (2004), documents a workers’ resistance that is closer to the ‘proletariat general strike’ that Benjamin refers to, a strike that aims to completely disrupt the social relations between worker and employer.  In The Take former employees of a dormant car factory in Argentina move in to occupy the workplace with the aim of establishing a workers cooperative that will create new jobs for the former employees. The workers reject the status of the factory’s owner and the banks, trying to abolish the power that this ruling group possesses.

From Benjamin’s perspective refusal by workers to recognise a factory owner and a contextualising legal system is senseless and anarchistic as it seeks to “overthrow the legal system that has conferred it”.[3]  This kind of workers’ resistance, the ‘proletariat general strike’, is in his view non-violent because the strike action is ‘pure means’ without ends because the ends that the workers are fighting for are “radically senseless, unreasonable and extravagant”.[4]

Further Benjamin discusses the duality of violence and proposes that all violence is either law-making or law-preserving and is cyclical in nature.  Therefore the power that establishes itself through law-making violence, maintains the law through law-preserving violence, which serves as a reminder that if the Argentinian workers cooperative wrestle power from the factory owners they will be the new power and will seek to maintain the new legal system by a law-preserving violence.

Benjamin thereby provides a framework that can be used to distinguish workers’ resistance movements from one another based on differences in the manifestation of the worker-employer relation. The Argentinian workplace occupation is distinguished from the occupation of the Vita Cortex factory in Ireland, not just geographically and chronologically, but , using Benjamin’s terms, by the violence/non-violence of the ends, regardless how fierce the means.

Strike! took place at Limerick City Gallery 24 January – 15 March 2013.  The exhibition foregrounded Mike Figgis’ documentary The Battle of Orgreave (An Injury to One Is an Injury to All) (2001) and was accompanied by a film programme curated by Anthony Haughey and exhibition of memorabilia from the Limerick Soviet.  For more visit the gallery’s website.

Written by Stephanie Feeney.

[1] Benjamin, W. (1892-1940) Critique of Violence in Selected Writings. Walter Benjamin. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London 1999 (p277 – 300)

[2] Benjamin, W. (1892-1940) Critique of Violence in Selected Writings. Walter Benjamin. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London 1999 (p277 – 300)

[3] Benjamin, W. (1892-1940) Critique of Violence in ‘Selected Writings. Walter Benjamin. Volume I’ Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, London 1999 (p277 – 300)

[4] Auerbach, A (2007) Remarks on Walter Benjamin’s Critique of Violence [Online]. Available at http://aauerbach.info/research/urban/benjamin_violence.html (accessed 1 March 2013)

Global Ghost Towns: Film Showcase

Global Ghost Towns: Film Showcase


For the duration of March, Emma Cummins is curating The Future State blog around the theme of contemporary ghost towns.  In this week’s post, she selects three very different films that reflect the problems of property-led growth in the US, Ireland and China. 

Foreclosures – Detroit: The Troubled City (8mins)

Bruce Gilden


In Bruce Gilden’s series Foreclosures, the effects of the US subprime mortgage crisis are explored through short films set in Florida, Las Vegas and Reno, Fresno and Detroit.  Through interviews with residents and local communities, he reveals how the proliferation of empty homes has impacted the physical and social fabric of American cities.

As seen in Detroit: The Troubled City, Gilden blends still and moving images to reflect the complexity of contemporary urban change.  In his words: ‘when I arrived in Detroit I saw a city government that does not take care of its people and a lot of those people have stopped caring […] Property values go down, nobody wants to live in these areas.  To me it almost seems like they are left standing so that one day they drive everybody out and grand new subdivisions can be made’.

For more on Gilden’s work, see his website: http://www.brucegilden.com

Vacancy (2mins 19)

Paddy Baxter

At The Future State of Ireland conference last November, the subject of Ireland’s so-called ‘ghost estates’ proved a fascinating and contentious topic.  Often described in “ghostly” or spectral terms, these unfinished developments have inspired many artists and film-makers.

In Paddy Baxter’s experimental ‘horror documentary’ Vacancy, the artist explores Carrig Glas Manor in Country Longford.   Through a collaboration with the Manchester music collective Tubers Music, the film blends atmospheric soundscapes with photos and video footage.  As Baxter explains: ‘Vacancy became for me a fascinating lesson on the power of music in film.  Fiction film invariably uses music to manipulate our emotions more effectively. The use of music in documentary can be more problematic – it allows the filmmaker to exert a huge degree of control over how we view real people and political or social standpoints. There is no denying that this film comes from a subjective political viewpoint, however its intention is not social critique, but rather it seeks to explore in some way the embedded emotional confrontation between myself as the filmmaker and this disrupted landscape’.

Vacancy was inspired by a photo-article on the recent phenomenon of Irish ‘ghost estates’.  Read the article here: http://castlesbuiltinsand.wordpress.com/ghosts-and-the-machine/

Ordos 100 (1hr 39)

Ai Wei Wei

Directed by China’s most famous living artist, Ai Wei Wei, Ordos 100 is a fascinating, hour-long documentary on a huge, architectural project in Inner Mongolia.  For the Ordos 100 Desert Villa project, Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron – best known for their conversion of Bankside Power Station into Tate Modern – invited 100 international architects to design 100 private villas, each covering 1000 square metres of land.

As seen in last week’s blog post, which cited the work of photographer Michael Christopher Brown, the new city of Ordos has failed to attract many residents.  Often described as a ‘ghost town’, it is but one example of the many under-populated new cities in present-day China.  In this context, Ordos 100 offers unique insights into the country’s political and economic ambitions.  Whilst the Desert Villa project has never been realised, it reveals the ways in which architecture is used as a strategy for economic growth.

As Michael Alexander Ulfstjerne explains in the article ‘Creative land grabs: The Ordos 100 spectacle revisited’: ‘After several visits to the idle construction site and interviews with developers, architects, urban planners and local engineers working there, it became evident to me that creativity incubation zones and developments such as the Ordos 100 are good investments even though they might never actually be built. In the initial stage, the production of images, models and plans most likely serve as feasibility criteria to convince the local government to allocate land-use rights at a bargain price’.

Plans for the proposed villas at Ordos 100 can be viewed here: http://www.archdaily.com/tag/ordos-100/

Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase

Global Ghost Towns: Photography Showcase


Emma Cummins continues her exploration of contemporary ghost towns by showcasing the work of five artists and photographers. From Anthony Haughey’s images of Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ to Richard Allenby-Pratt’s photographs of deserted cities in Dubai—the effects of the global economic crisis are revealed in a very visual way.

Attracting attention from newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times, ‘ghost towns’ are a common architectural landmark across today’s globalised world—but what do these images reveal about neoliberal development?


Anthony Haughey – Settlement (2011)


‘Settlement XI’, Anthony Haughey 2011


‘Settlement I’, Anthony Haughey 2011

Following years of intense development, a devastating property bubble emerged in Ireland, which eventually burst in 2008.  As a result, the effects of the global economic crisis have been painfully exacerbated by homeowner equity problems and a shocking profusion of empty and partially constructed buildings.  Recently recategorised as ‘ghost estates’, these modern day ruins have inspired a wide range of photography and visual art projects—from Michael O’Hallaran’s images of the rise and fall of the property market, to Valérie Anex’s striking photo-essay ‘Ghost Estates’ in The New York Times.

Amongst the many photographic projects that explore the thousands of unfinished buildings in Ireland, Settlement, by Anthony Haughey, has attracted the most critical attention.  There is good reason for this: in addition to his beautifully-shot, long exposure photographs – produced between sunset and sunrise – Settlement brings together proposals by students and architectural firms for how these developments could be improved.  As Dorothy Hunter explains: ‘[…]whilst these particular proposals shall probably never be realised, it is through this work that we consider what alternative methods exist for gaining control of a paralysed environment – be they artistically expressive actions, or spatial solutions’.

Settlement has been exhibited at venues including Belfast Exposed and The Copper House Gallery, Dublin.  Haughey’s work is currently on view at the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing as part of the group show New Irish Landscapes.

For more on Settlement see the artist’s website: http://anthonyhaughey.com/projects/settlement/


Edgar Martins – This Is Not A House (2008)


From the series ‘This Is Not A House’, Edgar Martins (2008)


From the series ‘This Is Not A House’, Edgar Martins (2008)

Edgar Martins’ unforgettable images of abandoned homes explore the subprime mortgage crisis and property market collapse in the United States.  Rooted in the development of a vicious housing bubble that began in 2001, “mortgage meltdown” reached a peak in 2006 with an unprecedented rise if foreclosures.  By the end of 2007, nearly 2 million Americans had lost their homes, leaving streets in Florida, California, Michigan and beyond with many unoccupied properties.

As seen in Martins’ touring exhibition This is Not a House, his images have a surreal, almost apocalyptic quality.  Originally commissioned for a feature in The New York Times, the photographs sparked controversy when it was revealed that Martins digitally edited some of the images in the series.  As the artist explains: ‘Photojournalism has never felt the need to challenge or contravene certain rules, aesthetic or ethical.  Yet, within this framework there is a perpetual search, not to mention a real need, to find new ways of assimilating and representing the real.  I viewed this project, from the outset, as a platform to explore new models for conceptualising a particularly contemporary phenomenon and landscape.  The work was therefore structured as ‘a photographic intervention into a crisis, a crisis that is only in part economic’’.

This is Not a House has been exhibited at several venues, including The Wapping Project Bankside in London and more recently The Gallery of Photography in Dublin.  Martins’ work is currently on show at Somerset House, London as part of the exhibition Landmark: The Fields of Photography.

For more on the artist’s work see his website: http://www.edgarmartins.com


Richard Allenby-Pratt – Abandoned (2011)


‘Hyena’, Richard Allenby-Pratt (2011)


‘Ibex’, Richard Allenby-Pratt (2011)

Following decades of economic growth, Dubai’s economy began to decline in 2009 with the dramatic bursting of its investment and property bubble.  As Patrick Collinson writes in an article for The Guardian: ‘House prices in the desert sheikhdom dropped by an extraordinary 40% in the first three months of 2009, outpacing falls anywhere else in the world […]’. With the collapse of the country’s lucrative property market, capital fled Dubai at speed, leaving many buildings unfinished and motorways unused.

These strange urban landscapes are the subject of a stunning series of photographs by Richard Allenby-Pratt.  Simply titled Abandoned, the series depicts exotic animals – such as gazelles, zebras, rhinoceroses and hyenas – in environments originally intended for wealthy people and businessmen.  As the artist explains: ‘The project imagines a future without people, where the relics of our unrealised ambitions are populated by some of the species we have, in the present day, come so close to exterminating.  I hope to highlight the fragility of our economic systems and the desperate need for us to be responsible guardians of our environment’.

Abandoned was included in the 2011 London Association of Photographers Awards.  The project was also awarded an honourable mention at the Paris PX3 Awards and came second in the international category of the Al Thani Awards in Qatar.  Abandoned is currently being exhibited at Shelter in Al Serkal Avenue, Dubai, to coincide with Art Dubai week.

For more on Allenby-Pratt’s work see his website: http://www.allenby-pratt.com/en/


Michael Christopher Brown – Ordos (2010)


From the series ‘Ordos’, Michael Christopher Brown (2010)


From the series ‘Ordos’, Michael Christopher Brown (2010)

The impending implosion of China’s real-estate market has been the subject of countless articles and TV documentaries.  Less well documented are the millions of empty buildings that have proliferated in recent years.  Estimates suggest there could be over 16 million vacant homes in China—many of these lie unsold, whilst others have been bought as speculative investments.

In the impressive series of photographs Ordos, Micheal Chrisopher Brown reveals the effects of rampant development on a wealthy coal-mining town in Inner Mongolia.  Collected in a photo-essay for Time magazine, images from this series focus on the Kangbashi district—an area replete with office blocks, administrative centres, government buildings, museums, theatres, sports fields and acres of middle-class houses.  As Time’s editorial explains: the only problem is that ‘the district was originally designed to house, support and entertain 1 million people, yet hardly anyone lives there’.

Brown’s other projects include Xiasi (2010) – a two-part series produced during train and road trips in China – and Broadway (2009) which explores American identity amidst a global financial crisis.  Brown has worked as a contributing photographer at National Geographic Magazine since 2005 and was a finalist for the Emerging Photographer of the Year award for three years running.

For more on Brown’s work see his website: http://www.mcbphotos.com


Markel Redondo ­– Tu Casa es Mi Casa (2011–2012)


From the series ‘Tu Casa es Mi Casa’ (Residencial Francisco Hernando in Sesena), Markel Redondo (2011)


From the series ‘Tu Casa es Mi Casa’, Markel Redondo (2011–2012)

Between 1998 and 2007, Spain’s housing stock increased by approximately 5.7 million units.  Responding in part to increased demand – afforded by factors such as immigration, rising divorce levels and an increased interest in buy-to-let properties – an astonishing number of new buildings were constructed in urban, rural and suburban environments.  When Spain’s “boom decade” reached an abrupt halt in 2007, the damage produced by years of frenzied development was revealed in a very visible way—estimates suggest that there are over one million vacant or unfinished houses in the country.

Coterminous to Spain’s housing crisis, levels of unemployment remain astonishingly high.  At the beginning of 2013, the country’s unemployment rate was 26%, with joblessness among young people reaching an unprecedented 55%.  As evidenced in Markel Redondo’s emotive series of photographs, Tu Casas es Mi Casa, the demise of Spain’s property-led economy has transformed the country’s social and material landscape.  Focusing on the lives of unemployed people living in two Andalucian ‘ciudades fantasmas’ (‘ghost towns’), the series highlights the impact of economic crisis on people and places.  As Redondo explains: ‘Even in this corner of the developed world, the impact of economic crisis is resulting in the often surreal juxtaposition of a hand to mouth existence lived amongst the ruins of failed urban and economic development’.

Markel Redondo’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Time, Le Monde, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  He came third in the Lens Culture Exposure Award in 2012, and was a finalist in the International Photojournalism Award in 2010.  Tu Casa es Mi Casa is currently on show at the Espai de fotografia in Barcelona.

For more on Redondo’s series Tu Casa es Mi Casa see his website: http://www.markelredondo.com/story-crisis.html