Allotrope Edition 5 - Identity

Page 1

Allotrope Edition #5

Guest edited by

(Dave Loder & Mirjami Schuppert) Copyright Š 2012 Ulster Research Salon and individual authors/contributors herein. All Rights Reserved Published by Allotrope Press ISSN: 2046-2859

The artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin curated 2011’s Krakow Photomonth festival, which went under the name of Alias. They invited authors to invent fictional artists and their stories, and artists to produce new artwork as these fictitious artists. The result of the commission were 23 fictive third personas in which both the author and artist are present. The artwork produced by the heteronyms were displayed around the city, and the audience was able to read their stories in the exhibition catalogue. The names of the participating authors and artists were revealed to the audience, but even now it has not been publicly announced who had produced which work. The use of pseudonyms seems to be a rather common practice among artists of all kinds, we know of many authors who have published work under a different name particularly female authors who have had difficulties getting published in the male dominated literary world. The use of heteronyms, however, is taking a step further; whole new life stories are invented. It is not only the name of the author which changes, but their identity also.


The title research student is also a certain kind of heteronym, as research students our approach to art practice and research changes radically. We are required, for three years, to produce work that is, up to a degree, controlled by the demands that the academia has set.

Recently I heard Jan Svenungsson, a professor and visual artist, talk about the paradox of art practice as research, how unfulfilment is a prerequisite for good art, but at the same time academic research cannot be unfulfilled, it needs to find definite answers and be a contribution to knowledge. Is research student our heteronym under which we produce different work than we would do as artists? Some years back a research student organised a performance to accompany his presentation at a university conference. The performance, a woman stripping down in front the audience, was not considered to be appropriate, in fact it was considered as highly inappropriate. A creative, even if not tasteful, way of livening up an otherwise very academic conference was hammered down because it would not fit; it questioned, rather than conformed to, the requirements of an academic presentation. If the artist self has to obey the restrictions the researcher self sets, the creative aspect of our work will disappear. What would be a way to free us from this dichotomy and melt the two identities in one, into a fictional third persona, in which neither element is reigning? I find it difficult to answer this questions as most of the time I am not even sure what is my identity as neither researcher nor artist. 3






… I am a photographer, and in photographing places in the city, I narrate it. Or, more exactly, I remap the city metaphorically. The city is turned inward, into a mental place, into a projection of my own deceptions, or possibly of our own shared desires. I do not wish to speak of this city, of which I know very little, but to speak with the city. I am a tourist. For me the place is full of fantasy, dreams. It reminds me of art, other photographs, films. I am looking for myself in this unknown and yet so familiar landscape, so already closed to me, so already seen. It feels uncanny. … It is as if I was searching at the confines of memory. At what is left over, but reappear in the form of impressions, stories, feelings of fear, fantasies, traces of dreams, but also deceptions, frustrations, and symptoms. I am looking at the city through moments of déjà vu. … Wouldn’t it be when time and space fold back on themselves? When the gaze is inverted and placed back into space? Or in other words, when one is having the feeling of being disconnected, watched, or being put in question? … I know that the nature of the photograph and its stillness is often associated with “freezing time”. However, I feel that the photograph here opens time, or […] extends time. Or at least, that it creates a suspension, a tension towards what is about to happen. It creates a space that carries a potential narrative time. The photograph portends rather than embalms time. … 9

The sheet of corrugated iron has been lying around my studio for weeks, while I try to figure out how to get it to stand up satisfactorily as part of a construction which is to merge security gate and religious triptych. Finally, in a fit of exasperation, I prop it up on my studio easel. And there it is, obdurate, its own self, but also myself, fused, a real presence. This moment of creative accident brings into sudden focus not just those ideas and images that have been dogging my brain for months, but also new and unsuspected meanings. So, it is a shield

on its surface the protective camouflage pattern of zinc deposited in galvanisation, and what is camouflage but a strange mixture of separation and merging? on its surface too, small, beautiful patterns of rust and fragments of grass and moss, acquired from lying face down in a field, where its former owner had left it until it would be of use to build another shed or block a gap in the hedge and now, it comes to my hand, as my concern with sustainable living has led me back to making work in the rural village where I live, and to those methods of make do and adaptability held in common by artists and selfreliant country men but it is still a shield and I recall:


the useless shields of the Iliad, so vividly recalled in Alice Oswald’s Memorial, where each man’s life shines briefly before death and is then embraced by an image of turbulence in the natural world, repeated like amusical chord

Identity Shield

behind it the easel screw, a long fragile spine





an Irish prehistoric leather shield with a hack mark on it still fresh the drawing I made that was inspired by an old tombstone in a small graveyard overlooking the site where a prehistoric bog body was found, and which came increasingly to feel like a back that I was working over and a holder of weather down the centuries the scratched and battered riot shield framing the face of a young British soldier in a Troubles photo by Philip Jones Griffiths and, where this all started, the fusing in my mind of: those keep out security gates at environmentally polluting sites, all yellow and black haz-chem markers on the front, but who knows what less assertive versions of nature and humanity and pollution are creeping up behind, like the small lichens which nestle on the back of our yard gate the fifteenth century altarpieces I could walk behind at the National Gallery, to see the unpainted wood held together by simple, workmanlike joints, as deeply eloquent as the paintings on the outer face the keep out/draw you in stone portals of a court cairn grave in Co Mayo that was so important to local people that it was used in different ways for a thousand years but it is still a shield as could be, maybe, the research that I do on how the visual arts sector in Ireland is dealing with the whole range of issues thrown up by climate change and indeed the artwork that I make but, now I am thinking, shields have their own eloquence and their very act of concealment leaks meaning and reveals what really should be attended to, requiring us to walk round to the other side. 15





Nationality, modernity and identity:

Sculpture, Northern Ireland and the Festival of Britain 1951


The concept of identity encompasses not only the character and personality of the individual, but also the character of the nation or state and how it is interpreted, portrayed and perceived by others. Issues of nationality, identity and representation are vital in the state or government commissioning of public art. The Festival of Britain, celebrated in 1951, consisted of a series of special exhibitions, concerts and performances held in towns and cities throughout the country to celebrate British identity. For England and its regions the Festival was a significant social, cultural and historical event, showcasing the best and brightest of each locale for a domestic and international audience. The one hundred years highlighted by the Festival, however, was a complex period politically, culturally and economically, not least for Northern Ireland. This paper examines the first modern state commissioned sculpture in the region, executed for the Festival of Britain, as one example illustrating how Northern Ireland chose to portray its national and regional identity, and its modernity through sculpture in 1951.


The Festival was a vehicle for the establishment of a ‘New Britain’ and new identity for the nation as one unified society, a progressive country no longer marred by wars and independence campaigns, highlighted by the Festival’s modern architecture, art and visual style [1]. With minimal interjection in the planning stages from committees in London, the Northern Irish government and Belfast Corporation were free to effectively organise their own Festival and surrounding events according to their own agendas, offering their own interpretation of ‘Modern’ Ulster. In his message on the opening of the Festival, the Prime Minister for Northern Ireland, Basil Brooke, proclaimed that ‘…this is a Festival for everyone, and Ulster has a worthy share in it’ [2]. Rather than celebrate the one hundred years from the Great Exhibition of 1851 until 1951, Northern Ireland’s Festival committee chose deliberately to concentrate on ‘the progress of the last thirty years in our country’, purposefully ignoring the years previous to 1921, when the North was part of Ireland [3]. Thus in Northern Ireland the Festival was taken as an opportunity to reinforce Ulster’s commitment to Britain and solidify the nation’s identity as British. At the time of the Festival of Britain Dame Dehra Parker, head of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA – a precursor to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland) declared; ‘We Ulster people are citizens of no mean country and our industrial and agricultural reputation stands high in the Empire … this very fact has tended to overshadow the less material qualities of the Ulsterman’ [4]. Acknowledging the dominance of agriculture in the Farm and Factory’s representation of Northern Ireland, the arts council saw the Festival as an opportunity to highlight fine art and the work of younger London trained artists, 22

propagating a new, more progressive artistic identity for the region.

In addition to an exhibition of Ulster art and a show of contemporary architecture, CEMA commissioned two permanent art works to act as a reminder of the Festival of Britain in Northern Ireland for years to come. Commissions were decided for two of the province’s most prominent buildings – Belfast City hall and Derry Guildhall. A mural to be painted by local artist John Luke was chosen for Belfast, while carved stone panels to be placed on the ancient walls or the guildhall were selected for Derry. The sculptor George Galway MacCann was chosen to create two panels to be placed within the guildhall. A conference was held between the corporation of Derry and the artist where it was determined that the work should represent scenes from the history of the city. The panels, carved in stone by MacCann depicted Saint Columba, the patron saint of the city of Derry, who founded a monastic settlement during the sixth century, and a scene illustrating the survey of Derry by King James I. MacCann’s representation of Saint Columba incorporates an oak tree, linking the carving to the city with its native oak trees, and a dove representing the Saint. A second panel illustrates The Four Just Men of

the Derry Guilds, John Broad, Robert Trewell, draper John Rowley and John Munns who were sent to Ireland in 1609 to report on ‘the natural advantages of Derry’ which had been given by King James I to the City of London for plantation [5]. MacCann’s panels were overtly modernist in style, illustrating the Belfast born sculptor’s training at the Royal College of Art and the influence of modern British sculptors such as Henry Moore and Eric Gill. Arguably creating the most visually modern sculpture in Northern Ireland since he returned in the 1930s, MacCann was largely overlooked by art


institutions in Belfast. MacCann’s sculptures for the Festival however were grounded by a specific subject matter tied to a particular region. The panels’ seemingly British modern style was combined with a highly individualised local history, allowing them to sit more comfortably with the Northern Irish public. The Festival was a celebration of past achievement and advancement in arts and industry in the face of austerity. In Northern Ireland the occasion was taken as a rare opportunity to change public perceptions. Eager to represent itself as a modern cultured state, in line with British progress in art, Northern Ireland chose to celebrate its few modernist artists. The selection of one of Ulster’s more experimental sculptors, George McCann for a State financed public commission marked the first instance of modern public artwork in Northern Ireland and led the way for succeeding commissions to move further from accepted ‘academicianism’ towards experimentation and abstraction.

Notes [1] For more on the Festival of Britain see: Banham, M., and B. Hillier (eds.), A Tonic to the Nation; the Festival of Britain 1951, London, 1976 and Harwoord, E., and A. powers (eds.), Festival of Britain, Twentieth Century Architecure; 5, London, 2001. [2] Draft of Prime Minister’s message for publication on 3rd May 1951, the opening of the Festival. Festival of Britain archive, PRONI CAB/9/176/1. [3] Author’s italics. This illustrates a deliberate move to dismiss from history the years prior to the partition of Ireland, before Northern Ireland was ‘British’. Festival of Britain 1951 in Northern Ireland, London, 1951. (p. 7) Stewart, J. D., Ulster Farm and Factory Exhibition: A guide to the story it tells, London, 1951. (p. 8) [4] Belfast Telegraph, 3rd May, 1951.


[5] Arthur Chichester provided samples of Ulster produce to the four men as gifts to the Lord Mayor of London. The choice of subject was not only historically significant for Northern Ireland, but has specific political overtones and reinforced Ulster’s position within Britain. Festival of Britain in Northern Ireland: official souvenir handbook, Belfast, 1951. (p. 68)







テ始 pas cu memorie


[1] Sトネaj Street You hold me at a distance; a suspicious glance to the unfamiliar. You hold me at times close; taking me down back streets to reveal your beauty. Throwing me out to the fringes in the cold morning so I can watch you hoard the crowds. You can wear jewels and elaborate covers; but there is no need. Yours is a natural beauty that is worn by worry and strain but still the sun makes you golden. You are not afraid of your mistakes and wear them boldly; the criticism somehow constant. I watch you from my window; I watch you from the busiest street; I watch you from the darkest tunnel; and I am enthralled. I am respectful to your hardship; admiring of your softness when faced with such complexity. You hold all; sometimes you are kind; sometimes you are so cruel; yet no one flees you too fast; waiting for your days of glory to return. [2] Calea Rahovei Covered in mystery Rational mystery featuring the symbolic Refinement in obscenity. Spaces of vacancy which assure us of progress. Freezing Time. The falling tree cannot echo here. The land of glory left to root in half light decay. Taking small fragments of history and covering it in a glass box. Pavement of dying trees. The city is always changing. I will never assume I know it, as I always have to keep learning it. Some taste of past glory as bitter scent. The design of the city has equally to eradicate the past, commemorate the past, erase the past and allow the past a place. The weight of such task is so heavy, there exists inertia. We have arrived at stillness. A death. A life. Existing holding hands. 32

[3] Piaţa Romană A maze in concrete form. Suffocated In aspiration of sophistication. Endless sympathy, Play is not a mode of expression; it functions as a joke, of which there are none. Together in the city; as alone. Through muddled steps of infinite departure, The infamous 20 gallons. The exhaust of salutation. Between pauses, between the gasps As mode of indignations Endless rapture. Plastic cans of fresh air. Endless motion and stillness is luxury we form only in collapse. The old lady who steps out to the pavement from her house And falls And scorns me for helping her. [4] Praporgescu St The moral city. The immoral backstreet archive. Symbolic gestures active on a mental level change; happens only internally. Collected stories of rife corruption and injustices The city is reviewed as not as how it appears, but how it should be handled.

Defend the pedestrians. The pavement space as subsided to left over freedoms. Between car and person, Politics still has gripe. The flâneur a secondary concern. The car as once seen as wings now litters the asphalt with pollutant haze.



The body as an archive to experience; a socio-political artifact to the daily passages and promenades we endure and frequent in various states. Landscape can become a constituent in the embodied performance of spatial encounter. Landscape within my fieldwork becomes a process of reflexivity; rethinking the passage of terrain as bodily encounter; a discrete boundary between the subjective and the pre-conditioned narrative. Landscape in this research is a set of processes, which are constantly shifting in consistency and form.

Let the city take you. Let it hold you too close. Arrive. Be wrapped up in its eloquence. Walk hand in hand with its noisy chatter. Immerse and emerge; allow yourself to find the cloak of the city, become concealed within it. Collecting fragments of arrivals and departures; the city which never sleeps; in contestation of its own rights and rationales to logical expansion. The city lures and allures; creating spaces in between spaces, which in their absence allow us somehow to create a place of understanding. The city and I begin our conversation; I am aware that it cannot spare me so much time and I must lead and project it in ways, which I need to explore it as. I wish the city to become choreographic canvas; I am here to map and frame the choreographic dance of Bucharest. I feel somewhat naive; looking to the city to provide so much and to allow me to frame in medium format the ways in which the city can encompass modes of moving dialog. I am looking to create a precise frame of the activity in which the complexity of a fragmented city can emerge. I have ideals of the city, which I wish in some way to be shattered by experience, tested by practical motivations. The city creates challenge; there is no space for weakness; one simply has to construct a way to live and adhere firmly to it, even if that strategy is to change; then change must be rigorous and without deliberation. 35





Credits page(s) 2 – 3

Mirjami Schuppert


Andrea Theis


Dave Loder, Mayday, 2012

6 – 7

Frederic Huska, Chōra, 2011


Frederic Huska

10 – 15

Belinda Loftus, “Identity Shield”


Belinda Loftus, Weather Stone, 2011

16 – 17

Andrea Theis

18 – 19

Fergus Jordan, Enhanced Visibility, 2009

20 – 24

Emma McVeigh, “Nationality, Modernity & Identity”


Andrea Theis

26 – 27

Keef Winter, Constructing the Debris, 2012

28 – 29

Fergus Jordan, The Edge of Darkness, 2010

30 – 36

Beatrice Jarvis, “În pas cu memorie”


Beatrice Jarvis, Our Foundations Forgotten, 2012


Beatrice Jarvis, Perfect, 2012


Andrea Theis


Robert Huber


Dave Loder, I am not an artist, 2012

cover image

Dave Loder

Edited by

Dave Loder & Mirjami Schuppert

The Ulster Research Salon is an independent initiative by past and present doctoral students from the Art, Design and Architecture faculty at the University of Ulster. Our primary aim is to promote artistic and trans-disciplinary research practice within academic and extra-academic settings throughout Northern Ireland and beyond.

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