PROFILE: ART IN THE PUBLIC REALM
‘HELD CAPTIVE BY THE SITE’
SARAH ALLEN PROFILES ‘ART LOT’, A PROGRAMME OF TEMPORARY VISUAL ARTS PROJECTS PROGRAMMED BY JONATHAN CARROLL FOR A VACANT LOT IN DUBLIN CITY CENTRE.
A little corner at the junction of Harcourt Road and Richmond Terrace has been undergoing some curious changes over the past months. Located beside the former diner and Dublin landmark The Manhattan, visual arts project ‘Art Lot’ has set about transforming the long derelict site through thought-provoking artistic intervention. From its inception in June 2013 the project’s curator Jonathan Carroll has acknowledged the dual complications of exhibiting art in the public realm as well as engaging with an inherently problematic space. Having gained experience dealing with public art through his work with the Saint Patrick’s Day Festival (2007 – 2009) Carroll drew up a realistic proposal and succeeded in securing funding for the project from a local business. The six participating artists Neil Carroll, Ella de Burca, Teresa Gillespie, Maria McKinney, Seoidin O’Sullivan and Sharon White have been working sequentially re-imagining the space in bi-monthly cycles.
Emerging at a time when public art projects are receiving heightened media exposure Carroll is keen to emphasise those attributes which make ‘Art Lot’ unique. “Granby Park organised by the Upstart Collective staged temporary activities which took place over a short period of time. It was very focused on community engagement and visual art was only a small part of the overall plan. Similar comparisons can be drawn with ‘Art Tunnel’ in Smithfield which encouraged the local community, including a school, to exhibit their work on the Smithfield site. What ‘Art Lot’ offers in contrast to these projects is a specific focus on visual art of a particular kind.”
Carroll notes that a local business provided the budget and undertook some work on the site to meet health and safety requirements. Regarding further funding he notes that each artist received up to 1250 euro to cover materials and an artist’s fee. The artists then installed the work themselves with some assistance from the curator. Neil Carroll for example, paid a colleague of his to work with him on the site as the installation required a second pair of hands and some skilled labour. Ella de Burca sourced support from Irish Fencing and Railings LTD company to provide fences for her work in exchange for publicity. Finally, design work for posters was raised with the support of local business who would prefer to remain anonymous.
Growth and development are at the heart of the project’s ethos. Rather than artists installing and unveiling their work in a short space of time each artist’s work emerges bit by bit over a two month period. This concept focuses audience attention more acutely on the means of production, positing that artistic production is as significant as the finished work. The project’s wordpress blog (www.artlotdublin.wordpress.com) offers a platform for the artists to map their engagement with the site, thus functioning as an essential element in demystifying the artistic process.
With it’s cumulative approach the public enters into an exciting relationship with the ‘Art Lot’ artworks as they come into being. Both the artwork and the viewer’s perceptions are in evolution and flux. Into this dynamic space between art and its public, the cityscape and city life itself can inject new meaning. As Carroll points out, the top deck of a double-decker bus allows a bird’s eye perspective of the work – and it might well be the best place to experience the project, especially if traffic jams ensure a truly ‘captive’ audience.
As the site is enclosed by metal gates, the artists are also to some extent held captive by the site. This concept of ‘artist in a cage’ might suggest an interesting power shift from the usual white cube dynamic in which – it could be argued – the viewer steps into the space that is emphatically ‘authored’ by the artist. Ella de Burca, who completed her stint on site this November, played off the notion of the cage constructing a series of fences one behind the other which over time amassed to form an imposing mesh of barriers.
‘The Fourth Plinth’ project sited in London’s Trafalgar Square was a source of inspiration for Carroll in devising the project. The latest installation has seen a giant blue cockerel – Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch – reign over the historical square delighting tourists and provoking much debate. There are salient parallels to be drawn between ‘The Fourth Plinth’ and the endeavors of ‘Art Lot’, among them how the artist’s work enters into a dynamic dialogue with its setting. The more dramatic ‘Art Lot’ creations form an arresting juxtaposition with the traditional familiar Georgian facades of Dublin’s Harcourt Street and surrounding areas.
One particular landmark in the area – located just a stones-throw from the ‘Art Lot’ site – is The Bernard Shaw pub. Over the past decade the pub has cultivated a distinctive image owing in part to its ever-changing graffiti art. “Graffiti seems to be the go-to thing for covering vacant sites” comments Carroll “it is a solution that is popular and very good at grabbing attention, however with ‘Art Lot’ we wanted something a bit more solid.” Although frequently enlivening drab cityscapes most graffiti could be said to have a more pronounced, decorative function, yet an essential element of ‘Art Lot’s’ intrigue lies not in providing decoration but provoking speculation.
Carroll highlights how the group welcomed viewer speculation during the initial stages of the project. “We had a funny situation where there was an on-line discussion about what our site could be (this was before we put up any signage). After many postings on-line someone eventually suggested that it may be a public art project – bingo! We also had some rogue signage put up by some inventive passerby, with their humorous suggestion of what the site could be.” ‘Art Lot’ adheres to the contemporary art’s eschewal of definitive meanings or absolute truths. Carroll goes on to comment how working in a site which is not designated to visual art is a liberating experience “you have a chance to return to a purer debate about the role of art and where it should be.”
The option for each artist to leave physical or metaphorical traces of their interventions in the space, after their allotted time is part of Carroll’s curatorial strategy. This can allow specific pieces to speak directly to one another. As part of her work Seoidin O’Sullivan harvested buddleia vines from the site to make flagpoles. Upon completion of her cycle these were cleared to make way for Sharon White’s piece Colony which consisted of a colony of small wooden houses that mushroomed around the site. Here Carroll notes how these two projects echo one another in referencing the organic.
Indeed even if there is no obvious trace of the artist’s work left on site, by virtue of their slow incremental ‘coming into being’, the image of the work becomes installed in the viewer’s memory and thus the work is afforded a life beyond its material existence. This might best be exemplified by Neil Carroll’s enigmatic sculpture ‘An exhumation of the Wreck of Hope (No man is an island)’. Its angular silhouette seems to linger in the mind’s eye even after deinstallation. Superimposed onto its memory is the image of the following art work and so the two mingle in the mind inviting comparisons and enriching their individual readings.
The title ‘Art Lot’ was chosen to purpose fluidity, to suggest that the project could take roots in other vacant spaces in the city. Carroll is hopeful for the project’s future commenting that “Ideally we want to secure funding to take over more sites in Dublin and get a conversation going about the cityscape and how the environment could be more fluid. The initiative to make use of derelict sites came from Dublin City Council (the owners of the Art Lot site) who wish to eradicate the blight of hoarding around the city. DCC are accommodating projects by offering space but so far they do not provide funding for running costs. As any artist will have experienced, the money they get for their work is spent on materials; this leaves little left as an artist fee. If more businesses could provide realistic budgets, we can provide projects to suit.”
To find out more about the project please visit www.artlotdublin.wordpress.com
Sarah Allen is a Dublin based arts writer and journalist. Among other publications her writing has appeared in The Irish Arts Review, Aesthetica Magazine, Photomonitor Magazine and Prism Photography Magazine.