02 March 2012

Street Art Named Desire

When I grow up, I'm gonna be mental, by Solus
Portobello, Dublin, 26th February
I try to love this city.

I think I’ve said this before.

It’s not easy, for Dublin is not an easy place to love. The greatest love story to the city was written five hundred miles away in self-imposed exile in Paris, where distance amplified by the heart-beat of a true metropolis and words wrapped in Grecian garb made Brownian stumbles through dank and grubby city streets seem epic.

Kavanagh, the city’s other lover, fled the imprisoning claustrophobia of rural adolescence, the only lens through which Dublin could be seen as majestic and cosmopolitan. The Grand Canal is many things, niagarous it is not.

Contemporary drama elevates the sensational, the supposedly murky underbelly of the drug gangs and faded weekend terrorists, the papers give them nicknames that the thugs then wear like Iron Crosses, the writers and the criminals all squint their eyes up tight and through watering lids they can just about view their world as romanticized noir.

But Dublin is never dark, only grey.

The roads and streets, the empty buildings that line them all the way up, if indeed the height at which it hangs can be justified as “up”, all the way up to that blanket of oppression smothering the city in place of what others elsewhere, not here, lovingly call “the sky”, all of these are a polychromatic cavalcade of grey.

Like the ill-informed myth about Inuit and their words for snow, inhabitants of Baile Átha Cliath should have a dozen words for ‘grey’, but we don’t. We couldn’t be bothered.

It’s all just grey.

Concrete Lady, Ur My Baby Tonight, by Maser
Portobello, Dublin, 26th February
I live in the arrhythmic heart, between the canals, the true Dublin, the city centre. Everywhere I need to go I walk or cycle, no hour long commutes for me, no days wasted with ears assaulted by vacuous radio and whine-ins that substitute for political action on the part of the citizenry, but still I know of the endless sprawl that relegates Los Angeles to second place in the text book of catastrophic urban planning.

Think of this, think of London, of Paris, of New York and San Francisco, and what springs to mind are districts, vibrant and culturally distinct. You travel from one to the next to sample their flavours, today you are Uptown, tonight is Downtown, East End, West End or at the Shore. Here you are just that, ‘here’. There is no ‘there’, there is no ‘elsewhere’. There is The Northside, there is The Southside, and there is Town, not the beating centre but the blocked artery that cuts off flow from one part to the other.

Think further, those of you who live here - where do you go? You travel from home to work and back again, and occasionally, just occasionally you head in to Town. Town, a dozen streets or less, O’Connell, Henry and Mary, Grafton and Dame, maybe Thomas or Capel (or Moore if you are talking to strangers, insecure of your Southside roots and knowing you never *really* go, but always mean to, honestly). Howth and Dun Laoghaire are for residents and tourists, maybe once a year when the sky is blue and the kids are noisy you brave the Dart, but Dundrum and Liffey Valley are more familiar weekend destinations. Temple Bar is where we corral the toxic effluent, the by-product of the tourist money we so desperately depend on, so we ourselves are never contaminated by it. Smithfield is a Godardian landscape, glass and steel bleakness jarringly imposed upon its surroundings, the Docklands a monument to our Icaran elites and no less a wasteland after dark when the salarymen who inhabit only every third building travel home to their real ‘heres’.

We Are All Clowns Now, by CANVAZ
Portobello, Dublin, 26th February
For each of us inhabitants there are but three ‘heres’ in the city, the ‘here’ where you live, the ‘here’ where you work and the ‘here’ that is the square mile of Town. Everywhere else is a drive-through blur, an opaque haze on the other side of a moving window, never registering on the conscious mind, never intruding. We have no districts, not in the true sense, there is no ‘somewhere else’ to go tonight, for all elsewheres are still but a minute’s walk across the street. We go to the Local, or for variety to the other Local right beside it, or we go to Town, but no one ever goes elsewhere.

There is no travel from Deansgrange to Raheny, from Coolock to Blackrock, from Tallaght to Bray. This is no Northside/Southside thing, it is a solitude of ‘heres’. We are an archipelago of gulags with travel permits issued solely between matched pairs, home and work, work and home, the square mile of Town the occasional transit point in which we are allowed to linger.

The city planners talk not of neighbourhoods or districts, but of corridors. A city built around accessing the centre, the hub and spokes of a Penny Farthing front wheel forever pushing out the peripheries into misplanned isolation.

I try to love this city, but it’s hard.

Prefab77 for Roadworks @ Dublin Contemporary 2011
Fade Street, Dublin, 18th January
I live in the arrhythmic heart, between the canals, the true Dublin, the city centre, trapped as much as if impaled at the far end of a corridor-spoke, perhaps more so as my work ‘here’ and home ‘here’ are one and the same, juxtaposed in almost perfect symmetry with the final ‘here’ of our Dublin troika, the claustrophobic village we laughingly refer to as Town.

But even here, I try to see the elsewhere, the ‘heres’ of other people. Like Joyce’s Brownian hero I try to ramble, through side streets and routes circuitous, eyes raised, not fixed ahead or fastened firmly to the ground at foot, to see the Other that would normally pass by unregistered, unnoticed. I will travel not from A to C through B, but along Q and M and back again, and though I detest doubling back that doesn’t mean I always take the arrow’s path.

I am a browser of the city’s Outernet, one link clicked takes me somewhere new, somewhere else, somewhere unexpected. Never that far off-route that I sink into the Really Real World equivalent of a Wikipedia Sunday, those lost days spent falling down the rabbit holes of hyperlinked ephemera, but a diversion of a dozen minutes when walking from one here to the next can provide much needed distraction as the grey leaches from the city streets and threatens to trap your bones in a tarnished mercury molasses.

A year ago in an effort to see the streets anew I cycled from lamp-post to lamp-post tracking down the words and images of the UpStart writers, poets, painters and photographers. Of late I have been viewing the city through the eyes of its Street Artists, those who seek to transform the abandoned and discarded, to challenge the monochromatic minds of the citizenry with colour both physical and metaphysical, vibrant and alive. I’ve learned to look up, down, around and most importantly, to look outside myself. To see the art is to see the artist, and to see the painted wall is to see the community in which the wall rests, not just a place to pass by, but as someone else’s ‘here’.

To see that the city has not just three, but a multitude of ‘heres’.

To see that if people love the city enough to try and transform its forgotten places with beauty and thought, then maybe I too can come to love it.

And I want to love this city.

I really do.

The Game of Love by ADW
Spencer Dock Luas Stop, Dublin, 26th February

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At 1:17 pm, Anonymous Niall said...

Good stuff!

At 3:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are seriously blinkered with "grass is greener on the other side" blinkers.


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