24 September 2012

Tell me how to win your heart (for I haven't got a clue)

Longer term readers (and those not so longer-term) may know that I have a difficult relationship with my home city of Dublin.

I find it a very hard place to like, let alone love, when the cold grey blanket of the sky tips the tops of colder grey buildings squatting low to the ground, the weight of bloated meloncholia souring the mood of all who shuffle by enburdened below, Atlas-ants shouldering ten times their mass in the misfortunes of other people, with the casual violence and random alcohol-fuelled attacks, the streets filled with human waste and walls stained with post-pub Pollocks, the orange-hued fash-mob click-clacking on jittery heels using buggies and bags as weapons of war trying so desperately to consume their way out of their hollow, hollow lives, and all those who stand back silently with heads bowed in obsequience as indignity upon indignity is shovelled upon them from the laughing classes above, those paymasters to the Gombeen Oligarchy who incinerate our hopes and dreams to fuel the miasmic shroud that envelopes the city whole.

Not an easy place to love, though I try. I genuinely try.

Though I missed Culture Night in the city this year, experiencing all the musical delights that Callan, County Kilkenny had to offer, one piece from the evening did catch my eye, entitled Engage by the Tank Collective, who partnered with Eircom to decorate six phone boxes in the city centre as an ongoing art installation, encompassing both visual and audio pieces access through dialling a freephone number from within the booth, and thus on Saturday afternoon I set out to see these pieces in what passed for a bright but cold Autumnal afternoon.

Phone boxes are a sad anachronism, a holdover from an age ten minutes in the past. With the average Irish person owning 1.21 mobile phones, enclosed booths remind us of that antediluvian period when plans had to be made in advance, where arrangements to meet were coordinated days in advance, where time and location mattered and just-in-time, whether applied to logistics or human interaction, was a concept happily confined to the pages of futuristic fiction. Luckily for us as our contemporary Peter Pan parents hand babysitting duties over to those Mary Poppinses of the 21st Century, Uncle Samsung and Auntie Apple, and thus our children will never need learn the horrors of direct human contact and non-digital communication.

Today the phone boxes of Dublin serve mostly two demographics, those incensed by the City Council's lack of provision for public lavatories but incapable of writing a suitably worded letter to the Irish Times, and those heroin-positive citizens who add such an element of mystery and excitement to any trip to the city. Eircom have tried to find alternate uses for their network of phone boxes, from transforming them into wi-fi hotspots and net-kiosks to repurposing them as a street-mounted revenue stream with wrap-around ads that serve only to increase the privacy for members of our two demographics above as they go about their daily business.

Thus it was with some small amount of cynicism that I set off to explore the phone boxes of Engage, hoping desperately that my fears were misplaced, ready to open the door into a Willy Wonka wonderland of telecommunications magic and pop-up artistry. Sadly the first phone box I encountered on Stephen's Green, repurposed by Leo Scarif Design, was in the process of being unrepurposed by Messers Junkie & Junkier, each occupying a separate booth whilst burning their recent purchases, the glow of the tinfoil casting playful shadows across the yellow screen of the phone unit in a manner almost certainly unplanned by Leo Scariif, but not entirely without its artistic merits.

I quickly moved on.

 Mint Design's piece, outside the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, was undergoing some emergency repairs by its creators, and so I journeyed on to Paul Mahon's Trompe-l'œil on Nassau Street, wrapped in a photo of the side wall of Trinity behind, vanishing into the background like a cloaked Klingon Warbird when the viewer squatted at just the right angle (helpfully indicated by a painted "please sit" notice on the footpath beyond).

Traveling on to College Green, Res Publica had constructed a modernist wooden bench, its bold slats rising high above the top of the booth almost entirely masking the gentlemen urinating within.With the trickles of his contribution delicately spilling out to pool around the bench's legs, the Lighthouse of Alexandria could have looked no more magnificent than they in this, their moment of oceanic triumph.

Skipping past what I assumed to be Designgoat's piece on account of a loud altercation between a couple of indeterminate age over possession of a bag of equally indeterminate contents, I moved up George's Street to find Mick Minogue's work, entitled Hello, standing just outside of the Rustic Stone restaurant at the corner of Exchequer Street, and in that moment I knew that the entire journey had been worth it.

Standing floor to ceiling inside the phone box was a wooden sculpture of Lionel Richie, one arm wrapped around the phone unit, the other caressing a series of photos on the glass siding, pictures of his blind sculptress, his eyes closed, forever locked in the eternal question, "is it me you're looking for?". Minogue had brought a sense of whimsy to this entirely site-specific installation, encapsulating completely the joy of communication within a basket of ripe cheese. As I stood there with my foot wedging open the door to photograph it, every passer-by stopped to gaze in, most who would have walked by oblivious, ignoring it as just another piece of background street furniture. The looks of joy and amusement on their faces lit up the street, they stopped to chat with each other and remember cringing slow-sets of discos-past, their pedestrian commute elevated to a voyage of rosy nostalgia.

This is what street art should be about, an invitation to pause and reflect, an inspiration or an exhortation to converse, a permission to move beyond the mundane and engage with a different part of your mind, a provocation of the positive. I wandered home full of renewed positivity, that occasionally, just occasionally this city surprises me, that it gets it right.

Mick Minogue's piece lasted for less than another eighteen hours. As he arrived in early on Sunday morning to add a few finishing touches, he discovered that some lovely person or persons unknown over the course of Saturday night had ripped out the piece almost entirely, violently breaking apart the wooden sculpture and carrying it off somewhere in tattered pieces, leaving behind only the head of Lionel Richie, affixed too securely to remove. As he shared the news of this on his blog, Minogue wrote:
"I have lived In Dublin almost 10 years now and I am embarrassed by the lack of culture and the identity it has created for itself. Its been handed over to the drunk and scum of the city who wipe their asses with it daily and throw it back in the faces of those who want to make the city a better more friendly place. The sad thing Is this is a growing problem thats seems to have no solution. Seeing the remains of my work today was crushing but at the same time a wake up call to get outta dodge. When I made this piece I instantly wanted to make more, large interactive pieces for the public. 3D graffiti that people than interact with and relate too but now I realise that that can never happen here with the mentality thats sewn deep into this culture. A large moronic, cowardly majority thats afraid of anything different, interesting, educated or just plain nice. Its sickening and as an artist living and working its really disappointing."
Congratulations Dublin, once again you have outdone yourself.

Update 25/09/12: The Tank Collective contacted me last night to say that the body of Lionel Richie had been found after some rather extensive press coverage of the incident (never have those words been used thusly in a sentence and it be a good thing). No update on how/where/why or what Minogue plans to do next, though I suspect Wooden Zombie Lionel Richie might just rise again.

On the subject of that Press coverage, apparently this made the RTE news last night, which is interesting, but I was more than a little appalled by the reaction on Broadsheet. While Broadsheet itself was sympathetic to the plight of Minogue (and Wooden Lionel Richie), the comments section went in to troll-overdrive, with so much vitriol directed at Minogue for a) trying to brighten up the city in the first place and b) being upset when someone destroyed his work. Some even tried to allege that the vandalism was a statement of criticism directed at the content of the piece itself, in which case my street must be ground zero for art critics in Dublin.

Serves me right for living in a Duchamp readymade.

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At 6:50 am, Blogger Sir Ludwig Rhinoceros III said...

So poignant it almost made me weep. You have so acutely summed up why I chose to leave everyone and everything I loved to move 18,000km to the other side of civilsation.

One day I hope to own a leather bound series of books authored by Uncle "Unkie" Dave.


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