The Hidden Garden

In late 2007, Kevin Downey contacted Dublin City Council to see what they thought of handing over a disused plot of land, cornered by three streets, to the residents of Summer St. North for the purpose of growing fruit & vegetables. It was a vague idea, and after visiting the site, it was looking to be a pretty scary idea. The plot of land in question was used as a dumping ground for all kinds of household waste for over 30 years. Dublin City Council regularly cleared the place, to make way for more household rubbish, and on it went.

Up until the early 1980s, a few small cottages sat on that space in a small terrace called Summer Row. The footprint of that small area was the place we met with Dublin City Council over a year and a half ago, who were doing a feasibility study on the site before they handed it over to us.

It seemed quite a daunting task, one, which we all agreed, could literally have to be abandoned and the key turned if things didn’t go well. Surrounded by houses, surveying the rubbish, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I myself was under surveillance – a fact confirmed much later by one of the residents who thought I was from the council, equipped with a camera equipment. It was quiet with only the sound of dogs barking and what sounded like more than a few parrots. The vague plan had a poly-tunnel in mind, and on viewing the space, the idea of allotments quickly had turned to a community garden due to the physical size, which was 16 meter square approximately.

The idea of community gardening is to promote healthy communities, bringing people in touch with growing their own food as well as tackling isolation by creating a strong social community. It is a heartwarming to witness neighbors who didn’t know each other, who have lived only a few doors apart for years, make regular contact in the garden. Residents literally pour out with 15 cups of tea and trays of sandwiches and biscuits for gardeners. The North Inner City has well-known and documented social problems, but one thing the people of this area have never lost is the sense of goodwill and benevolence. The spirit that has been generated from a 16-meter square plot of land is touching to witness.

We applied for various community funding and have been generously supported by Agenda 21, Croke Park and RAPID in the form of grants for a poly-tunnel, fencing to make the garden secure, garden sheds, tools, plants, topsoil, raised beds, a wormery, water harvesters and a community art project, and much more. And we’re not done yet. Plans are afoot to engineer a bike, when cycled, will pump water from the buried tank into the poly-tunnel irrigation system, or to raised water butts. We also applied for funding to re-route water from the roofs of houses into water butts which will be located outside their gates, adjacent to the garden.

This is an 8-minute promo of the documentary that I am filming around the entire transformation of the garden. We hope to show the documentary in the garden space in the Autumn, as an outdoor projection.


Your People Needs You!

It is a long time since a TV documentary moved me to the extent that Prime Time Investigates did last night on RTÉ1. People the length and breadth of the country whose loved ones are suffering with Alzheimer’s disease told us their story. All of them had this in common: they all felt deflated and beaten, they were helpless and powerless against a state service that is supposed to help the most vulnerable in our so called society. That state service is the HSE, and you don’t get much more vulnerable than an 80 year old woman who is cared for 24 hours a day by her son’s family, who can’t do anything for herself, or an elderly man who just about remembers how to walk and eat. They all live in a muddled and mixed up world where very little makes sense. Surely in this day and age, in a developed country like Ireland, it is a basic human right to be cared for when we can no longer care for ourselves; for suffering families to be given proper advice and support, and the very least, a simple break. Surely, the taxes we pay throughout our lives must mean there is some cushion in our final years if things not in our control go out of control; for when families need help to do the most basic of things which take the most excruciating amounts of time and effort, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But it appears this is far from a reality for the people interviewed for that TV program, and for the other 44,000 families who suffer with Alzheimer’s or related dementia in this country. We may be in a slump, and we all get that city and county council’s have no money. We get that, and the majority of us understand it. We all know that it will get better again. What I fail to understand however is how in God’s name we can prop up capitalism with the most obscene amounts of money, and unapologetically ignore our most in need. Eugene get’s two hours a week from the HSE to care for his mother, the same woman who would go hungry at Christmas so he could have Santa. He doesn’t want to put her in a home, and why should he? In his own incredibly touching words, “the least I owe her, is what I’m doing for her now”. Kate Arthurs, a young woman, felt she had no other choice but to abandon her own mother Rosemary in the A&E department in Mullingar in order to force the state to help.

What have we become? A nation that prefers profit over people. A nation that tolerates a decrepit health system that has proved itself inadequate time and time again, as it saves penny’s and spends pounds, and delivers us only a stack of statistics that is supposed to make us feel better. I don’t feel better, and neither should anyone else paying tax to a government who treats suits and boardrooms with more respect than the honest men and women who made this country what it is.

Let’s strip away all the threats of the IMF coming into Ireland, and of being banished to a cave far from the Eurozone party. Is trampling over our most defenseless people and losing all touch with reality really worth it? Our people is what make this country great. Our country just doesn’t understand this.

Last night, I was ashamed to be part it.


Draíocht Residency

I’m almost one week in on a 15-month residency in Draíocht. Feeling like the new boy all week finding my ways around and through the building, remembering codes, names, where the kitchen, toilets and photocopier is. Unlike my fantastic Limerick residency, this will be a little different – in a positive way. There’s no-one else but little old me sitting in a big fish-bowl for adults, looking onto the street outside of Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. And it’s slightly longer. The timeframe is excellent as I will need it all in order to pull of what I think I will pull off.

The area of focus will once again be on the elderly. Ageing is already beginning to have a relevance in contemporary visual art. Here in Ireland in the last few months, significant developments have been made at government level which is beginning to dramatically shift the meaning of what ‘old’ really is. Under the Government’s plan, published on March 3rd 2009, the retirement age will be raised to 66 in four years and eventually to 68 as part of a comprehensive reform of the pension system. This will not be isolated to Ireland. The UK has already begun to debate this and other countries will have choice but to follow as people are living longer and are healthier. Does this mean their relevance in society will change too? Time will tell. In the meantime, my stage and spotlight will be coming to Blanch soon to give them as much showtime as possible.

Artist Sutdio, Draíocht


A February Breath

A new year, he says in February, but I’ve been busy. Too busy apparently to update my blog. Since my last post, I’ve had a show in Dublin at The Exchange Gallery with Gubu, who finally came to the capital to disgrace himself and be put on show. It was a quick show mind you, lasting only two weekends and less that two weeks. That said, it feels good to have him aired and better to have him resting again back in his box, as it were. The installation was a lot more work than I thought (isn’t it always?), which included 24 ancient to fairly recent TV’s, 15 RF modulators, 22 coaxial cables, 4 coax splitters, 10 SCART cables, 16 DVD players, 16 edited snippets of Gubu on DVD, 120 meters of phono cables and 67 hand-written anonymous postings about the recession.

The TV’s were stacked in a circle in the centre of a room. Each TV played a looped 1-2 minute movie, mimicking the country’s circular motion of progress. The only sensible thing to do then was to inflict the same motion onto the audience, and make them go around in circles in order to view the segments of film. Chaos was the order of the day, as 16 soundtracks played simultaneously, some of which were intermixed with random segments of static, rolling TV pictures, and a TV test card all signifying a societal breakdown of communication and a sense of general chaos. All a big grim? The recession cards posted by a gallery audience over a 4-week period brought hope and a ray of sunshine as one positive person wrote “It can get better”.

Gubu - Installation

Gubu Installation @ The Exchange Gallery Dublin

On that note, yes. Yes it can. I’ve been offered a 15 month residency in Draíocht, which is a fantastic arts centre in Blanchardstown. The residency begins on March 1st, and will involve me working on my own practice towards a show there in September 2011 and also with a youth group in the Dublin 15 area, which will culminate in another show and publication in April of 2011. Exciting times ahead, and for the moment, Gubu is being ignored.


That’s the one!

Tues. 26/February/2008

I arranged with JP on the phone that I’d call up on Tuesday. Called into him two days earlier and he was glued to the TV watching the rugby (Ireland V. Scotland). The TV was so loud and he engrossed in it that I took my leave. Tuesday at 2pm I called up again, and the TV was on again, turned up so much that he didn’t hear me come in. He was at the cooker making dinner and seemed glad to see me. As I couldn’t really hear him, I turned the TV off. He was asking me if I wanted some food, saying how good the tinned salmon was that he was having, because it was wild. He never took any slop when it came to food; he would always peel the skin away from sausages. ‘Rotten’ he called it. He was making salmon, spuds and a sort of pork gravy and carrots. It looked and sounded very strange but on eating it, turned out to be actually lovely. During dinner I recorded our conversation, which was mostly around his pack of wild cats getting it on in the back garden. After dinner I set up my light. The shot was a retake from the last one only I wanted a spotlight shot of him with the cable release and the empty room without him in it. This was my third visit photographing JP. The more I do with the spotlight the more I like it. I love the vigenetting around the edges – shadows and darkness have their own connotations. The polaroid back screwed up all my polaroids. The very last shot we done, he made a joke, perched on the table, before he pressed the cable release and was grinning as he took it. He winked at me with that smile on his face, after the flash had fired and said “That’s the one!”. After I pulled the equipment down, I had tea with him – some queen cakes and a small kitkat. I’m probably finished photographing JP now. I brought him the latest photo of him in his waistcoat. He loved it.

I have this photo hanging in my house now, in the spare room. He beams smiles at anyone who walks in. The funny thing about that shoot was the one he called ‘the one’ really was the one. I don’t get to see him very much anymore as I don’t get to Donegal as much as I would like. I called in very briefly on New Year’s Eve to say hello before I hit the roads back to Dublin, getting ahead of the snow. Attempting to replace a bulb on a stepladder a few months earlier, he had a fall. Ever since then, he has been in and out of hospital and his health hasn’t been great. A relative was there with him getting his medication together. His reply to my question of how he was doing had his usual jokey answer. “I’m fucked” he said with a bit of a smile, straightening himself up a bit, but in it, for the first time, I think I saw resignation in his eyes. He’s 96 going on 97.

In the making of Wearing Purple, the relationships that I have reconnected from my childhood have been the best bit of that whole process. Meeting and really getting to know JP again for example, who lives just a few doors up from me, was almost a blessing. You encounter people like that in your life and they inspire you. His positive and outward looking life is something we can all aspire to have as we grow old, something that can inspire others, something that says ‘growing old is OK’.

James Patrick Boyle, 1914