I’d been asked to write something to expand on the work created during Week 2 of the Laboratory of Dissent, ‘Domesticating Conflicts’. Walking in the woods behind our house this morning to gather my thoughts there was the usual soft ground underneath and the gentle sounds of the wildlife. I stopped to stare at an injured slow worm. Instantly the dog rushed up and clumsily crushed it under one paw, unknowingly, grinning up at me with this big panting face for approval, while it struggled on the ground.
I’ll start with the car.
Domesticating conflicts, creating a space where conflict can safely take place within mutually agreed boundaries? or the taming of a wild animal, restricting and removing dangerous, unwanted instincts until behaviour is placid and curtailed, predictable?
Belfast, 1982 was the year when the realisation that I was part of a warring society became visceral. For days I trudged home from school passing the car parked outside our house, in our quiet suburban street. One day I came home and the road was closed, a soldier led me past the armoured vehicles into my home where I sat with my family and watched the news as the man’s face who had lain in the boot of that car for the last few days was shown, a punishment shooting, carried out in more troubled area of the city but left in our quiet street to lie unnoticed.
That intrusion, the subtle bringing of conflict, the car, like a trojan horse, into my, prior to that, protected domestic space, Bachelards ‘place to dream’ was a game changer.
And so Week 2 and we all bought our various conflicts to the sterility of the white space, what is it that draws us to remove them from the domestic framework and place them there? I brought my car, cut from anaglypta wallpaper, a material used to paper over the cracks of an uneven and sub standard wall, and I pasted it to the gallery wall. Gradually the gallery filled with those things, past work, domestic objects, severed from their usual environment. Discussions took place. Daily I painted over the anaglypta wallpaper – the car became almost invisible – but still there.
As the week drew to a close it resurfaced again, fractured and ghostlike in the form of a projected installation on clingfilm, a temporary material, caught by the breeze of passing visitors, fragile and changeable, for brief hour or so.
“It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into the known through false divination or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives; it’s a celebration of darkness, willing – as that ‘I think’ indicates – to be uncertain even about its own assertion. –excerpt from Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable (2009)”, Men Explain Things To Me: And Other Essays (2014): referred to by August Jordan in her critique of the first two weeks of The Laboratory of Dissent
“Talk about the car, doesn’t the audience need to know, is that important?”
It has become my belief that the endeavour of visual art must largely be to articulate the areas where words can’t quite reach, the cracks in between, the ambiguities that don’t fit neatly in one box for another. The car is not a neat thing – it has the capacity, I hope, to morph and change, both for myself and others. Researching ‘dissent’ as a methodology must employ object, material, space if we are to avoid shutdown, the closing off of ‘grim political or ideological narratives’, if we are to allow the darkness.
The lie detector TV chair
Perhaps it was the introduction of motherhood, that lauded vocation and mantle of responsibility that encouraged us all to instinctively want to disrupt and misbehave, and ‘agitate’ the other groups, to invade their space.
‘(Social) space is a (social) product… the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action; that in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control, and hence of domination, of power; yet that, as such, it escapes in part from those who would make use of it’ – Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 26
As an art student I dissented from the word go. The reading list was lost in the first day and lectures equated to lost studio time, a transaction I wasn’t willing to participate in. Institutions have always been an invitation to dissent. The Northern Irish have a tendency to want to smirk at things, the more serious subject matter the more humour is a weapon to dispel control (at one point the gaffa tape in the aisles of B&Q was labelled ‘Hostage tape’, for all your kidnapping needs). The home-made lie detector chair is a frivolous invitation to destabilise the institution of the gallery. It is an invitation to play. The guidelines in the instruction booklet invite mischief. ‘Are you the most talented artist in the room?’
Does it work?, it can do, but its power, I hope, lies not in the simple circuit board, not in the infantile questions, but in the essence of the exchange and the larger issues that are hinted at by its mere presence in the gallery space.
“illusion and truth, power and helplessness; the intersection of the sector man controls and the sector he does not control” – Lefebvre, Henri (1947). The Critique of Everyday Life. Verso. ISBN 1844671941