An Irish Presence

ANNE MULLEE REPORTS ON THE CONTRIBUTION OF IRISH ARTISTS AND CURATORS AT THE 57TH VENICE BIENNALE.

Many of the reviews of curator Christine Macel’s ambitious handling of her two huge, artist-centered ‘Viva Arte Viva!’ exhibitions at La Biennale di Venezia have drawn less than fulsome praise, with critics variously citing too many weak works, not enough diversity and flabby contextualisation, among other criticisms. Of course, the 57th Biennale is far more than a sum of these parts. Perhaps reflecting the increasingly globalised art world, this year sees the inclusion of new pavilions from first-time participants Antigua and Barbuda, Kiribati and Nigeria. As more countries are invited to participate in the event, reflections on nationhood are becoming an increasingly common trope. Virtual utopian state NSK hosts Turkish artist Ahmet Öğüt, who has worked with young refugees to run a live passport office, where I secured an NSK State Passport (nskstate.com). In contrast, the southern part of the globe is represented in Venice by the Antarctic Pavilion, which is not so much an imagined state as a state of enquiry. Instigated by Russian artist and biennale stalwart Alexander Pononmarev, the pavilion provides a platform to showcase artworks and projects by various invited artists who participated in the first Antarctic Biennale – a 12-day artistic research expedition undertaken in March 2017 with 100 participants aboard the research vessel Akademik Ioffe.

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Towards a Post -Patriarchal State

­­­­JOANNE LAWS INTERVIEWS SARAH BROWNE AND JESSE JONES ABOUT THEIR ONGOING PROJECT ‘IN THE SHADOW OF THE STATE’.

Joanne Laws: Perhaps you might explain how your collaboration came about and introduce some of your initial ideas in developing this major new project?

Sarah Browne/Jesse Jones: We’d known each other’s practices for many years and felt that at some stage we would find the right opportunity to work together. In 2014, we started discussing a potential collaboration with Patrick Fox (then Director of Create), and later Rachel Anderson (then producer/curator at Artangel, London). We attempted to identify the greatest urgencies for us as artists at that time and felt there was a renewed need to examine and refigure the position of women in relation to a patriarchal nation state. From the beginning of our work together, law and its instruments have been a critical focus. The Irish Sea also loomed large in our imagination.

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The Touching Contract

Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones, the Rotunda Hospital Pillar Room, Dublin, 23 – 25 September 2016

The day of the second public performance of Jesse Jones and Sarah Browne’s The Touching Contract fell on a date of heightened emotion for women in Ireland, taking place just hours after Dublin saw thousands take to the streets in the fifth annual March for Choice, part of the campaign demanding that the government repeal the Eighth Amendment. The atmosphere in the Rotunda Pillar Room’s ante-chamber was withdrawn and respectful; the audience appeared fragile.

The third chapter of four performative works in the pair’s first collaboration ‘In the Shadow of the State’ was devised in consultation with local women. [1] Feminist legal scholar Mairead Enright wrote the ‘legal score’ for the work, drawing on the archive of legal documents relating to the treatment of Irish women by the state and by the medical profession, both here and in the UK. This source material reveals a sorry history of medical misdemeanors and the enforced adoption of illegitimate children. The artists view this legacy as a history of violence against women and, given the horrors endured by survivors of symphysiotomy [2] and those who suffered incarceration at the hands of the church (in the Magdalene Laundries for example), it is difficult to argue otherwise.

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