“Art is political,” states Kerry Guinan, opening her speech in a strong, stern tone.
“We need to liberate art to liberate society,” she says. “And liberating art means liberating art from class. No longer can we afford to wait for art’s inclusion in politics. Art itself must become politics.”
Guinan is one of Dublin Central’s general election candidates. A newcomer to the world of electoral politics, she stands on a platform solely regarding art.
Her main concern? Freeing art from class.
On Monday, she stood to the front of studio six in Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. Her yellow collar contrasted against her black top, exactly the same as her distinctive election posters.
The event, during which she announced her election manifesto, was live streamed to Platform Arts in Belfast, Occupy Space in Limerick and Sample Studios in Cork.
A Radical Set of Policies
The 23-year-old is putting forward policies like no other candidate’s, and believes liberating art will benefit everyone. She believes her policies would make art accessible to all.
Her proposals include setting up free state-run art-training programmes to abolish educational barriers to art work, introducing progressive taxation on art workers and letting the state assume all responsibility for the provision of art facilities.
Guinan puts recent closures of artists’ studios in Dublin down to the state putting privatisation and speculation over creative participation in public space.
Councils place total responsibility on developers for the provision of art facilities, and ask only that they be placed in “state-identified problem areas”, she says.
As she sees it, the movement of artists to these areas benefits businesses and other organisations. “As a result the private market flourishes, rental prices increase and communities, social housing residents and eventually art workers are displaced,” she says.
Another policy she proposes is the introduction of an “Art-Producing Welfare Allowance”, which would allow access to funding for art work solely based on financial means testing.
She refers to it as the APWA. It sounds like something already.
By replacing the judgment of art with this new structure, she says there will be no class in art work.
Does she have any other, non-art related policies? Not really.
Guinan says society can be reformed and exploitation can be ended through the liberation of art. She believes the equality of all forms of culture will lead to the eradication of class. (Later, she said it wouldn’t just be through art alone, but that it could offer a vision.)
So art will be owned collectively and everyone will be able to access it.
Dissolving Art Institutions
Having received a degree in Fine Art and Visual Culture from the National College of Art and Design, Guinan now proposes to dissolve the college, as well other public art institutions “that produce class”.
These would also include the Arts Council, Culture Ireland and the Institute of Art and Design.
Would she dissolve the institution she currently stands in? “Of course I would,” she says with complete seriousness, despite laughter in the room. “This institution produces class and you’re all producing class by being here.”
As she tells it, NCAD is only open to those who can afford to attend, while bureaucratic funding bodies give based on education and ability to self-promote. She believes her policies will end the dominance of art by the wealthy.
Though she disagrees with the teachings of NCAD, she now plans to use what she learned there to her advantage.
She continues her speech in the same calm, collected tone with a somewhat scary intensity.
“As an art worker, I am institutionalised. I have been trained by classist state institutions to be networked, to be self-promoting, to internalise the language of bureaucracy. I will now use these skills to contest in and win this general election, become a representative of the state and to liberate art from class,” she says.
That sounds straightforward, right?
An Ulterior Motive?
Guinan concludes her speech after a dozen minutes before opening the floor to questions. The audience start with some serious queries, and she responds in the same controlled tone.
Her confidence conveys that she has given an excellent answer, but in reality her replies are often repetitive, cryptic and mind-boggling. She is stealthy when it come to responding to questions without actually answering them.
It’s not unlike the discussions that go on between mainstream politicians relating to economics and the likes of the mysterious fiscal space.
A talented public speaker, Guinan could be dangerous, if she ever became an elected representative.
Through her answers, the ludicrousness of her plans begin to show. But she remains serious.
She refuses the possibility of entering into a coalition “with any bourgeois party”. She says she believes she has the power to implement her policies alone without being in government, and that it should be all done within one term.
“But you’ll be outvoted in the Dáil,” pipes up a man in the crowd.
“This is irrelevant,” she says, razor sharp.
After continuously avoiding the question of how she could implement the policies, she finally comes up with an answer in response to the third last query.
“To repeatedly ask me how I might achieve things, how I might quantify things, how I might fit into this system of politics, is to degrade art, is to require that it answers and quantifies for its work,” she says.
And finally, with the penultimate question of the evening, someone asks what we’re all wondering.
Is this art?
“This may be revealed by my previous answer, but it is completely unimportant to me whether or not this is art. This is a political campaign, I’m a candidate for the Irish general election 2016. This is true and it is up to you where the art is or is not,” she says.
Politics in Perspective
Guinan maintains that her left-wing utopian vision for the future of art is possible. In fact, she maintains that it is easily achievable.
Is she delusional? Probably not.
Guinan’s chances of being elected are non-existent, despite the confidence she displays. And even if she was in with a chance, what she promises isn’t really feasible.
But she is successfully and intentionally highlighting the issues that face many artists in the city. And she is getting artists involved in the political debate, which no other candidate is doing to even close to the same extent.
Though she declined to comment about her personal situation regarding studio closures and receiving funding from institutions – because it’s about all art workers, not just her – a little googling reveals that she did previously hold a residency at Block T, which is due to close and move elsewhere.
By her own count, she survives on €10,000 annually, or €200 a week. (Visual Arts Ireland say 64 percent of visual artists earn less than €10,000 from creative and non-creative work.) Still, she is investing her own money to fund this election campaign, she says.
Through the long, drawn-out sentences, she is encouraging artists to imagine alternative art structures. She is getting people thinking.
Is each candidate’s election campaign a performance? How much of what they say is a confidently told untruth? Are other candidates likely to fulfill the visions they are promising?
(CLARIFICATION: This article was updated at 12.17 on Friday 19 February, to clarify the amount that artists earn, according to Visual Arts Ireland, and to clarify that Guinan believes that it is not just through art that class will be eradicated.)