Artist Kerry Guinan says she was surprised when the Gardaí visited her to warn her about her art installation, to tell her not to do it again.
Guinan’s art work involves institutional critique: using the language of institutions and the law to critique our political and economic systems. Called Presenting the Cultural Quarter, her latest work was aimed at highlighting the gentrification of Dublin.
It’s critical of the proposed development of Parnell Square as a “cultural quarter”.
The €60 million plan for the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter has been around for years. The real-estate firm Kennedy Wilson has agreed to give €2.5 million of “seed capital”, and then spearhead the effort to collect the remaining €57.5 million from private donors.
Kennedy Wilson has said that they just want to make Dublin a great place to live and work. “Our involvement on this project is purely to support what can be a really transformative project for this part of Dublin.”
But Guinan is wary of art “being used to bump up property prices in the city and instigate gentrification and social cleansing”.
“I’m very sceptical and more so critical, of corporations funding the arts under corporate social responsibility,” she says. In her work, she was “critical of them using the cultural quarter to excuse their behaviour in the city and their role in the housing crisis.”
She says she wants to know what Kennedy Wilson are getting in return for providing the money. In 2015, Dublin City Council executive Brendan Kenny said the firm would get nothing from the deal: no money, no preferential treatment for their planning applications.
Kennedy Wilson didn’t respond before deadline to queries about Guinan’s critique, and the resulting Gardaí visit.
This is not Guinan’s first step into the spotlight. She ran for TD in the Dublin Central constituency in the 2016 general election. At 23 years of age, she stood on a platform solely concerning art, and the need to free it from class.
The artwork that got Guinan in trouble involved impersonating the Hugh Lane Gallery.
The gallery, which is located on Parnell Square, is part of the plan for the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter. It’s owned by the council and admission is free.
Guinan pretended that the gallery was starting to charge a €6 admission fee. She put up a sign outside it to that effect, and sent out a press release about the change to city councillors.
At least one councillor apparently believed the email and tweeted about it, according to an article in June on TheJournal.ie, the headline of which referred to a “Bizarre hoax email”.
While the language and logos in the press release looked convincing, there were clues that indicated it might be a wind-up.
It said, for example, that “Tenants paying over €1,500 in monthly rent, workers with gross earnings of over €45,000 a year, and private sponsors of the Parnell Square redevelopment can avail of free entry.”
Guinan says that those figures are based on what she calculated to be the average rent in a Kennedy Wilson apartment, and what she imagines the average income of their tenants would be.
Someone connected Guinan to the email and the sign outside the gallery, and contacted Gardaí, Guinan says. She reckons it was the Hugh Lane Gallery, but we were unable to confirm that with them before this was published.
In any case, she says that two community Gardaí visited her at home and warned her against replicating this artwork. She told them it was art, she said.
A spokesperson for the Garda Press Office said they could not comment on a named individual’s case.
So did this visit by the Gardaí really happen? Or is Guinan’s telling the story of its occurrence another part of the artwork, a critique of how Gardaí protect government and developers from criticism, perhaps?
Guinan laughs, and says she loves these questions, but that no, this isn’t part of the artwork, the Gardaí really visited her, and, while they didn’t give her an official caution, they told her not to do it again.
Guinan’s exhibition, showcasing Presenting the Cultural Quarter, ran last weekend from Thursday to Sunday at A4 Sounds, off Dorset Street. It included the press release, the sign she placed outside the Hugh Lane and a transcription of her conversation with the Gardaí as she remembered it.
Crime or Art
So had Guinan actually broken the law? Was there a legitimate reason for Gardaí to visit her?
Dr Eoin O’Dell, an associate professor at the School of Law at Trinity College Dublin, says perhaps, yes.
If the Hugh Lane Gallery had really wanted to, they could possibly take Guinan to court for defamation, O’Dell says.
Ridicule can be defamatory, and “the courts by and large would be slow to take the view that something that was false and did poke fun, wasn’t ridicule”, he says.
Defamation is a civil matter, and so it would not involve the Gardaí, O’Dell says. He said he could not think of any criminal offence Guinan might have perpetrated with her artwork.
There are offences of impersonation, but these usually involve pretending to be a specific type of person, such as a garda, or impersonating someone in order defraud them or to gain access to information.
However, the Gardaí do have a right to follow up on complaints, even if they are not conscious of a possible criminal offence, O’Dell says.
Guinan is not the first artist to come into contact with Gardaí, says O’Dell. An artist who put a miniature nude of then Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the National Gallery back in 2009, was also interviewed by Gardaí.