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Artist Gary Reilly spent two weeks with Dublin City Council workers who clean Thomas Street in the Liberties, to create his film All That Is Solid, about their lives.
As the street sweeper van jumps and hops at every crack and bump in the road, the council workers talk about how their once-stable future is looking shaky.
“The consistent wage packet […] has educated the three kids – that’s a lot to be grateful for,” one worker says in the film. But the job doesn’t feel that secure anymore since bin collection was privatised in 2012.
They worry that street cleaning could be privatised as well, or that automation or other developments in technology could threaten their livelihoods. “The threat is hanging over them,” says Reilly.
Most of the council workers in the film are local men from the Liberties, who appear to work well together. There seems to be a sense of camaraderie.
“They enjoy the job, and they feel part of the community. If it was privatised, it would be different,” says Reilly. Some might lose their jobs; the group could be broken up.
“Some of them have been doing the job for 20 years,” says Michelle Browne, lecturer in the Department of Sculpture and Expanded Practice in NCAD, and curator of “In Public, In Particular”, the exhibition of which Reilly’s film is part.
All That Is Solid is just one of 15 works being exhibited at NCAD this Thursday and Friday, 30 November and 1 December, as part of the exhibition focusing on interactions with locals, and examining issues affecting the Thomas Street area.
Many of the pieces in “In Public, In Particular” touch on issues of gentrification and the erosion of working-class ways of life.
The project didn’t start out aiming to explore these themes, says Browne, the curator, but they reflect locals’ concerns and the students’ experiences.
“The students feel it too, because it’s impacting them as well,” Browne says. “They can’t necessarily afford to live in the area. The student accommodation that is going up is hugely expensive.”
Artist Yuirka Higashikawa is giving a walking tour as part of the exhibition, examining the inaccessibility of that new student accommodation for most ordinary students.
And Higashikawa will also be looking at the relationship of the area to housing and homelessness. “Looking at the changing nature of this area,” says Browne. “There isn’t as much social housing as there was.”
“Keep the Recovery Going”
Kevin O’Kelly made an interactive piece in conjunction with traders on Thomas Street, during the general election 2016. “Enda Kenny was in charge then. I was thinking about his motto of ‘Keep the recovery going’,” says O’Kelly.
“What I ended up doing was I bought 40 rolls of toilet paper off the traders, for €10 and I made a bust of Enda Kenny’s head with it,” O’Kelly says.
In keeping with the trade theme, he put up the bust of Kenny on DoneDeal, he says. But he didn’t get any concrete offers. He wanted to trade it for material to make something else with, but instead he got stuck with Kenny’s head.
“I’ve had him on my mantelpiece for months,” O’Kelly says. Kenny himself has disappeared off the national political scene, but O’Kelly still wants to examine his legacy.
He wondered how Kenny would be remembered on Thomas Street, and carried out a number of interviews with locals to find out. For “In Public, In Particular” he will face off with the bust, he says.
“My face will be projected onto his face, and I’m miming interviews I had with people and their opinions on him,” he says. They had a range of reactions, O’Kelly says, but a lot of people felt Kenny did his best in the circumstances.
Artist Deborah Strumble looked at how people from the area interact with the local church, St. John’s, and whether that has changed since the abuse scandals.
People still use the church, but they “use it as a function hall now”, Strumble says, for events like christenings and funerals.
“We are still afraid of the church and God,” she says. “We don’t necessarily need God, but we need the reassurance that we are being christened still.”
Strumble was also looking at the “celebrity”-style funerals that she says take place in the area when “criminals” die. She made a silver urn covered in glitter and used it to prop the door of the church open, she says.
Says Browne, the lecturer and curator: “It is important for our students to think about how they can posit things into the public space and create different kinds of dialogue.”
“In Public, In Particular” is only on for a short snippet of time, starting Thursday 30 November and ending the next day at 5 pm. That’s partly due to the interactive nature of many of the works, which include tours, performances, and interventions.
Other highlights include the series of posters Eoin Haide created with the horsemen of the Thomas Street, celebrating the culture of horse husbandry. They’ll be displayed on hoardings on the street, and in the window of the NCAD Gallery.
Clara Scullion will offer audio tours of the Thomas Street area, sharing knowledge she has gathered from locals who live and work there, and looking beyond the “official tourist narrative”.
Dawid Radziwill, meanwhile, has made a sculpture of Bang Bang’s house key, which people can take home for a night.
Admission is free. There’s more information on “In Public, In Particular” here.