Nothing inside the Tivoli Square’s designated cultural space seemed to suggest that an exhibition was a little over two weeks away.

The unpainted walls were bare – even if the white plaster around the grey concrete went some way to resembling a Mark Rothkoesque fresco.

Wooden pallets stood around, empty plastic wheelie containers, and an office chair that was unusually tall, like a baby’s high chair.

On Wednesday evening, as the artists Eve Woods and Aoife Ward entered the ground-floor space next to the Staycity aparthotel, the fluorescent lights flicked on overhead automatically.

They only work on a motion sensor, Woods says. “So you can’t just turn them on or leave them off.”

“Which is very ungallery-like,” Ward says.

“Yeah,” Woods says, clearly holding back a laugh.

A few minutes after they take a seat at a small round coffee table, the lights go out.

The duo’s upcoming show, Con:Temporary Quarters, due to open on 31 August, is a satirical commentary on the very space in which they are exhibiting.

With sculptures, photography, maps and video work, the show is framed as a push back against the overdevelopment of temporary living quarters, like student accommodation and aparthotels, as well as the removal of spaces for community groups and culture.

The exhibition space on what was formerly the site of the now-demolished Tivoli Theatre is a case in point.

When Cantarini Limited – a subsidiary of Staycity Limited – applied for planning permission for the aparthotel, Dublin City Council requested that the loss of the venue be addressed in the development. In response, Staycity proposed this cultural space.

But more than 18 months since the aparthotel opened, the exhibition space remains underdeveloped, and what the pair want is to be transparent about this, says Ward. “It’s about showing how completely unfinished this is.”

Staycity did not respond to recent queries.

But in May, a spokesperson for the aparthotel group said: “We have a proposal put together regarding the future use of the internal ground floor at our Tivoli property. But this is currently subject to planning approval.”

Are we in an exhibition space yet?

Ward and Woods sit around the small coffee table dressed in high-vis attire. Woods is in a jumper-trouser combo, and Ward in a luminous green kilt.

Scattered across the table are old AA and Texaco road maps of Ireland and Scotland, print-outs of the site’s planning permission, and collages – including a psychedelic portrait of an androgynous person – over which a message is printed.

“The next cool thing will be being yourself,” it reads.

But, the word “yourself” is crossed out in yellow marker, with the word “Staycity” scrawled in instead.

Ward says they couldn’t get permission from Staycity’s management to drill into the walls if they wanted to hang any works up, she says. “Everything here has to be hung carefully so we’re trying to find random hooks already in the ceiling.”

Collages by the two artists. Credit: Michael Lanigan

The lack of management in charge of the space has also thrown up a few issues, Woods says.

In October 2020, Cantarini Limited set out a plan in which they said the indoor and outdoor spaces in Tivoli Square would be managed by a single operator, The Winding Stair hospitality group.

In May, a spokesperson for Staycity said that The Winding Stair are no longer involved.

Ward says in the absence of such an operator, the necessary works have not been carried out to make it fully functional. “At least the basics like toilets or cladded walls.”

Woods says they had the idea of incorporating the absence of the toilet into the show. “We were going to have a phantom toilet.”

She pointed to one corner of the room. “When someone walked over there, we would have a motion sensor, and have this flushing noise.”

It is not only what is lacking in the space that makes it feel odd, but what it has and how that is arranged.

Woods nods to a single wall where there are three sets of two-gang power sockets. “There are no sockets anywhere else in the room, which as a performance and exhibition space, doesn’t make any sense.”

The motion sensor lights switched off again.

Documenting losses

Neither Ward nor Woods ever expected that they would be working on an exhibition that was so heavily focused on interrogating planning applications, Ward says. “This to me is kinda like investigative journalism.”

Woods, who is from Galway, did painting and fine art in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, before studying visual art practices in the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

Ward, from Skerries, studied sculpture and performance in the National College of Art and Design, she says. “And I would force Eve into doing performances with me, because I’m not really that academic.”

The two artists first began to seriously pin their focus on the redevelopment of the Liberties area because they both lived in Dublin 8, Ward says. “I’ve been here six years, and I’d say this is my home now, even if I’m not from here.”

The high density of hotels, aparthotels and student blocks was difficult to ignore, Woods says.

Woods points to the Tivoli Theatre and the Monster Truck Gallery and Studios on Francis Street. “There was Backwood Studios, and South Studios which is still empty, and studios on Cork Street. It was just so visible, like this was happening before your eyes.”

What equally caught their attention was how Dublin 8 was being presented to the rest of the world, Ward says.

“Go onto websites of different hotels and student accommodations. It always seems like Dublin 8 is advertised as a stop, 10 minutes from town or the Guinness Storehouse,” she says.

“There’s a lot more going on here than that. It’s just a short walk to the Book of Kells,” she says.

Their first major collaboration was devised when they spotted an open call for the 2022 Culture Night last September, Ward says. “It was for alternative walking tours, and flippantly we said, ‘Sure, there’s no culture left, it’d just be a tour of hotels.’”

That joke spawned “A Cultural Tour of Hotels in the Liberties”, she said. “It was an hour and a half tour, in which we were satirically pro-hotel and transient accommodation, doing deep-dives on their planning applications.”

Then, in early October, the pair staged “How to Exist in Public Spaces” in the Tivoli Square’s indoor venue, she says. “We brought people in, and had short little instructions like ‘walk around the perimeter,’ ‘breathe’ or ‘just exist in general.’”

Protest art

The remnant from the previous two performances is an installation titled “An Couch Pleanála”, a dark red couch, which once belonged to an unknown cinema in the city.

A piece of debris from the erasure of Dublin’s cultural spaces, its name makes reference to An Bord Pleanála, which accepted an appeal by the Tivoli Theatre’s former owner, Anthony Byrne, to demolish the theatre venue and build the hotel.

“An Couch Pleanala” Credit: Michael Lanigan

Lidia Manzo, an urban researcher, says the two artists’ approach to depicting the re-development of Dublin 8 is fresh and special. “They want to place their art, their performance and their irony in with this critique.”

“It is something that is really needed, and not just in the Tivoli,” she says. “Because there are so many other pockets all around there that are not used.”

The Tivoli space has remained underused since the Staycity aparthotel was opened in January 2022.

But local historian James Madigan says that as part of Open House Dublin, a festival of architecture, there is a planned exhibit of more than 100 pieces of art by local school children, titled “Reimagining the Iveagh Markets”.

Organised by the Friends of Iveagh Markets, it is, he says, due to be held in early October.

As the opening night of Con: Temporary Quarters looms, Ward says she still isn’t sure what to make of the fact that Staycity haven’t raised an eyebrow at the subject matter.

“We may as well be totally transparent with them, but like, they can’t cancel us now can they?” she said.

Woods says, if they do, it would just become a bigger art piece. “If it gets cancelled, that is the artwork itself, the art that took two years and still didn’t happen.”

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, and the Business Post. You can reach him at

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