Artist intervention, Ballymun, Dublin.

The artwork was an intervention by Augustine O’Donoghue, developed in response to the public art commission, Amaptocare (2003-ongoing), by internationally renowned artist, Jochen Gertz, in Ballymun, Dublin. The intervention was a critical exploration by O Donohue of some of the ideas and issues surrounding the project in the context of the regeneration process in Ballymun.

Gertz’s public art commission consisted of inviting members of the public to buy trees from him, which would be planted in Ballymun. People who bought the trees were asked the question: “If this tree could speak, what would it say for you?” Their answers would then be inscribed on a metal plaque beside the tree. The names of those who bought trees were also due to be inscribed into the granite surface of Ballymun’s new Civic Plaza and spot-lit. O’Donoghue’s intervention involved buying four of the trees, and through the opportunity to respond to Gertz’s question, attempted to open up dialogue within the work. The four pieces of text she composed were placed alongside the trees she purchased in Ballymun.

How democratic is the artwork amaptocare? After all, the project is only open to those who can afford to pay the necessary €50 to €295 that the artists is charging for the trees. Considering the socio-economic situation of many of the residents of Ballymun, many not be able to afford the costs of the trees and thus are excluded from participation. Perhaps the works are more a reflection of a capitalist’s society, where those who have money get to participate and have their voice and concerns heard more fully then those who are less well off, an experience many residents of Ballymun community have experienced and fought against over the years. What do you think?

I would question the suitability of engraving the names of patrons (people who care) onto the civic plaza this may lead to a feeling of exclusion for those who were unable to afford to make a donation or those who disagree with the project on principle. It could be seen as a public reminder that they are not one of the people who care. Ballymun is full of people who have volunteered and contributed their time, energy, goodwill and hard work in all shapes and forms down through the years and will continue to do so. The artwork does not acknowledge these people; rather it acknowledges those that show they care through the act of handing over money. Surely a publicly funded art commission for the area should avoid this sort of exclusion.

It is interesting to note, that Ballymun Regeneration Limited who commissioned the artist to do this public artwork, sold part of the public park in Ballymun to GAMMA Construction for €15 million for the development of private houses and apartments. Despite having a budget of billions, BRL say they need the money to provide social amenities in the area. It seems rather conflicting on one hand to be commissioning an artist to do a project that’s concerned with greening up the area (and asking the residents to pay for it) and on the other hand they are selling off public park land in Ballymun community that’s in public ownership and use.

The problem with this project is that you have to pay for the right to publicly declare that you care. No alternatives to money were offered to residents for the purchase of a tree. Why not develop a barter system, where time energy and creativity could have been exchanged for a tree? Should the residents of Ballymun have to pay money to be part of a publicly funded art project in their community? Should providing trees in the area be the responsibility of the government and not the residents?

 

Installation, The Digital Hub, Dublin.

For O’Donoghue’s installation at The Digital Hub in Dublin in 2006, her four texts were exhibited on the wall, accompanied by a written essay, which elaborates on these textual responses, teasing out and challenging some of the ideology around the work. The audience was also invited to respond to and interact with the ideas being put forward, by writing comments on the walls. Copies of the essay were available for the public to take away.

Shown alongside this work was an installation based on the Movimentos dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil. The installation examined this socio-economic model as a concrete alternative to the capitalist system and ideology. The MST is the largest social organisation in Latin America, an agrarian movement in a country that has the most unequal land distribution in the world – less than 3% of the population own 2/3 of the land which crops can be grown on. The MST has mobilised thousands of people, often those living on the margins of society, to occupy unused land until legal ownership of the property is granted. Their aim is not just to acquire land for the landless, but also to create communities in which the formerly excluded become active, socially engaged citizens. The movement formed just over 20 years ago but they now occupy land 3/4 the size of the Republic of Ireland, with over half a million people now living on the land.

The installation was made up of various elements, including lightboxes which contained photographic images from a MST camp in São Paulo in Brazil, documenting their land, bean crops and nurseries. The MST are involved in a nationwide programme in Brazil that involves replanting trees across the country. When individuals come to work with them in their nursery, no monetary exchange takes place; instead, workers are given fruit trees. In this way, people can learn to make their own nurseries and in time, will have fruit to eat from their own trees. Information about the movement, as well as bean plants from the MST in Brazil, were available for the public to take home and grow.