Has the artists been paid? was created for an open-submission exhibition called ‘Circulation’, which took place in August 2013 across two Dublin venues – Monster Truck Gallery and FLOOD. Invited by Black Church Print Studio to curate an exhibition based on the word ‘circulation’, curator Paul McAree sought work exploring modes of ‘production’ and ‘distribution’. He had a particular interest in works that use an economy of means to question and examine social or political themes, using easily available and cheap means of production, such as leaflets, photocopies, posters, printmaking, flyers and collage.

 All work received in the open submission process was guaranteed to be shown, providing artists paid the €15 submissions fee, even if it was the proposal itself that was displayed. Has the artists been paid? sought to highlight and challenge the often-overlooked issue of artists’ unpaid labour and the widespread practice of charging artists a fee to exhibit their work. At the time of the exhibition, Visual Artist Ireland were undertaking an advocacy campaign on working conditions for artists, using the slogan “Ask! has the artist been paid?” O’Donoghue’s proposal was a personal response, engagement and contribution to this campaign. She saw the proposed artwork as a way of publicly highlighting the living and working conditions of artists.

The proposed artwork involved the artist creating hundreds of unique homemade flyers on different types of paper, cardboard and canvas, using a range of styles and materials, including pen, ink and watercolour. The front of each flyer would contain the text “Has the artist been paid?”. The back of each flyer would outline factual information on funding and working conditions for artists in Ireland. It was proposed that the flyers would be exhibited in a wall-mounted transparent Perspex flyer box, similar to ones used in venues. The flyers would be available as free artworks for members of the public to take home. In return they would be asked to raise the question “Has the artist been paid?” with the gallery staff or the curator.

The exhibition coincided with the centenary of the 1913 Dublin Lockout – one of the most historic battles for labour rights and union representation, waged against the Irish capitalist class. To mark this anniversary, as well as the ongoing struggle for labour rights, the artist proposed to undertake a performance from 9am to 5pm on 26 August 2013. This would entail travelling along the Luas line, distributing the handmade flyers, and engaging in conversation with commuters on the question of labour issues for artists. The performance would also involve the artist visiting a number of cultural institutions in Dublin city and distributing the flyers to visitors entering the buildings. The flyers would also be left inside these buildings at the designated flyer area. It was proposed that the day’s work would be documented by a photographer and exhibited in the gallery. To complete this work, the artist requested that the artist and photographer be paid by the exhibition organisers for their day’s labour, reflecting the time, effort and professionalism of their work. Minimum wage in Ireland at the time was €8.65 per hour.

Another stipulation of this proposal was that the artist would obtain a fee for exhibiting her work. However, the organisers of exhibition were unable to secure this, or offer her any payment for her day’s work. Instead, the proposal was exhibited along with a flyer. A note was placed beside the work encouraging gallery visitors to discuss the payment of exhibiting artists with galleries and curators. The text also encouraged visitors and other artists to lobby their local government representatives, with regard to providing adequate funding for the visual arts in Ireland.

The experience of not being able to obtain payment for the work reinforced the need to highlight issues around artists working conditions. The artist later decided to go ahead with the performance as an autonomous action, separate to the exhibition. After the exhibition, the work was purchased by Visual Artists Ireland for their collection. The work was also featured on the front cover of the September/October 2013 issue of VAI’s publication, The Visual Artists’ News Sheet. https://visualartists.ie/van-septemberoctober-2013/