Thursday, August 30, 2012

Those Who Prefer Erasure



I live in St. Mary's parish, near King's Island in Limerick. At a major intersection nearby there's a site that has been disused for some time. This summer a few pieces of art appeared on the hoarding, around the time of the street festival on the Island. I don't know if they were directly related, since I was out of town at the time. I recorded the art in situ on 25 July 2012. Exactly one month later I went back and shot what remained. I took care to enhance the contrast in the paints and capture the bold colours in all their vitality.

The first diptych I titled "dogs / territory / erased", since I am fascinated with what the art says about territory and identity. The soil has been marked out underneath the dogs but not the people. The dog on the right breaches the barrier between two boards, even though it would have been easier to paint the figure entirely to the right of this fracture. Despite the possible tensions, the people are happy. Territory is being defined and even defended, but as part of the established codes of the community.

The erasure of this artwork is an act of violence. The boards have not been painted over in a consistent fashion; instead we can see from the brush-strokes that the art has been specially targeted. But despite all efforts to erase them, their trace remains.

In the original work, two men and two dogs were negotiating a territory that included the very place the art was situated: the public facing of a hoarding on a city street. Painting over this representation is an attempt to dominate the public sphere with private property, a fight which has long since been won on the side of commercial interests. Malls are owned by corporations. Streets are dominated by vehicular traffic. Where can the public be found any more? In a park? Think again: parks are owned by city corporations who police allowed activities.

(These issues are of some interest to me. My sound art raises similar questions, through the act of field recording and the later reconstitution of subjective sonic environments in the recording studio.)



The second pairing, from the same physical site, tells a similar story. In "birds / freedom / revoked" a bird of prey in proper formal profile is paired with the emblematic portrayal of a bird in flight. This too speaks to the human use of animals for functional purposes, as working tools, as ways of defining territory. But instead of conflict within the pictorial field, here the conflict is only implied.

Instead, the emphasis is on freedom, as represented by the bird in flight. This is a freedom not many people living on an inner-city estate might have. Does the artist wish to fly off to new lands? Or stay at home and survey his own terrain? In either case, over-painting denies the artist his wishes, and in a rather brutal manner.

As a photographer I can find formal interest in the buffed art, in the textures of white paint, the hues that show through from beneath, and so on. At the same time I am offended that someone thought it necessary to "clean up" an already ugly site, by removing the one piece of human life and creativity that adorned it.

I hope the original artist reads this and realises that despite the prohibitions of property, their work has reached out and said something meaningful to me. This is the street art that should be promoted throughout Limerick, as an example of local culture and vitality.


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