Political Space and Art: Murals and Activism in Ireland -2
政治空間とアート: アイルランドの壁画とアクティビズム -2
Since the peak of the financial crisis of 2008 and its devastating effects on the Irish economy, there has been immediacy between politics and everyday life. This has also been true of the relationship between art and politics, evidenced by multiple campaigns partnering art and political ideology. Once such example is the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment– the 8th amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (Article 40.3.3) – that has collected 2,869 artists as signatories as of October 2016, and held a demonstration on September 16th with thousands participating. You can follow the ongoing online battle between the pro and anti-Repeal campaigns on Twitter with the hashtag #RepealThe8th. The Repeal campaign has a specific, focused agenda– it is for the current Irish government to allow a nationwide referendum to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, which states that “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” thus placing exactly equal value on the life of a woman and that of an embryo/foetus from the moment of its conception. The topic is first on the agenda for the newly established Citizens’ Assembly. Currently, thousands of Irish women travel to the U.K. every year to terminate unwanted or non- viable pregnancies (see the tragic cases of Savita Halappanavar,*1 Sheila Hodgers,*2 or an asylum seeker identified only as Ms. Y*3). According to the UK Department of Health, 3,451 women and girls traveled from Ireland to England or Wales for a termination in 2015– an average of nine per day.*4 The short journey across the Irish Sea may not seem too bad until one considers the predicament of those without the financial means to travel, minors, non-nationals awaiting visas or refugees who may not have permission to leave the country, in addition to the stress of being abroad. As the nation has not protected the rights of women as stipulated by the European Court of Human Rights,*5 the campaign is demanding a right to vote on what constitutes bodily autonomy for a woman. As the campaign has gained momentum, Irish arts institutions have been vocal in their support, and thus Project Arts Centre, a contemporary arts space for visual and performing arts, became the site of a mural from the US-based Irish street artist Maser, commissioned by The HunReal Issues. The mural was painted on the front wall of Project, which is located on a pedestrian street in the heart of Dublin’s cultural quarter, Temple Bar. But shortly after the completion of the mural, an objection was raised with Dublin City Council’s planning authority, resulting in its removal. There has been a recent spate of political lobbying by privately owned conservative Catholic groups.
A further example of the implementation of existing, but rarely enforced legalities in relation to building fronts is objection to the sign for Pantibar, a gay bar on Capel Street in Dublin, owned by the drag queen and equal rights campaigner Panti Bliss (Rory O’Neill). The objection was on the basis that the sign is not in keeping with the character and integrity of the street. However, Pantibar has just won its appeal and has been granted permission under “exceptional circumstances” to be allowed to retain its sign as “the sign is integral to the social, historical and cultural significance of the current use of the premises.”
Just as the plazas and open spaces in cities that appear to be public are increasingly privately owned and controlled, the façades of private, and public, buildings in the city are subject to the rules of planning authorities. While the planning rules may not be designed with intention to curb free or political expression, they may be utilized as such, particularly by lobbyists with access to large sums of financial support. So how can one engage in free expression in public spaces without being beholden to planning regulations or permission from private companies or individuals? In the case of Maser‘s mural for Project Art Centre, an interesting possibility came about. After the removal of the Repeal mural from the Project Arts Centre building, not only was the image of the mural featured on the cover of Irish Art Review (Sept. 2016), news and social media sites, but an innovative strategy was employed to allow the public to view the mural in place, at its original site and in any location of the viewers choosing. Through the website*6 it is possible to access a QR code that when viewed through the link provided, an augmented reality version of the Repeal mural becomes visible on-screen. Initially, people printed out the QR code and stuck it to the wall of Project Art Centre, thus re-creating the original viewing experience, but mediated through their smartphone. Under local planning regulations “temporary signs” do not require planning permission and therefore placing the image on any surface within the city is permissible. This AR version of the mural is not subject to planning regulations, and can be viewed even in the most contested or controversial location.
It became apparent during the Arab Spring of 2010-2012 that the future of political activism is through technology. This has continued in more recent activism, such as Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, beginning in 2014. Swift communication across social media platforms and clear, strong visual branding to make a campaign recognisable in an instant are integral to building momentum. Ireland’s Repeal campaign follows this pattern too, selling goods online with their branding prominently featured. But in all cases, there is still an emphasis on presence within urban spaces. Often when the term “mediated experience” is used in relation to technology, there is a sense of something lesser―less real, less authentic―that comes to mind, however, there is also a possibility to transcend the regulated spaces of the real, and through the mediation of technology, to find unregulated spaces for political engagement. Augmented reality presents endless possibilities for combining the momentum of online activism with a presence in actual sites of contest. And with regard to the legality of such interventions, the QR code, for example, is merely a link to information, and therefore may circumvent laws relating to images in public spaces. As censorship and regulatory laws in countries throughout the world struggle to keep up the pace with technology, I expect and look forward to seeing, AR feature more prominently in political movements to come.
*1 Patient Safety Investigation report into services at University Hospital Galway (UHG) and as reflected in the care provided to Savita Halappanavar. Health Information and Quality Authority. Published on October 9, 2013. https://www.hiqa.ie/publications/patient-safety-investigation-report-services-university-hospital-galway-uhg-and-reflect (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
*2 The original article outlining Sheila Hodgers’ story was written by Padraig Yeates and was published in The Irish Times in September 1983. Recent article retelling her story by Fintan O’Toole, August 5, 2003. http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/the-ugly-politics-of-the-womb-1.368580 (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
*3 An account of the case of Ms. Y from Amnesty Ireland. https://www.amnesty.ie/ms-ys-case/ (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
*4 Irish Family Planning Association statistics on Abortion in Ireland. https://www.ifpa.ie/Hot-Topics/Abortion/Statistics (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
Original UK Department of Health report, Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/report-on-abortion-statistics-in-england-and-wales-for-2015 (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
*5 United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, Ireland abortion ban subjected woman to suffering and discrimination – UN experts. The Committee findings published on June 1, 2016. http://goo.gl/rKbA5i (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
Video of UNHR Committee Chair N. Rodley’s final remarks. https://youtu.be/bUVIR9KAmhI (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)
*6 Download and print the QR code from http://8mural.com (Accessed Dec. 28, 2016)