RMIT Gallery’s exhibition Radical Actions showcases work by contemporary Irish artists to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland.
Prominent Irish artists Jesse Jones and Seamus Nolan are visiting Melbourne to launch RMIT Gallery’s new exhibition Radical Actions.
Radical Actions (9 September – 22 October), curated by Linda Shevlin, features new and existing work by Kennedy Browne (Gareth Kennedy and Sarah Browne), Duncan Campbell, Jesse Jones and Seamus Nolan that explore the after-effects of Irish independence and self-governance.
“The 1916 Commemoration should not be a time for soft words or a gazing backwards through a green-tinged prism at an idealised past,” Shevlin said.
“Revolutions are about antagonism and agitation, and this is above all true of events a hundred years ago.”
Among the works in this exhibition is the Australian premiere of the film Bernadette (about Irish dissident and political activist Bernadette Devlin) by Turner Prize winner Duncan Campbell.
The Other North by Jesse Jones (selected to represent Ireland at the 2017 Venice Biennale) casts professional Korean actors to re-enact scenes from a conflict resolution therapy session in 1970s Belfast.
Kennedy Browne, the collaborative practice of Gareth Kennedy and Sarah Browne, will be revisiting their work The Special Relationship, which looks at Ireland’s position as a neutral state that allows the use of airports as a stop-off point for the US military.
The exhibition will also present The 10th President, a political campaign to commemorate victims of institutional abuse, by one of Ireland’s top young artists, Seamus Nolan.
As a way of honouring the survivors of institutional abuse in Ireland and of recognising those who died in institutional and state care, Nolan has invited President Michael D Higgins to hand over, for one day, the Presidency of Ireland posthumously to Willie Delaney, a child who died under the care of the state.
“The role Willy Delaney’s life has played in both the state appropriation of power and the victims' search for justice and accountability has been unprecedented in the history of our state,” Shevlin said.
“In a year of historic commemoration, this work aims to activate a dialogue, and cultural and historic relationship between those that are honoured and those who have the power to honour.”
RMIT Gallery Director Suzanne Davies said the political nature of the works in Radical Actions was timely, given that the recent Brexit had sparked a renewed interest in Irish nationalism, as well as concern about economic consequences and the future of the UK’s only land border with the EU, between the north and the republic.
Davies said the visiting artists would forge important links with RMIT's research centre for Communication, Politics and Culture while in Melbourne.
At the launch, Shevlin, Jones and Nolan discussed with Associate Professor Chris Hudson the artists’ response to the rebellion 100 years on and the role of artists in imagining and reassessing national identities forged in revolution.
“Artists have always played a key role in shaping cultural identity and, given the far-reaching repercussions of the 1916 Rising, RMIT Gallery and the CPC research centre’s film program ‘Images of Revolution’ reminds us of the continuing present-day global struggles for justice, freedom and social change,” Davies said.
Screenings of Rocky Road to Dublin an insightful portrait of Ireland in the 1960s will be complemented by an evolving selection of films from Ireland and other cultures than explore revolution and activism, including the Australian premiere of the timely and provocative Irish documentary Eat Your Children, featuring Irish whiskey tastings from the Dublin distillery Teeling Whiskey.
Dr Antonio Castillo, Director of the CPC, said that documentary film had often been harnessed in the service of political change to provoke and record revolution.
“The ‘Images of Revolution’ film program reflects the CPC’s deep commitment to social change and progressive politics and we are delighted to be working with RMIT Gallery on this cultural event,” Castillo said.
Radical Actions is supported by Culture Ireland’s international culture programme I Am Ireland, which marks the centrality of the arts to Irish identity and acknowledges the key role artists play now, as they did in the 1916 Rising.
Story: Evelyn Tsitas