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Etudes Irlandais Crisis and the Visual Arts in Ireland

Crisis and the Visual Arts in Ireland

Pat Cooke

This paper explores contemporary responses to crisis in Ireland as refracted through visual arts practice. The key question that will be pursued is not the primarily philosophical one of “what is the nature of crisis?” but the situational one of “how might a sense of crisis manifest itself through the practice of a visual artist?” In attempting to answer this question it is hoped some light can be shed on other questions that appear to have gained greater urgency since the pivotal moment in 2008 when the economic ground shifted under the Irish people. Do artists have an obligation to engage with politics? Can some of the underpinning rationales for artist engagement, particularly in the field of relational aesthetics, empower artists to meet expectations that their work can, or should, be capable of decisive interventions at historical moments of crisis? A related objective is to ground a theoretical understanding of the nature of crisis in the evolution of an artist’s work, to gain some sense of its temporal manifestation in the life-long, everyday practice of making art.

The two artists I have engaged with to examine these questions, Deirdre O’Mahony and Anthony Haughey, were selected with a clear understanding that any number of other artists might just as equally have suited. The reason for the choice is that the author is familiar with the work of both over time and understands both, in variable ways, to be committed to exploring the interaction of political and aesthetic values in their practice.

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