The Need for Self Sustaining Artistic Communities in Ireland.

(Or: footnotes to ‘A Room of Ones Own’ by V Woolf.)

Probably the greatest obstacle to creative output in Ireland is money. To eat one earns, but one cannot live happily in the service of ones stomach. This is pretty ironic since the Irish economy is doing well and we havvwoolfe a very high standard of living. The irony comes from the fact that much of our wealth, and by this I mean disposable income goes towards paying for the one thing we all need and cannot do without: housing. Rental accomodation especially is reaching extortionate levels and those of us who can afford to actually rent somewhere spend a huge proportion of our income on paying for a roof over our heads. Add to this the kinds of treatment many of us recieve from Landlords, and you have a picture of a market driven greed where Landlords and banks, despite the kinds of new legal constraints put upon them, are pushing the market to a near breaking point where people are actually telling me it would be cheaper to go on the dole and get rent allowance than spend most of their day earning money that they will hand over to their landlord or bank. This state of affairs is particulary challenging for artists who expend huge amounts of time and personal resources on creative outputs that may take years to reach fruition. Its impossible to do anything long term if you are exhausted after a long day earning money to sustain ones body. Its beyond frustrating if one has a family, loved ones and dependents the idea of writing a novel or a screenplay or whatever is incredibly challenging indeed.

There is a rather radical solution to this problem, one that requires sacrifice of ego and of course a willingness to embrace a lifestyle that is very much against the modern notion of the atomised sophisticated urban dweller hooked online and working in the kinds of office envoirnments that require almost unlimited availability and a three hundred and sixty five degree visibility. As I am somewhat out of touch with this lifestyle myself I am speculating, but I do see the effects of this working envoirnment on people I know and care about, and I see that we now live in a world where, yes, one does have a job, a place to work where one earns a wage, but that for more people, the job has them. Its a byproduct of connectivity, an online availability, a world where monitoring of all aspects of our lives has become commonplace, accepted, and this consequent loss of privacy has eroded the very space where artistic output has its source.

The notion of an artistic community, one with a constitution and laws and codes of conduct, a place where artists live for whatever length of time they need, has been of course tried before and has failed mainly because of its over idealized image of just what it should be like for people living together. Look at history: We need laws to prevent us from hurting each other. We need to be policed. We need to deal with all our problems and addictions and our jealousies and infidelities. In other words, we are human. But more than anything those of us who are artists need a place where we can go to work long term where we pay a moderate level of rent, where we are free from the constraints and pressures of a work world that drains us of the energy and resources and even the desire to pick up a pen, type something into a computer that resembles a story or a novel, begin another painting, or write another screenplay. Indeed money makes the world go around. Isnt it strange that money can also make the world stop going round, especially if you work in an industry that the world looks upon as less than?  Of course the are many grants available and artistic retreats and houses one can go to for short periods of time, but the availaibility of such grants is limited and though writers and artists apply frequently for such funds, they are more often than not refused and a tiny proportion accepted. Something radical is needed. Artists need to take back their power and do it for themselves.

Artists, the really good ones I know, are quite rightly obsessed with money. They have been stiffed so many times by so many people. They are expected to work for nothing, live like quasi paupers, are treated as a joke or a disappointment by their family, their well to do friends, or indeed by the general public. Its not good how artists are looked down upon by people in general. How many times have I heard the following exchange:

“What does Jane do?”

“Oh, Jane? Well, you know, she’s an ARTIST you see…her family pays for so much, you see…”

“Ah…”

One can only imagine how Jane feels on hearing these kinds of remarks.

Artists are particularly prone to a panoply of depressive illness, addictions, psychiatric disorders and a general feeling of self loathing and anger and bitterness at a world that refuses to take them seriously simply because they do not produce a paycheck. This is especially true as they get older. Their worth as artists is measured not in the incredibly valuable output so many of them produce, but in the monetary value of what they produce. In many ways this too is incredibly ironic, as the wealthy commercial artists (who are as talented btw) more often than not suffer a guilt that they have somehow sold out and envy the less commercially successful artists who are out here on the cutting edge of things making great breakthroughs and producing beautiful new work.

So yes, an artistic community where artists can live together would solve many of these problems, while of course bringing their own difficulties and challenges to the table. We need right now more than ever to protect one of our great natrual resources:  our small Island with so many incredibly gifted brilliant people. We also need to be truly open and international. We need to attract more artists, welcome new blood from all over the world, and create a network of self sustaining artistic communities to build a great gifted future for Ireland. Lets make this happen, the sooner the better.

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Olive Kitteridge isn’t having any fun at all

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One of the most refreshing and unusual pieces of television I have seen is the strange story of Olive Kitteridge. An HBO mini series based on the Pulitzer winning book by Elizabeth Strout, Olive (Mc Dormand) is an interesting character to be sure. Sharp tongued, incredibly witty, dismissive, self contained, cerebral, self reliant, she is an unpopular and foreboding character in the neighbourhood of Maine, US where she lived her life.

Olive is most likely clinically depressed (her father committed suicide). She is married to a loving kind intelligent humorous man called Henry, works as a maths teacher, is world weary, misanthropic, and deeply irrevocably bored. Henry, though not quite comprehending the full complexity of Olive’s detached, acerbic, cold disassociation from any kind of emotional life, still loves her. It is a complicated love each has for the other, involving much compromise, excessive personal space, denial, and suppressed anger. Both their love for each other also covers over their desires for a more compatible partner, the confession of which occurs under the intensity of a near death experience for both of them. Olive pines for a witty intellectual Jim O Casey (who dies in a car crash), and Henry secretly longs for other, more emotionally available women (a young widow who ends up marrying another man). Perhaps more than anything, aside from the depression she endures, is the fact that Olive never achieved anything that actually fulfilled her. She is more a blocked force than a spent one. Filled with much intellectual energy, and yet afraid to act in a world she has already depressively rejected, Olive hates herself and yet cannot forgive the foregone conclusion of her own failure.

Depressingly, she remains on the periphery of her own life, a person sitting watching her life quietly drift away. She is bored, bored beyond any possibility of feeling anything other than a sense of gathering annoyance with the world and what she perceives to be irrevocably absurd, and behaviour that is vain, selfish and cruel on the part of humanity. Death haunts her – her fathers death, the suicides of friends she tries vainly to save, her own death and her longing for death. Surrounded by the absurdity of death and clouded by depression she seemingly sits close to edge of oblivion while simultaneously scoffing at it. The anger she feels against herself is equally directed at persons, family and those unfortunate enough to cross paths with her. Exacting, angry and jealous – she is nonetheless capable of acts of tremendous compassion. She understands depression,understands that the condition has in many ways shaped her personality. She sees it in the behaviour of other self destructive depressives. She saves many people from ending their own lives, as well as spotting someone accidentally falling into the sea. But nothing, no altruistic act gives her joy or leads her out of the cell of her isolation and frustration. She sees time as the worst enemy. She watches the years pass. She watches one cycle of life ends all too quickly, meaninglessly replaced by another. And Olive feels her own time passing by. She wants some meaningful connection or to do some meaningful action. But she cannot. Whether if a fear of being in the world breeding her depression, or whether it is depression holding her back, it seems she is doomed to forever remain frozen in a kind of amber of unfulfilled desire.

Ultimatelyolive_kitteridge_ssp her own inner void swallows her (it always does) and she reaches the point as an old woman that she wants to kill herself. And yet she cannot. Children playing in the woods interrupt her suicide attempt, and she snaps out of it and has something of an inner breakthrough. She had reached her lowest point and there at that point she discovered a place of self belief she never hitherto known. The world remains utterly incomprehensible, pointless, and yet it is somewhere she is not yet ready to leave. And she watches birds fly off. A wonderful mini series that looks unflinchingly at untreated depression and the ravages of suicide on the lives of others, and a deeply touching examination of an unfulfilled life, Olive Kitteridge is simply a gem – and I haven’t read the novel – yet.

Crucifixion?

Calvary (2014)

Written and Directed by John Michael McDonagh

“Killing a Priest on a Sunday, that would be a good one.”

A Catholic Priest, especially on a Sunday, while he celebrates Mass, acts In Persona Christi  (in the person of Christ) transforming the bread and wine in to the body and blood of Christ, re enacting the transforming healing and redemptive act of Jesus through his life death and resurrection, all focused on the moment of Crucifixion and resurrection, which is were the point of Mc Donaghs title Calvary comes from. This is a movie about death and resurrection, about the death of an old order, the condemnation of corruption, and the on-going self analysis and self questioning Irish Society must go through in order to resurrect itself. Its also funny.

Dealing with more issues relating to contemporary Irish society than one could shake a stick at (the decline of faith, the corruption of bankers and their non subsequent imprisonment, the consequent increase in affluence and education on the population, bankruptcy, the sexual abuse of children by the Catholic Clergy  and its devastating effects on belief in the Church, the erosion of a cohesive sense of identity in Irish Society, the decline of Catholic Culture, Suicide and its after effects, the meaning of marriage, forgiveness, love, sex) starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly ReillyAidan Gillen, Dylan Moran and Isaach de Bankolé, this is a must-see despite its flaws:  for the writing is as excellent as are the performances by the actors.

I use the word flaws because the movie gives a somewhat unbalanced view of both society and clergy in order to make its many sharp edged points. Set in a small Sligo town whose windswept countenance truly gives an uncomforting feel to every encounter with its population, one experiences a portrayal of the Catholic Clergy, with notable the exception of Gleeson’s warm wise and lovable character, as idiots or corrupt, which is unfair. The other problem with the film is its reduction of the society which Fr. James mixes in as representative of archetypes rather than real substantial people, mainly for the purposes of portraying the black comedic elements in the film. One has the atheistic doctor scientist, the sensitive daughter of the priest who has tried to kill herself because of her despair at an unloving world, the depressed soulless self loathing corrupt property owner, the furious bankrupt pub owner, the world weary writer finishing his final masterpiece on a lonely island and the victim of horrific sexual abuse. Where are the mothers and the fathers and the cinema goers and the ordinary shoppers and the tourists and ‘the lonely men in shirtsleeves leaning out of windows’ (to crib T. S. Eliot) who comment and chat and come and go and for whom life goes on as it always has? This is a film filled with intellectual pyrotechnics and lacking in a touch of everydayness.

So in the first moments of the movie the aforementioned victim of horrific sexual abuse confronts Fr. James in the confessional and says he will kill James the next Sunday, because James is a good man and it would be worse for the Catholic Church than killing a bad priest. The other point being that the real criminal, the true abuser, is dead. This is Fr. James’ personal Calvary. James has seven days to his death. He knows he will die in seven days and though he can get out of it, he doesn’t. Just as Jesus knew he was going to die for others’ sins, so James too will accept death for the purposes of atonement for the  crimes of others. He goes through his week seeing his church burned down, his dog killed, his sobriety wrecked, his integrity and authority as a clergyman treated with disdain, and the final awful moment when he too is treated by a worried father as a possible paedophile simply because he is a priest. Its too much. James goes on to his Calvary on the beach. And there in the final moments of the film we reach a kind of resolution. The incalculable psychological, spiritual and  personal devastation that child rape leaves upon  its victims is played out in the final scenes of this film, the betrayal, the pain, the loss of selfhood, the loss of power, the bleeding and the horror, are beautifully portrayed in the moments as the movie closes.

Watching it as someone who long long ago lost his faith but understands the mythology and the poetry of this cult of death, this is a powerful and beautiful piece of work, a call for honesty and truth and reconciliation, and most of all the imprisonment of those who abuse children.

Fucking Chickentown

The story begins with the collapse of the banking system in Ireland in 2008 due largely to corruption and over investment and lack of fiscal restraint of the building market. Instead of allowing the commercial Banking system, to collapse, the Irish Government sought monies from the European Central Bank to stabilize the economy. To date the debt is 180 billion, whereas 130 billion has been borrowed. The debt is over a hundred per cent of gross domestic product with Ireland’s overall debt exposure of around 800 billion. The debt is also over one hundred and twenty per cent of gross national product. Gross national product is estimated at around three per cent, which is good, but the debt ratio is crippling. This is a debt which will continue for generations. We are mired in debt and economically, and as a consequence, politically dependent on our creditors.

Previous Governments, seen as corrupt and hopelessly in thrall to establishment bankers, a new centre right coalition were voted in on a bill of reform and proceeded to great fanfare to straighten out the appalling state of the nations finances. Social spending was cut by two billion, taxes increased by one and a half billion, as well as emptying the nations coffers. This had the consequence of decreasing our potential for expenditure – our money for daily spending dropped. people began re-negotiating loans, cancelling credit cards, going on fewer holidays consolidating debts, not buying new cars, houses, electrical items. Unemployment increased, businesses closed, and as credit became increasingly difficult to acquire, new businesses starting up became fewer and further between.

That is, its not all bad. As credit is expensive, as inflation is moderately high, as there still remains a good economic growth of over three per cent, a weak economy in other words with a highly skilled economy with a ‘first world’ education mostly out of work, the stage is set for the arrival of huge multinational corporations on tax breaks – service industries, shopping malls, chemical suppliers, research and development technologies allying themselves to cash strapped universities, technology hubs – all with little or no union representation, low wages, short contracts, with little or no permanent relationship with the surrounding communities they arrive in. Larger corporations are more immune to the highs and lows of local economies. They can control local pricing, dictate terms, and move out quickly if they dont get the terms they want. Thus some jobs replace the ones lost.

At the same time taxation rises for the individual and the homeowner. Water tax, property tax, wage cuts, reduction or removal of medical and social benefits, – all these serve to further population’s state of dependency – economic or otherwise. A rapidly shrinking job market and a social benefit system that has become both parsimonious in its benefits and labyrinthine in its complexity. Its extraordinarily easy to pay a parking fine or the deeply immoral television licence. Its almost Kafkaesque to try to apply for a medical card or unemployment benefit.

The Senate is moved to be abolished. The minister for justice controls the army and the police. Gangland violence is on the rise. Law and order is constantly discussed in the media. More police are hired and trained and put on the street, despite the economy being in deep trouble. There is a marked increase in stop and search procedures.  Fines are imposed for the most trivial transgressions.

The number of murders increases, as does the abuse of alcohol and drugs. The family is under considerable strain. Emigration increases. Things are, well, bad. There seems to be an absence of hope and order, an order the government seeks to re impose with an increasingly, dare I say it, fascistic stance. And all this because we bailed out the commercial banks. Welcome to fucking chicken town.

John Cooper Clarke’s brilliant performance piece “Evidently Chicken Town”