Aleksandra Mir

Dublin: Communism at Project

Circa, #111, Dublin, Spring 2005
By Robbie OHalloran

Communism
20 Jan - 12 Mar 2005
Project Art Space, Temple Bar, 39 East Essex Street, Dublin - Ireland

The history of communism is well documented and its iconography is familiar visual territory in the west. The trajectory of Russian communism to its ultimate collapse could be seen as one of the most significant factors in shaping western identity at the turn of this century --the antithesis of communism, the competitive free market and the proliferation of ideas and media which led to the materialistic frenzy of the 1980s being a case in point. The free-market economy was always destined to prevail, especially after the economic re-alignments of WWII. Today, as nominal Communist countries buckle under the sophisticated propaganda of American and pro-American economies, it is easy to suggest that communism is a closed chapter.

However, one gets a sense from this show that it is less about communism and more about the various crises of the west. Susan Kelly re-stages Lenin's seminal question of 1902, "What is to be done?" and seeks to elicit responses with a real sense of urgency. If Lenin's original question sought to mobilise opinion against the crisis in bourgeois Russian society, then Kelly's respondents seem to reflect more current crises in the west. Reading the feedback, she appears to have elicited some very strong expressions of discontent. One American participant suggests, "Lenin had a theory of revolution, a very precise understanding of the historical conjuncture in which revolution was a possible decision. But our situation...is immeasurably more complex then Lenin's."

In spite of the efforts of both capitalist and communist systems to differentiate between themselves, the significance of public space has always been critical to both. In the slender shadow of the Dublin Spire artists Declan Clarke and Paul McDevitt have installed a concrete table-tennis table. Standing in the contentious space of the city's main thoroughfare, this piece brings to mind the open-air public spaces of communist countries such as China. It also seems to emphasise the leisure industry for which the street was infamous, a connection which blighted the city's principal public space for years and one which the city planners are desperate to shake off. In this context the piece seems to refer to the self-representation of a quickly developing capitalist economy. Taking the metaphor of competitive volley and counter-volley, Clarke and McDevitt have staged an interesting representation, perhaps not so much of east versus west, but of that which is common to both political systems, its struggle with itself.

For the invitation, Aleksandra Mir has superimposed an image of Concorde onto Jim Fitzpatrick's well known poster of Che Guevara. Presented like this, the image articulates the twin summits of idealism: achievement through materialism and achievement through struggle and revolution. Behind both icons lies the very real spectre of failure.

If the capitalist promise of material and individual freedom was at the heart of the failure of communism, then the material excess of capitalism appears to be the mantra of dissent within those capitalist cultures. In a modest annex to the Project space, Seamus Nolan has set up a workshop where abandoned bikes can be reconstructed using spare parts. It is a simple and real project that addresses the lazy habits of production and consumption to which we have become accustomed. It also reflects the sentiments of many of the participants in Susan Kelly's "What is to be done?" project, that the only way forward is through reconstitution and re-evaluation. What results may be a hybrid, but it becomes clearer as one navigates this show that the lines between what we perceive as homogenous systems are constantly shifting out of focus.

The theme of communism and its failings is central to both Veit Stratman's piece and that of Klaus Weber. Stratman's sculpture consists of nine plastic chairs fixed in an outward looking circle to a wheeled metal frame. Like some impractical boardroom table, the sculpture will function only if every sitter moves in unison. How any movement can operate is difficult to imagine as any sitter will necessarily have a different and incommunicable perspective to the other sitters.

Weber, with Psycho-botanic-mirror-house, draft for commune , has produced a scale model of a building constructed of glass and mirror from which grows a living plant with hallucinogenic properties. Any attempt to look inside the construct reveals only a fragmented image of oneself. The image of a society which is revealed to the one which examines it is generally a reflection of the others' failing and fragmentation. A properly functioning commune is an illusion.

At the start of the Cold War America persecuted those elements within its own society which it most feared from outside. The idea of the iron curtain fed notions of difference and embattlement, notions which are active today. A curtain can conceal both the one who hides and the object of fear. Today the curtain is not simply a historical term but, as with Eva Berendes' semi-transparent installation, a subtle and complex fabric through which we examine, not just the past, but also the present.