ALONETOGETHER

ALONETOGETHERIn 1999 an anonymous postcard with the word ALONETOGETHER was produced and distributed to places like youth hostels, internet cafes and galleries around the world. It had a matt finish and was totally blank on the reverse so it was more like a small postcard size print. Since then there has been quite a bit of speculation online and elsewhere about what the intention of the person or persons who made the image and sent them out was. From this speculation we can piece together quite a bit of important information. For a few months (possibly as long as May to August) 20 at a time would arrive in regular sized letter envelopes with a white address label generated by a word processor to these high people traffic locations. Surprisingly the postmark and stamp turned out to be always from Ireland (Eire) and specifically Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim.

I was obviously intrigued by this and initially started to look more closely at the photo itself. The trees in the photo are definitely ash and the typeface used is arial bold. There are no leaves on the trees so it must have been winter or early spring when it was taken. There is some moss on branches to the left side which may even be sign that this is a different species of tree emerging into the frame and it could easily be a Leitrim hedgerow. It looks to me like a digital shot but I can’t be sure on this and could have been made in Microsoft Publisher in about 5 minutes if you knew what you were doing and wanted. The text itself has sparked imaginations far and wide speculating on what it means and truly entered the public consciousness. Two of the more high profile examples of this were The Strokes – who were perhaps the first to use it, in their love song, ‘Alone, Together’ – on their debut album in 2001. In more recent times, 2010, Sherry Turkle used the phrase as the title for a book she wrote on how technology has brought us to that point (although at this stage she might not even be aware of where it came from). For some reason I get a positive feeling from this paradoxical phrase but I am naturally putting the emphasis on TOGETHER rather than ALONE when I read it. Everyone will have their own interpretation about what it might mean and the intentions behind it.  Part of me would love to wrap this up and tell you who did it and why but to date I have found nothing from asking around, it happened well before I moved here which doesn’t help. Perhaps the person who did it only lived here for the summer and was a backpacker themselves (there was still a youth hostel in Ballinamore at this time) and wanted to cause confusion or give what to them was a clear message and so made it and gradually started to send them out using The Lonely Planet (perhaps even the inspiration itself?) for addresses. It’s not that far fetched and it wouldn’t have cost that much money to do it, about 500 punt or less in those days would have covered the printing and postage I would say. Maybe they even worked in a local printer’s and ran them off on the quiet? It’s just surprising to me that it got noticed at all and took on such a life of its own. I’m more than happy to get to document it here though, as it truly belongs to any project such as this about the county. (Stephen Rennicks)

A Line Lain in the Kingdom of Breifne

In 1974 Richard Long made A Line in Ireland from stones somewhere on the west coast of the country. In the ancient Book of Leinster (1160) there is an obscure line of prophecy which reads, “A line lain in the kingdom of Breifne will be a sign for old myths meeting new, becoming meaningful again for the people who dwell in that place.” On 20th May 2012 Isabel Löfgren and Stephen Rennicks choose to both commemorate Long’s work and fulfill the prophecy (Co. Leitrim is part of the old kingdom) by building their own line of stone on a ghost estate in Keshkerrigan. (Isabel Löfgren & Stephen Rennicks)
A Line in Ireland by Richard Long (1974)

A Line in Ireland by Richard Long (1974)

Secret Residency

Reportedly an anonymous and renegade group of international artists staged a temporary secret residency in a ghost estate in Leitrim sometime in early 2006. Their action appears to have been organized in response to the coming global property crash of that year and was something of a think-tank that focused on the crisis in general. One of the topics discussed was the certainty that Ireland would have to be bailed out at some point along with many other countries, 5 years before even the possibility was on anyone else’s radar. Many of the tactics and responses to the crisis since used by the international art community are said to have first emerged at this get together. For a longtime the group have been making it their business to keep well ahead of the cultural curve to set the agenda for art on the world stage. I did manage to contact one of its members through Isabel Lofgren (who I am beginning to think is in league with them or even took part in the residency herself). Through her I learned they are using the medium of curator’s statements, subtle lobbying of art industry figures, critical writing etc to progress this agenda. If my suspicions about her are true, she would not legitimately return for a full 6 years under the auspices of the long running Trade residency (run by Leitrim and Roscommon County Councils) to plant certain seeds that could have been incubated by the group. She may even have cleverly engineered me into bringing her to the same ghost estate (The Waterways, Keshkerrigan) they had used and suggested their ideas to me as if they were our own, the results of which you read before you.

Which makes me wonder about the tree planting protest (NAMA to Nature) that occurred on this same estate in early 2012. Perhaps even this had a similar genesis and may have been ‘suggested’ to someone in that group. Also in late 2006 an anonymous and mysterious sculpture, celebrating the salmon of knowledge myth, was suddenly erected on a natural rock outcrop close to The Waterways on the edge of Keshkerrigan village. At the time it was assumed by the residents to have been approved by the council but when I looked into it I found this was not the case. It does look the part and with so many new pieces of public art being erected during the economic boom I can see why it did not arouse suspicion at the time and still stands to this day. Significantly or not, Fionn’s salmon is hidden at the rear of the statue. One of the ideas behind A Guide to Here Nor There itself is to revisit certain Irish myths and legends.

Regardless, through Isabel I was sent a single image with text which purports to have been made while the group was here. They also said that while here they discovered something unique about our situation which we are not yet prepared to comprehend. (Stephen Rennicks)

Lord of the Rings location

In June 1970 it was announced that the British director John Boorman would be making an adaptation of Lord of the Rings for the screen. Rospo Pallenberg would work with him on this script for United Artists. The project was aborted due to costs but interestingly did get to the point of scouting for locations. The film was to be shot in Ireland, at Ardmore studios and locations within the country, such as Annamoe, Co. Wicklow (where Boorman now lives) and the Glenade valley in north Leitrim, which is said to have been earmarked to stand in for Rivendell. The illustration I found by Tolkien himself of his imagined land of elves does indeed bare a striking resemblance to this awe inspiring glacial valley. It’s said that this trip is when Boorman first fell in love with the country and moved not long after. He would go on to use it as backdrop for a number of his films, including Excaliber (1981). In a case of fiction becoming reality this land of genuine mythic beauty in North Leitrim is also under threat today from Orc’s of another kind. (Stephen Rennicks)

Windmill

“When Don Quixote went out into the world, that world turned into a mystery before his eyes. That is the legacy of the first European novel to the entire subsequent history of the novel. The novel teaches us to comprehend the world as a question. There is wisdom and tolerance in that attitude.”
― Milan Kundera

In 1921 Peadar ua Laoghaire produced his abridged Gaelic translation of Don Quixote, published as Don Cíchóté. Not long after it brought a letter to the Leitrim Observer from a Gaelic speaker who reminded the paper of a district court case that had gone into local folklore since when it happened in 1805. It concerned a man who was charged with being drunk and disruptive on the main street of Gowel outside the Catholic priest’s residence. The man was said to be banging on the priests front door frantically and shouting that a giant was chasing him. When up before the judge the following day he was still so convinced that it had been a giant that he was let off with a warning. He was unfamiliar with the locality and later came to realise that he must have misinterpreted the spinning windmill on the nearby Hill of Mong as the giant (and instead of fighting like brave Don Cíchóté he fled). I went looking for the windmill and amazingly found its ruins still there on the hilltop. Just one 3 metre high section of its curved wall survives with the circular base stones still discernible underneath the grass. There is no signage to explain what it is; it’s just alongside a stone wall (which was probably constructed from it at a later date). I came across a picture of a restored windmill from the same period outside Elphin, Co. Roscommon which might indicate what it once looked like.

By coincidence, exactly 200 years later a similar scare could easily have been started at this same location when in June 2005 a hot air balloon, which was blown off course, landed there. The balloon was part of what appears to have been an epic art project by Sean Taylor entitled The Blushing Hills. The piece was commissioned by Ground Up, an arts collective based in Co. Clare, who at the time were trying to bring contemporary art to rural locations. I managed to find and scanned the image of the what looks like the balloons take off. (Stephen Rennicks)

Questions?

Not long after I moved to Leitrim I found a business card on the street with a phone number. I’ve since lost it but I remember that the only text on it was ‘Questions’ with a landline number which had a 071 prefix for Leitrim.  I put it away as you do and after quite a longtime I did call the number out of curiosity. It rang for sometime and I remember thinking it wasn’t going to be answered and I was about to hang up when it suddenly clicked over to a play a recorded message. A female voice was on it and from memory said something along the lines of…

“Don’t depend so much on the existing maps of your surroundings or the patterns of expectations you have built up during your life. These are subjective and defective glimpses of an ever changing reality. Keep finding and inventing new ones with each new moment. Once things become fixed they are too rigid, nothing stays the same. I am already a different person since I began saying this sentence and so are you since you began listening. If you still have any questions please leave them and your number after the beep. Remember that the map is never the territory”

I decided not to leave a question and months later when I tried to find the card again I couldn’t.  (Stephen Rennicks)

Gelitin at LSC

In 2010 the Austrian arts collective Gelitin did a six week residency in the Leitrim Sculpture Centre in Manorhamilton. At the end of this period there was a curios show with little publicity which has left no trace of itself (since then no documentation of it has emerged nor any reference to it on their website currently exists). I hadn’t been aware of this at the time but did come across the group due to a piece about them online which detailed a very controversial residency they did while at the World Trade Center in 2000. I mentioned it to someone who surprised me when they revealed they had actually been in Leitrim recently. I was then intrigued to find out what they had done while here but before that I have to explain what they did in New York.

In 2000 the four artists who make up Gelatin (in 2005 they would change the spelling to Gelitin) were on a residency programme on the 91st floor of the World Trade Centre in New York. While there they did a project called The B-Thing, which entailed them building a secret room to work in from cardboard, smuggling building materials into the building and then covertly removing a window and installing a balcony outside which they had constructed. A helicopter was hired and took photos of each member standing in turn on the balcony. They then removed it and replaced the window. The erection of the balcony and standing on it is said to have all happened over 20 minutes and began at 6am one morning. The produced a book to document the project with photos, text, diagrams etc. They stated in it that, “The balcony is about the feeling you have when you stand on it and the pleasure you absorb, when being totally dependent on a structure and atmosphere you have created yourself.” I have used images from their book and elsewhere to illustrate this piece. If you look at this work of theirs in a certain way (I describe this way at the base of this piece) it could be seen to be weirdly predictive of the following year when the buildings would be destroyed on September 11th 2001. Overtime their work would become entangled with conspiracy theories, becoming misunderstood and even disputed as a hoax as it became a kind of art world myth. The group said very little about it at the time of the action (which is a situation which has continued to this day) as it was an illegal and thoroughly dangerous thing for them to do with few safely measures taken or authority given by the owners of the building.

Through contacts at the LSC I got to read their original proposal to gain the residency and learnt that they originally planned to gather waste metal from ghost estates and other properties abandoned in Leitrim since the financial collapse of 2008 and, using the facilities of the LSC, melt this material down and recast it as a large bell. This was to be exhibited along with documentation of the process at the conclusion of the residency. They suggested the bell could then be donated to the town if it could be installed in some public building where it could be rung from time to time “to remind its citizens of the here and now and that time is not linear but cyclical”. What actually happened when they arrived was that they began by building a cardboard room in one corner of the unoccupied main gallery space. They did collect waste metal from unused buildings and other sites in the area but soon had to resort to collecting it from other sources as well when not much metal was found there. They were also collecting wood and other building materials from these same sites and these were brought into their cardboard room in the gallery. They prohibited any access to this space and although it was not possible to lock it I met no-one who actually looked inside it at this time.

In the very early morning of the opening they removed what they had been building from the room and carried it through the quiet streets to a 5 storey abandoned and unfinished property close to the town centre (the ground floor was to be commercial with apartments above). They had no problems getting into this building as they only had to open one of the wire mesh panel walls surrounding it. They then walked it right up the stairs and went to the top floor and as there were no windows very quickly attached a wooden balcony to the outside of the building. They had arranged with a resident of an apartment opposite (who I located and spoke to) to allow one of them access so they could take photos of each member standing naked in turn on the balcony. One of the persistent rumours to grow from their New York stunt was that they had been naked on the balcony when in fact they had all worn white on that occasion. The photographer was the last to go on the balcony and his picture was taken by the occupant of the apartment who was told to say inside for their own safely. Then once no one was passing below the balcony was actually pushed out the window where it smashed onto the footpath and across the street below. Once the camera was retrieved these parts were then gathered up and were brought back to the gallery space where they were arranged on the floor of the main gallery space to mirror the result of the impact.

At the opening of the show they allowed access to the cardboard room which turned out to include things like the tools they used, personal items, unused building materials, sawdust and other debris that had accumulated over their 6 week stay. As usual for Gelitin there was also a performance aspect to the show which consisted of them lying still and naked in contorted positions on the floor of the main gallery space amongst the splintered wreckage. The finished bell was also present in a corner of the room and was rung to signal the start and end of the performance. A sign was posted on the door not to take any pictures of proceedings and as I could find no images it appears that this was respected although it’s likely that the group made some documentation of it for themselves before the doors were opened.

I was told that only about 30 people attended and by the next day the space had been cleared by the group. The cardboard and the remains of the balcony were left in the back yard of the LSC for sometime until it was gradually dumped or recycled. The bell was actually shipped back to their base in Austria and it appears that no attempt to donate it to the town was made. The show had no official title but in the lead up to the opening they mentioned to one member of staff that it might be called Property Crash. No artist statement was made about the work at the time and they insisted that the invite have no image from it. As it happened only an electronic invite went out and just stated that it was the ‘Gelitin Residency Exhibition’ along with their bio.

Obviously we can only speculate on their reasoning for what they did and why they picked Leitrim but this would have been the 10 year anniversary of The B-Thing in New York so maybe this is simply why they did it. The only other connection between Leitrim and 9-11 was that the first fire fighter to be killed that day was father Mychael Judge whose family was from Keshkerrigan. His memory and all of those that died have been honoured there with a small park and plague. ‘Fr. Mychal Judge Peace Garden’, on the shore of Kesh Lake outside the village. It’s not known whether Gelitin would have visited the site which was opened officially on 11th September 2005 but if they had searched online for 9-11 and Leitrim they would quickly have learnt about it. It strikes me that perhaps there was also a reference to suicide being made in their piece. The suicide rate in Leitrim and most rural areas in Ireland is high by international standards and the financial and property collapse have only increased this. There were of course also suicides from the Twin Towers on 9-11, which were of a completely different nature, but perhaps this response piece (if it was so) was partly a comment on what can happen and how you feel when you experience the loss of that metaphoric balcony, “when…a structure and atmosphere you have created yourself” fails you for some reason outside of your control. (Stephen Rennicks)