Since 2014, I have been exploring the layered history of The Montague.
The Montague Hotel is a real hotel – was a real hotel. On the far reaches of the rural town I grew up in, on the flat plains of Ireland’s midsection, my parents celebrated their wedding there in 1975. The Montague was the centre of things, where people celebrated everything, all of life and death – christenings to funerals and everything in between. It was a hitching-post on the Country–and–Western touring circuit, filled with the music of outsiders: frontier ballads of exile and emigration, outlaws and open plains, heartbreak, loneliness, loss. Closing its doors in 2000, it reopened in 2008. But not as a hotel. Taken over by the Reception and Integration Agency, it was now a detention centre for asylum seekers.
The Montague is a weird place: its disjointed narratives seem to be trapped like air bubbles between the layers of old wallpaper in the hotel ballroom. Preoccupied with the complexity of culture, society, history, I have been less interested in telling the real stories of this Montague than in taking a sideways glance at it, exploring how a refracted, fictionalised Montague could exist next to the real thing, whose political situation is present and pressing. In a weird confluence of real and unreal, in the clash between past and present, I’ve been searching for this story and a form for its telling.
In the early stages of development, I was supported by mentor Tim Crouch through Pan Pan’s excellent mentorship programme (listen to Tim and I talk about the early genesis of Montague on RTÉ Radio 1 here). Montague was then commissioned by Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre, and in November, with the support of Mermaid and an Arts Council Project Award, we began a 2-week research and development period with a full team of collaborators. During this fortnight of exploration, my initial text became a backbone. Exploring character, sound, set, lighting, movement, costume, texture, we worked together to explore the possibilities of form, to tell the imagined story of this real place – a story that began like this:
A band return to a hotel in the Irish midlands that they’ve been performing at since 1975, finding it transformed. In place of ticket holders for their 40th anniversary tour, an audience of asylum seekers. The four musicians are greeted by current resident Joyce and her young son, and she encourages them to stay and play.
In this imagined encounter, in the clash between past and present, the band are forced to confront the urgent reality of the stage they have just stepped onto. In a political situation that is present and pressing, the story and performance unfolds in the form of a sound check.
Writer: Kate Heffernan. Director: Gary Keegan. Perfomers: Sallay Garnett, Pat Laffan, Gina Moxley, John Olohan, Raymond Scannell. Choreographer: Megan Kennedy. Lighting and Set Designer: Ciaran O’Melia. Costumer Designer: James David Seaver. Sound Designer Jack Cawley. Sound Engineer: Eoin Murphy. Produced by Niamh O’Donnell for Mermaid Centre.
Montague is commissioned by Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Centre. Research and development period made possible by an Arts Council Project Award (Creation Strand). Early development supported by Pan Pan’s International Mentorship and Bursary Scheme.
Photography by Ste Murray.
These past 10 days, I’ve been knee-deep in research for Troika Fiscal Disobedience Consultancy, a new show by Spanish artist Núria Güell which opened in the gallery at Project Arts Centre last night.
Throughout 2016, the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Project are engaging with acts and idea of ‘rebellion’. Núria Güell uses installation, writing, performance and video for political and social activism, believing that art holds the power to rethink ourselves as a society. Preoccupied by the ever widening gap between rich and poor, some of her projects have included publishing a book that explains how to expropriate money from a bank, entering into a marriage of convenience in order to give legal status to an individual, and creating a company in order to hire a construction worker to demolish doors to enable squatting. For this solo exhibition here in Dublin, she has collaborated with Catalan activist Enric Duran to establish an agency that borrows from the tactics of corporate tax liability systems – in order to advise grass roots social projects on how to practice tax avoidance.
The exhibition screens several films (including Katerina Kitidi and Aris Chatzistefanou’s Debtocracy and Ruaridh Arrow’s How to Start a Revolution). The opposite end of the gallery becomes an ‘office’ for the consultancy, a desk inviting visitors to explore the company website, the wall above it brandished with its logo. I worked on a design for the business cards. Both the desk and business card features a bunch of yellow tulips – a nod to the Tulip Mania which swept the Netherlands in the 17th century, considered the first speculative bubble.
To give a social and historical context for the action of the consultancy, I collaborated with Núria and curator Tessa Giblin to research eight cases of fiscal and civil disobedience. The short texts I wrote and designed became the surface of a coffee table in the consultancy’s ‘waiting area’. The cases came from the distant past right up to the present: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat at the front of the bus; 18 million citizens of the United Kingdom refuse to pay their Poll Tax; Gandhi leads tens of thousands of followers to disregard the British salt monopoly and harvest their own salt; Charles Stewart Parnell encourages struggling tenants to shun their landlords.
From the dumping of tea into the sea by 200 patriots during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to a group of independent retailers in a small Welsh town going “offshore” in 2015, I found the research fascinating – uncovering and telling the stories of acts of civil disobedience that have denied unjust laws collectively, publicly, peacefully – realising that Núria Güell and Troika Fiscal Disobedience Consultancy is but the latest in a proud and vibrant history.
The exhibition is one of Frieze Magazine‘s Dublin highlights, and continues until 19 March 2016.