WE TIME-TRAVELED AROUND IRELAND. It was a mass migration of the art world—first south to Cork, then north to Limerick. The Cork gig was the second coming of the Visual Artists Workers Forum, and the topic for discussion was, “Will our future thank our present?” The next day, and a hundred kilometers across the county line, was the opening of the thirty-fifth Limerick EVA, where the theme was “After the Future.” Somewhere along the way we had left tomorrow behind.
Jesse Jones was just back from a project for REDCAT in Los Angeles, and en route to Seoul for another. She told the assembled Cork company that making art was all about “the hustle and the rub”—the hustle is you get to travel, meet brilliant people, make work. The rub is there’s no money and the future is never certain. Considering the likely futures ahead of us, the mood was unexpectedly positive, a pleasant vibe that continued as we investigated Cork’s justly famous pubs. Patrick Murphy of the Royal Hibernian Academy had come fresh from the selection process of the institution’s 182nd Annual Exhibition, a massive event on the art calendar for both Academy members and other artists. He had lost count, he said, of the number of submissions related to the Titanic—almost, but not quite, outnumbered by those related to horses. They had reviewed more than three thousand artworks. “There’s still a lot of people making stuff out there,” someone said, and we nodded.
Noel Kelly of Visual Artists Ireland had told us all to “stop the gossip” if we wanted a decent future, but none of us could quite manage to follow his advice as the evening wore on. After all, what else is a big art gathering for? Questions abounded: Would the government actually amalgamate the National Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and Crawford Galleries? Was Culture Ireland really due to be scrapped? Was that guy over there with that girl in the green? One thing we knew for sure was that the immediate future wouldn’t thank our present, but still we ordered another round.
Up in Limerick, most everyone was quite content to leave current difficulties behind and embrace EVA’s postfuturistic world. We were hardly fresh from our Cork outing, but the locals were wiping a similar lack of sleep from their eyes after having been up till the small hours watching the installation of Luc Deleu’s Construction X, a massive edifice made from crossed shipping containers, first installed at EVA 1994. “It took even longer back then,” said Deleu. “I think your cranes are better now.”
The cranes being better might also explain how the buildings have grown taller—we were on the tenth floor of the Riverpoint tower, momentarily distracted from the prosecco and José Carlos Martinat’s Vandalized Monuments by a naked man in the apartment opposite. You couldn’t really blame him; the tenth floor of Riverpoint is one of Limerick’s slack spaces, unoccupied till now, so how could he have expected to become part of the view?
Over a drink, Belfast-based artist Paddy Bloomer told me how he fell afoul of Limerick’s cranes when he was in EVA 2003. They were building Riverpoint back then, and Paddy had finished installing a complicated project that involved lighting up the city’s sewers. “So we thought, where can we go to have a drink in a bit of peace? Then we saw the crane . . . ” Bloomer was locked up for three days, until Mike Fitzpatrick, then director of the Limerick City Gallery, bailed him out. “We were in with the people who had trashed one of the American army planes at Shannon,” reminisced the artist. “There was nothing bad about prison at all, except we couldn’t get out of it.”
At the Limerick City Gallery, standing under Yael Bartana’s neon And Europe Will Be Stunned, the deputy mayor of Limerick, Tom Shortt, an artist himself, told us he’d named his own daughter Eva. Annie Fletcher, the exhibition curator, cleverly dressed to match the exhibition leaflet, suggested we “should revel in the complexities of what artists can tell us about living in the now.” Later one of EVA’s founders, architect Hugh Murray, put it more succinctly: “There’s a thing that happens in Limerick. When the people see something weird, they say, ‘Aah, it must be EVA.’ ” Around us, children played with the scrunched-up scarlet papers that littered the floors of the space, blissfully unaware these were Sanja Iveković’s work containing excerpts from a UN report on torture and otherwise cruel treatment of women.
I wandered over to another empty office building (there’s nothing like an art show these days for letting you see how the office class lives) at 103 O’Connell Street, where I was transfixed by Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s mesmerizing video installation. Ni Bhriain was on hand with her London dealer, Domo Baal, clearly delighted. In fact, everyone was delighted with everything. “It’s like a great big art wedding,” said Jones, though as I rounded the corner to see Zanny Begg and Oliver Ressler’s video The Bull Laid Bear, in which capitalism is ruthlessly dismantled, I had the sense that if it were an art wedding, it was definitely for poorer rather than richer. The video concludes with Bertolt Brecht’s quote “What is the robbing of a bank, compared to the founding of a bank?” and I was almost in danger of becoming downbeat, when the National Sculpture Factory’s Mary McCarthy and Paul Sullivan from Static Liverpool appeared to announce it was dinnertime.
Over pasta, the good vibes flowed. “It isn’t a back-stabbing city any more,” someone quipped, referring to Limerick’s sometimes unsavory reputation. We ate, we drank, and then we danced to artist David Beatty’s excellent DJ set until the owner of the club wanted to close and chased us out into the streets. Those with rooms at the George tried to explain how the massive entourage of EVA-goers deserved a spot at the residents’ bar, with varying degrees of success. If after the future is going to be like a lovely big art wedding, I’ll gladly go back in time and do it again.