Personal reflections on the work made
was a non-stop anti-drugs commemorative vigil for all those lost through
drug abuse in the north inner city, Dublin.
This was one of the most rewarding works one's made, due to the extent
of public response given by people on the street and passers by. It
seemed the vigil touched an unhealed wound in this community. People
left moving tributes to loved ones and friends lost through heroin abuse,
during the twelve hours of the vigil. Many wanted something lasting,
enduring, to be done with the messages after the end. They wanted the
process of commemoration to continue.
The process involved making the art 'invisible' as such and naming it
a vigil, to allow for much more direct, upfront contact between members
of the public and oneself (as a facilitating listener), in a ritual
of public commemoration.
The process involved pre-arranging various items for the vigil. These
included two trees - one young (alive), the other old (dead). The old
tree was suspended laterally between two tables, with bare strings hanging
from its branches, as well as photographs taken from the whole area
and information on drug abuse from the inner city. Both trees were positioned
at the facade face, the young tree, vertically, on the steps and the
old one, horizontally, over the pavement in front.
The context was the streets of a massively underfunded, underprivileged
and exploited community, not that of a(ny) white walled gallery. The
context was real, not fabricated.
The initial brief felt challenging. Here was an invitation to work with,
and for, people living in a particularly under-resourced, drug ridden
locality in the inner city of Dublin. The work would address inner city
residents firstly, the art context secondly.
biggest single problem for residents in the area was extensive heroin
addiction and the scourge of drug dealers and pushers trading brazenly,
openly on their streets.
I decided to focus on this predicament and researched the annual financial
breakdown of the whole 'cost' to Dublin city of the heroin industry,
with the intention of passing pertinent information plus, over to residents
in the locality several days prior to the scheduled date of the work,
with an invitation to people to bring, if they wished, items of remembrance
to the vigil. (Invitations were hand delivered to the local community
and mail outs sent to the art community.)
Communications and negotiations with various communities involved
After deciding to concentrate on the heroin problem in the area, I contacted
Tony (Sheehan) of Firestation Studios as to whether there was anywhere
in the locality from which I could get access to drug abuse information.
Tony took me to a local organization where I was given access to appropriate
drug abuse material from which I could select. Later I suggested to
Tony it would be useful if I could meet representatives of the local
community to see if my intended proposal would meet with their approval,
which was essential if the work were to go ahead. The meeting was set
up at Inner City Renewal Group, Community Information and Advice, near
the corner of Buckingham Street Lower, and Amiens Street. At the meeting
the proposal was agreed to, with the recommendation the work be made
of the work
I believe the work was well received by members of the public. People
of all ages stopped to talk and leave commemorative messages. A number
were themselves addicts, some on rehabilitation programmes, others not.
One young couple talked of their teetering balance between successful
withdrawal or re-sinking to usage. They hoped they could make it........
but weren't sure. A heroin advocate - "I use as much as I can get" -
stuck a needle in the commemorative tree. Throughout the day many asked
what would happen to the messages afterwards. By the end it became clear
that people locally needed and wanted a lasting memorial to their loved
ones lost through heroin abuse.
by Alastair MacLennan
Alastair MacLennan presented a twelve hour vigil for 'all those lost
through drug abuse in the north inner city. ' In front of the facade
of the improbable Greek Temple on Sean MacDermott Street, a sapling
tree rested across two tables. Behind, a smaller tree grew in a pot.
Tied to the tree, felled before it could grow strong, fluttered pieces
of paper. From time to time, MacLennan added more.
Texts, extracts from reports on drugs in the area, a damning tabulation
of the costs of drug abuse in Dublin, set against the costs of not tackling
the problem, and photographs, hand written notes, from people to lost
loved ones. And all the time, on that sunny, autumn day, people passing
would stop. 'What are you doing?........ What is the tree for?.......
Can I write something on it?' And MacLennan would talk to them,
listen, ask quiet questions of his own. And I watched, from a stone
seat opposite, for an hour. Moved. The strings, MacLennan told me, came
from his meetings with local groups. The idea grew with them. The piece
would have been beautiful anywhere. Here it mattered too.