Actuation for Inner Art at Greek Temple Facade, Dublin, Ireland.
Firestation Artists Studios, Dublin, Ireland.
18th September 1997 12:00 noon - 12:00 midnight

* * *

by Alastair MacLennan

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.

Process involved

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.

Initial brief

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.

Research undertaken

The 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 real.

Reception 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 abus

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.

Gemma Tipton from CIRCA No 87 December 1997