Finding Irish Gold: How to Dig your way out of Austerity, 2015
Over recent months, student and academics across the world, including the UK, the Netherlands, Canada and Ireland¹ have staged waves of protests against funding cuts, the privatisation of education, precarious working conditions and unsustainable and insurmountable student debt².
In the context of the celebratory atmosphere of the opening of the graduate exhibition in GMIT CCAM, the work of Suzi Coombs, sits poignantly, slightly out of sight, in a room adjacent to the open exhibition hall, offering a space of quiet discontent and reflection on the impact of these global conditions on today’s graduates.
Entitled Finding Irish Gold: How to Dig your way out of Austerity, Coombs' work is a complex installation, containing multiple strands of the artist’s self reflexive exploration on the effects and impact of austerity and debt on young people in Ireland. Four key elements of works are highlighted in the room; a film projection, a sculpture, an assemblage of documentation and ephemera, and a durational performance. Each individual strand of work within the space relates to an ongoing series of performative actions, interactions and gestures created by Coombs that attempt to “give voice to this underrepresented demographic and give some visibility to the detrimental effects of these cuts on young people’³. A modest artists publication entitled ‘Gestures’ also documents Coombs' multiple and multifaceted approaches towards tackling the complexity of these issues.
The performative gestures and acts of quiet dissatisfaction and resistance created by Coombs throughout her final year, are all traced within the installation space through the various assemblages of works, materials and documents. Each are given equal significance within the space, thus creating a cyclical spatial and material relationship between them, a relationship that is activated by the artist’s past or implied interactions with them.
The Croagh Patrick mountain, an icon of the West of Ireland, takes on a new meaning within the work, becoming a signifier not only of the monumental scale and enormity of the burden of national debt on future generations, but also as a site of solace and generative potential. The presence of this mountain punctuates each element of the installation space. The projected film documents Coombs climbing Croagh Patrick barefoot, a reverent and futile task. The image of the enormity of the mountain pressing on the single solitary figure observed within the vast landscape.
In the centre of the installation, a rocker box, also known as a ‘cradle’ used to mine for gold, refers to a previous durational performance by Coombs, who spent hours sifting through buckets of earth and stone- digging, searching and sifting for meaning and value amongst the rubble.
On the adjacent wall, fragments and traces of other interactions between Coombs, the mountain, and the topics that she is attempting to derive meaning from, are pinned and woven together to form a entangled mess of interactions between the personal and political, all symbolised in the single figure of the recent art graduate. Coombs is aware and reflective of her own position within this entanglement. Using performative actions, tasks and gestures that utilise repetition and duration, she highlights the futility of deriving meaning from issues of such enormity as an individual.
Each day, throughout the duration of the exhibition, Coombs stamps the word ‘debt’ onto the gallery wall. A rhythmic, slow and laborious task, that gradually builds throughout the course of the graduate exhibition, to reveal an image; a mountain - constructed from entirely from debt. The mountain of debt, literally confronts us, as audience, as graduates, as citizens, but here the image of Croagh Patrick can be drawn upon simultaneously as an image of resistance, mobilisation, and inspiration. Although the mountain contains seams of gold with an estimated value of €360 million, community activism and resistance has successfully secured its protection for future generations. Alluding to another meaning within Finding Irish Gold: How to Dig your way out of Austerity, there are some things that we still value more than money, and perhaps, though sometimes a seemingly futile act, art is one of them.
See: ( http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2015/mar/25/university-protests-around-the-world-a-fight-against-commercialisation ) and ( http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/ncad-students-occupy-boardroom-in-protest-over-resources-1.2151722 )
For recent work specifically focusing on the Artist as Debtor see: http://artanddebt.org/
From 'Gestures' an artists publication created by Suzi Coombs as part of Finding Irish Gold: How to Dig your way out of Austerity 2015
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