A Catalyst Taxi / Five Lamps Festival
Graham & Gilbourne -24th April 2010
The Five Lamps
The Matt Talbot Bridge crosses the river Liffey, joining Moss Street on the south side with Memorial Road on the north. The ‘Five Lamps’ area of Dublin’s inner city runs north from the bridge along the main artery of the North Strand Road ending at Fairview Park. Amien Street railway station, Busarus – the central bus station, and a section of the Luas tramline, all come within its orbit. As a site of intersection for a host of major traffic routes this residential area seems at once settled and provisional. It has two populations, the people who live there permanently, and the large numbers who are constantly passing through on their way to somewhere else.
Invited to make a work in the context of the Five Lamps Festival we developed an idea around mobility. We wanted to make connections between people and places, connections that might otherwise be missed. Acting as chauffeurs, guides, and companions, we would provide a free taxi service bringing people to and from destinations of their choosing within the larger Dublin area. Our tag line became,‘A Catalyst Taxi – Mobilizing Intentions.’ Speaking to people and posting notices in the surrounding area generated interest and bookings. We hoped the offer of the free service within the context of the arts festival would gently provoke people towards something new. A Catalyst Taxi might also produce a distinctive kind of discourse, one influenced by ideas around movement, trust, and locations of personal importance. We could explore these ideas literally and metaphorically – perhaps the literal and metaphorical would reinforce each other.
Planning an artwork premised on interaction and direct experience brings the issue of documentation to the fore. We talked about videotaping and making sound recordings, and considered various choreographies of movement and speech. We felt eventually that these devices would produce a kind of performance and decided we didn’t want that; we would keep it simple and focus on the direct and unmediated experience of each trip. This would be the primary material, the passenger’s experience coupled with our own, and how these elements combined before, during, and afterwards.
Kathleen and Kate
Already lost on the way to collecting our first passengers we decided to forgo the map and rely on passer-by knowledge to direct us. Travelling south from the city centre, and via several circumnavigations of The Goat Bar & Grill, we arrived at our pick-up point ahead of schedule and with an agreeable sense that a collective effort had helped to get us there. It was just before noon on Saturday morning and the grounds of Airfield House were already busy with visitors enjoying a perfect spring day. The working farm and formal gardens of Airfield, a large privately owned estate on the edge of Dundrum, are open to the public all year round. Kathleen and Kate had spent the morning in the gardens and were waiting for us to drive them back to ‘St. Joseph’s House for the Adult Deaf and Deafblind’ in Stillorgan. Approaching us arm in arm, Kathleen stood out in peach, gold, green and pink. Her companion Kate eyed us through sunglasses with lenses like the wings of a big, brown butterfly.
We set off with Kate directing us from the back seat. As we chatted Kate recalled an episode from the previous week when the vet back home in Kilkenny rang to say that her cat, Delorean, had been hit by a car and was badly hurt. Kate was asked to decide if the vet should operate or put him down to save him from further suffering. The heartrending choice was made over the phone and the cat was put out of its misery. A few days later Kate was back home in Kilkenny and taken aback to see Delorean suddenly appear through the door – there had been a case of mistaken identity, Delorean was alive and well, and Kate realised she had pronounced the death sentence on someone else’s unfortunate pet.
Kathleen sat quietly in the front. Without the sounds of our conversation or a view of the sunny day it was difficult to imagine how she experienced the world. Relying on people like Kate to help her to communicate, she connects with her surroundings primarily through touch. She and Kate ‘spoke’ using a form of tactual signing, Kathleen’s hand resting on Kate’s as messages were signed to her, and Kate’s resting on Kathleen’s in turn. In this way Kate had introduced us and described the purpose of A Catalyst Taxi. Kathleen seemed to understand our idea and was happy to come along for the ride. Greetings and goodbyes were all hugs and kisses, our gestures unusually close and trusting, perhaps because they lacked the relative distance and reserve of sight and speech.
The central venue for the Five Lamps Festival was Marino College of Further Education, Connolly House, on the North Strand Road. We went there to pick up Naomi and to see what else was happening. Margaret and several assistants had been working from early that morning on an installation made from thousands of cable ties wrapped around the railings of the little park beside the college, while inside Roisin and colleagues were busily preparing for music and dance events coming later in the day. With our passenger on board we were soon on our way again, this time to the RHA Gallagher Gallery on Ely Place. We talked about A Catalyst Taxi and other aspects of Naomi’s Gatekeeper Project. She explained that this trip to the gallery was another element of her PHD research and that the Selection Committee of the RHA had allowed her witness their selection process for the annual exhibition, a previously unheard of privilege for ordinary mortals, and a coup of sorts for the PHD programme. Standing outside the RHA’s august Headquarters in her flat cap and khaki fatigues Naomi reminded me of “Wolfie” Smith, the working class hero from the 1970’s sitcom, Citizen Smith. ‘Power to the People!’, Wolfie would cry, standing ever ready to infiltrate the establishment on behalf of the humble proletariat.
Philip – briefly …
Philip has been working as a professional photographer since finishing a fine art media course in 2009. Though engaged to document Naomi’s project, as a man with a camera he quickly found himself the unofficial photographer for most of the day’s events. We explained our trip together would be brief because of a pressing appointment in Sandymount. Philip snapped away unperturbed as we drove a short circuit around the lowlands of Fairview and Eastwall, and circled back to festival headquarters.
Hanna and Sofia
The first of several crossings of the East Link Toll Bridge brought us towards Sandymount to collect our youngest passengers of the day. Six-year-old twins Hanna and Sofia had a party to go to, and as they insisted over the phone, “The sooner the better!” Waiting with a pineapple as a gift for the crew, the girls’ trusting parents, Simon and Johanna, handed them over. “Just head straight out along the Liffey”; Simon said, his refreshing directness making up for the lack of detail. The girls were already comfortable in the back seat so we waved goodbye to mam and dad and headed west towards Lucan. Hanna introduced her sister and herself and filled us in on a schedule that revolved exclusively around FUN. A taxi animated by chatter and song found its way via the Liffey and the N4, and somewhat miraculously, amidst the sprawl of newly built housing estates, to the front door of number 8 Bewley Avenue.
The girls dropped us like hot potatoes once a younger playmate came along but their friend’s parents, Angie and Niall, very kindly invited us inside. Over a glass of wine (very small and definitely just the one officer) we heard how Angie and the twins’ mother Johanna had grown up together in Malaysia, lost touch, and 15 years later discovered each other again on Grafton Street. We sat surrounded by Angie’s eclectic art collection and chatted about cultural differences, fate, and the joys of Asian food. Before long it was time to leave and steer the taxi back towards the city. We wondered about Sanskrit, the language the girls had been singing in (revealed after several hopeless guesses). The words sounded lovely but what did they mean? Back on the road it was time for our own music, so the specially prepared Catalyst Mix CD was cranked up to sound-track our way back into town.
The early evening Tea Dance was already in full swing inside the college gym. With silver quiffs bopping, the Brian McCarthy Band looked like they’d been tapping toes for quite a few years. Roisin invited us to have some tea and cake and we sat and watched the Macushla Dance Group (vintage swingers) stepping out to the veteran rockers arthritic rhythms. The irony was it was the young ones (relatively speaking) who were lolling around scoffing tea and buns, while the old timers were throwing shapes and hammering out the tunes. Caught up in the entertainment we almost forgot we had another passenger to collect.
Andrew had spied the twin chimneys of the Poolbeg Power Station from the distance of his bedroom in Castleknock. He wondered about the tall, red and white looped stacks, and one day decided to take a closer look. We parked as close as we could to the chimneys before walking together towards the red painted lighthouse perched at the opposite end of the 1 km long sea wall. The granite wall is the southern one of a pair built in the 18th century that stretch far out into Dublin bay. The deep channel maintained between the huge walls allows an easy passage for the ferries entering and leaving the port. (Some evenings at twilight, when the lights of the great ferries twinkle along the bows, it can appear as though one of the city’s new multi-storey buildings is slowly sliding out to sea)
For Andrew’s return journey we passed over the river, went once again through the Eastlink Toll Bridge, and out towards the mouth of the Bay. The route to the chimneys takes you through an alien zone of massive waterworks and anonymous buildings spread out along the flat expanses of reclaimed land. Andrew had previously walked to this point from his home, a distance of several miles, with the landmark of the chimneys themselves his only guide. In an age of Googling and virtual realities this method of direct enquiry seemed an unusual, even eccentric, choice. Walking towards these curious objects with no prior investigation, and without so much as a rain jacket on a winter’s day, he had arrived weary and sodden to discover that even at close quarters the mystery of the towers remained.
Discovering the Light House after his wet walk to the chimneys Andrew told us how the place had become important in the development of his artwork. It had entered his imagination and become a kind of refuge, and a threshold, a point of balance and rest, and of new possibilities.The evening closed in and it was time to go home, tired, and looking forward to when our humble taxi would ride again.
A Catalyst Taxi is a collaborative project by John Graham and Rachael Gilbourne working together as Graham&Gilbourne.
Gatekeeper Project is an element of artist Naomi Sex’s PHD research. The participation in the Five Lamps Festival was the second of two iterations of the project curated by Naomi, and included work from artists Cormac Browne, Sinead McCann, Margaret O’Brien, and Graham&Gilbourne.
The Five Lamps Festival programmed a wide range of events in the visual arts, music, dancing, and drama. An initiative of Roisin Lonergan and the Marino College of Further Education, and now in its third year, the festival was staged in and around the Five Lamps Area of Dublin between 22nd April and 1st May 2010.