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The Vacuum Issue 3 spacer Issue 3
The Agreement An Exhibition by Shane Cullen - Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast - 22nd of February to 23rd of March
by Cherie Driver
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Language - its mediation, distance, plurality, its uncertainty of meaning and its political implications have been exercised throughout the intellectual history of western civilisation. This examination has been done mainly by social theorists, philosophers and feminists but very rarely directly by an artist. The Agreement is an art work by Shane Cullen which in terms of scale and material is immediately impressive. The sculptural work installed at the Golden Thread Gallery is 67 metres in length presenting the 11,500 words of the British-Irish Peace Treaty of 1998 through digitally routing into 56 panels. With regard to scale the floor to ceiling panels brings to mind commemorative monuments such as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Replicate monuments through pre existing text are recurrent in Cullen’s work such as Fragmens Sur Les Institutions Républicaines IV, 1997 and it is a significant antecedent to this exhibition. It was a transcription of the written comms, messages written on cigarette papers by IRA prisoners which were smuggled through bodily orifices from the Maze prison during the hunger strikes of 1981. More importantly the work through presentation strategies gave the observer the opportunity to consider what is at stake in allowing these re-presentation to make itself present, allowing oneself to see the lack of fixity in the meaning of things, and it this lack of fixity which is a fundamental element of The Agreement.[1]
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The Agreement is a Beaconsfield commission in partnership with over sixteen organisations from arts councils, art organisations and government bodies across the two islands. The commissioners’ aim is to celebrate the signing of the Agreement reached in the multi party talks on Northern Ireland in 1998. Beaconsfield overall objective is to educate the public by providing a streamlined resource for the development and presentation of contemporary art and initiating dialogues between artists and their audience. The exhibition in Belfast will also travel to Dublin, Derry, London and Manchester, were in each location its significance will be discussed and interpreted through seminars and debates by the context in which it is presented, therefore shifting according to the cultural and political climate in which it is viewed.
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Wandering around the exhibition of grey tone foam-like board with precision cut text, gave me the opportunity to read and consider the text of The Agreement’ again. But more importantly in terms of the examination of language as a means of classifying and ordering the world, this commission is possibly a catalyst for discussion of society's incessant production of a distorted reality through images, signs and language. The constraints of language cannot be overcome, but what I hope this forum offers us is not so much an opportunity to be educated’ but to explore the complexity and deep implications for the individual of an 11,500 word text, as a catalyst to examine what written language is and its limitations in the lived reality of the individual.[3]
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Sources:
[1] Wilson, Michael. Fragments and Responses’ in Kelly, Liam. (Editor). Shane Cullen Fragmens Sur Les Institutions Républicaines IV, Derry: Orchard Gallery, 1997, p 20.
[2] Quotes taken from www.theagreement.org
[3] Check out this text if you are interested in a comprehensive and accessible read on Linguistics. Cameron, Deborah. Feminism & Linguistic Theory, Second Edition, New York: Palgrave, 1992 (1985).
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The Agreement An Exhibition by Shane Cullen
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The Agreement An Exhibition by Shane Cullen
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