Floating ideas on Ireland’s migrant culture

Jason Deans’ exhibition in Cobh touches on Brexit and emigration, writes Colette Sheridan.

Floating ideas on Ireland’s migrant culture

Jason Deans’ exhibition in Cobh touches on Brexit and emigration, writes Colette Sheridan.

Looking out from one of the bay windows of the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, artist, Jason Deans, draws attention to the proximity of Haulbowline Island, the home port of the Irish naval vessel, the LE Samuel Beckett. It is fitting that Deans’s scale recreation of this ship has such a backdrop, as well as that of nearby Spike Island with its past as a Treaty port.

Dublin-based Deans is exhibiting work inspired by Brexit. Having graduated from college around the time of the recession and seen many of his contemporaries having to emigrate, he is concerned with political and financial instability and the social problems caused as a result.

He has been researching the causes of Brexit and its fallout, particularly in relation to the border dividing the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Deans’s rendering of the LE Samuel Beckett, entitled ‘Wandering’, is in the style of a currach, using canvas and bitumen. Why depict a patrol boat as something suggestive of a currach?

“The navy is seen as the outward force of a country,” says Dean.

“When I started working on this piece, I wanted to make a traditional Irish boat. The LE Samuel Beckett patrols Irish waters. We are kind of a migrant people so I wanted a representation of Irish people emigrating.

I’m fascinated by how migrants are perceived abroad.

Under the raised boat are hundreds of old crumpled boarding passes, mostly Ryanair ones.

Deans asked friends, family and Facebook contacts to send him on their boarding cards for the installation. It draws attention to Irish borders and the free movement of people.

Deans, who has an MFA from the University of Ulster and a BA in fine art from the Dublin School of Creative Arts, guides me to another room in the Sirius Arts Centre where he has an installation of a plane made out of elder wood, twine, cardboard and rope.

It is of a similar scale as that of the boat.

“It’s based on a drone that NATO forces use. It’s looking at the whole smart border thing that is being preached as a solution.

"That is that technology will solve the problem of monitoring the border. But if you’re monitoring something, you need to have some way of patrolling it.Taking things to its logical conclusion, a smart border would be controlled by drones. “

The drone that Deans has suggested in his creation is able to carry weapons. “It’s synonymous inAfghanistan with blowing up stuff.”

Not a palatable prospect. Deans is questioning how management of the border will impact the movement of Irish citizens in a post-Brexit Europe.

Through drawings, he has also studied the 200 or so official crossing points between the two nations, how they became largely invisible since the Good Friday Agreement and how their troubled 97-year history has impacted the landscape.

The drawings, all 206 of them, depict almost every crossing point between the north and the south of Ireland.

Made from white polychromos pencil on black paper, Deans researched these points through Google Maps and Google Images.

He also read Colm Tóibín’s 1987 book, Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border, as well as the more recent book, The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland’s Border, by Garrett Carr.

Deans’ exhibition is site specific in more ways than one. His drone-like plane is suspended using a system that includes soil from Spike Island.

“I got talking to one of the curators on the island and told him what I wanted. He said ‘No bother.’”

About 10kg of mud was sent by boat across to the Sirius. Contained in a yellow bucket, it acts as a counterweight for the drone which is suspended by a pulley system.

Both technically and conceptually, this is a timely and interesting exhibition.

As if Nothing Ever Lasts by Jason Deans is at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh until September 14.

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