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Photos: John Gallen

Placing Voices Voicing Places

An ambitious collaboration between a third level education provider, a non profit arts organisation and civil society sought to address complex questions about heritage and contemporary Irish society.

Placing Voices - Voicing Places was a partnership between a number of departments in UCD (Archaeology, Sociology and Art Management and Cultural Policy), Create the national development agency for collaborative arts, and the Integration office, Dublin City Council. All strands of the programme were funded by the Heritage Council.

Archaeologist Tadhg O Keefe:

“In designing this project as a collaborative venture between the academy (UCD), an arts organisation working with artists and communities (Create) and a public body (Dublin City Council), we aim to strengthen the links between policy, practice and scholarship by advancing the role of Humanities and of the Arts sector in public policy, debate and practice. It is also our intention to bring issues and dynamics of culture and everyday life into policy process and governance, through innovations in the research process.”

The project had as its starting point for investigation two urban communities in Dublin with divergent historical trajectories – one, traditional working class deemed to be in decline, and another with new immigrant communities.

Over the course of the last year the project team which consists of archaeologists, sociologists, two artists, a photographer and a digital storyteller, have explored the interface between past and present, unpacked complex questions on identity and heritage.

The project has concentrated on two areas. The first area is Clanbrassil Street. Originally a medieval suburb, this is a traditional, working-class area which is fast disappearing under new apartment blocks, and in which a century-old Jewish population has disappeared and a Muslim population settled there today. Not unlike the patterns and displacements that have taken place in other cities – New York’s Lower East Side and London’s Whitechapel, different waves of migrant groups have settled and moved on from Clanbrassil St.

The second area stretches from Parnell Street and Moore Street towards Amiens Street. It encompasses low-rent residential and commercial spaces of immigrant African and Chinese communities, as well as former working-class tenements and, in the vicinity of Railway Street, what was the city’s nineteenth-century red-light district.

The arts element of the project was conceived as an innovative vehicle for mobilising heritage as a catalyst for arts practice. In so doing the arts strand of the project has sought to provide a reading of heritage as cultural memory. The role of the arts and artist led projects within the wider framework of the Placing Voices; Voicing Places project provided an opportunity for a creative reinterpretation and re-inscription of site as a repository of lived memory and future signification.

Create in commissioning the two artists - writer Ursula Rani Sarma and visual artist Sean Lynch – looked to enliven critical approaches to collaborative arts practice and challenge stale and stereotypical notions about the kind of work produced by artists working with communities or responding to the situation and context of place.

Artist Sean Lynch worked in Clanbrassil Street, once the main shopping street for the Dublin Jewish community. In the 1920s more than 16 shops on the street were Jewish businesses. Now there are halal butchers, curry takeaways and some remnants of another era with the antique and collectables shops. Sean’s practice takes inspiration from the Archive. Extensively researching the history of the area he also engaged with the present day occupants – mostly small businesses.

“My artworks” says Lynch “consist of photographs, installations and publications, all related to ideas of how history and its contingent realities might be represented, understood and further discussed. For the last six months I have worked onsite at Clanbrassil Street, meeting many people there and researching aspects of the area. Two 'fanzine'-style publications were produced as a result, which were distributed freely around the locality.”

Sean Lynch has released a research 'zine on the Clanbrassil Street area:
Please download the first zine here
Please download the second zine here

Theatre artist and playwright Ursula Rani Sarma worked with an Educate Together School, Griffith Barracks Multidenominational School. Through a series of creative writing workshops with 10-12 year olds, Ursula explored ideas and meanings of Home. The range of descriptions shift between evocations of sound, feeling and remembrance.

These range of emotional responses to the concept of Home were reproduced on Clanbrassil Street through water powerhosing, with the statements legible through the street detritus. They were also reproduced on a postcard, where they read as a continuous narrative essay. The postcards have been distributed to the residents in and around the street and a separate publication documenting the process is currently being designed.

Read more about The 'Home' Project by Ursula Rani Sarma

Both artists approached Clanbrassil Street through a model of engagement that sought to disrupt and uncover new thoughts and approaches to the street, uncovering new meanings and excavating an alternative reading of heritage as a set of cultural memories.

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