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Hotel Ballymun - Uplifting Art or Poverty Tourism?

category dublin | arts and media | feature author Monday April 02, 2007 17:48author by ex Shanliss Report this post to the editors

featured image
Ballumun tower block

"Hotel Ballymun" is "a unique short stay hotel" which is open to the public between 31st of March to the 27th of April 2007. It is located on the top floor of the Clarke Tower, one of the last remaining tower blocks in Ballymun, an impoverished suburb in North Dublin which has been extensively "regenerated" over the last few years.

The project was commissioned by Breaking Ground, the Ballymun Regeneration per cent for art scheme and it intends to "re-consider the utopian architecture of 1960’s Ballymun and encourage the practice of salvaging and re-imagining objects, spaces and resources from the past, which can be re-used inventively to meet contemporary needs."

However, the project is not without its critics. One indymedia contributor has launched a brutally frank attack on the project and similar artistic endeavours in the suburb, likening them to "showing an episode of "MTV Cribs" in deepest sub-saharan Africa - as if to say, here is what we have in our part of the world, you have none of this, we bet you'd like it but you're poor so fuck you."

New: an alternative view in photo story from hotel ballymun

Related Links: Hotel Ballymun Website | Affordable Housing in Ballymun: affordable for whom? | Out of site, Out of mind -Travellers in Ballymun | Open Forum meeting about Traveller accommodation in Ballymun | Ballymun Locals Take Action Against Privatisation | VIDEO: "mmm skyscraper i love you..." McDermott Tower comes crashing down in Ballymun | Residents protest in Ballymun | From Ballymun to Los Angeles - public housing residents meet at the Project Arts Theatre

from the newswire: "Hotel Ballymun" can go and fuck itself.

As per usual the Breaking Ground 1% people manage to piss off and unexcite the local residents in equal measure with their "cutting edge" condescending art-wank. Several years ago I had the misfortune to cycle up to a projection "installation" being shown on the side of one of the 4-storey blocks near the old roundabout by some artistes. It was images of the city centre - with no sound - being put up on the side of the building. What exactly is the point of this? I heard myself asking. I read the blurb, some sort of bullshit nonsense about showing the divide between the city and Ballymun. Great, like as if it needed reinforcement. It struck me as the equivalent of showing an episode of "MTV Cribs" in deepest sub-saharan Africa - as if to say, here is what we have in our part of the world, you have none of this, we bet you'd like it but you're poor so fuck you.

The latest nonsense, Hotel Ballymun, seems to be nothing but an exercise for richer people to come out and sample the views from the last tower without ever having to actually interact with any real people (bar the very small population of people already involved in the arts there via Axis etc who show up to these events). I nearly pissed myself laughing when I heard that the "exhibition" had to be postponed for a week because of safety concerns over people going up in the tower. Strange that, for years the lifts were always problematic but there was a similar amount of concern for the residents there.

If I recall correctly I saw an ad in one of the national broadsheets a couple of weeks ago advertising this project. I talked about it to a friend from Balcurris a few days later because I hadnt heard anything else about, and she said that she was amused because apparently the "guests" at this hotel have swipe cards to get in through a secure door, there's a reception desk, and a 24 hour concierge/security at the door to ensure the safety of people there - something she wasnt afforded while she was living in a flat before she got a shared ownership house reasonably close.

This big, professionally graphically designed ad in the paper couldnt have contrasted more sharply with a report from the Northside People (scanned in and attached below) recently about one of the last families to be left in the Thomas Clarke tower while waiting for their house to be finished. Lana McCarthy talked about how the flat below her was set on fire, after the front door of the block was left open and people got into a vacant unit. No 24 hour concierge for them, obviously. She rightly castigates the Hotel Ballymun experiment, saying its light hearted nature is in stark contrast to the shit that they have to put up with every day.

"Dont be so negative" I hear you saying. "Ballymun needs art along with its regeneration". Yep - thats fair enough. But the way that it usually works is that an artist from outside the area, usually with incredibly grand notions about "the inherent decay of urban space in the socio-economic processes of neoliberal blah blah whatsit marxist interpretation of concrete etc etc", is drafted in by the arts council to supposedly push the boundaries of art yet at the same time fulfil their duty to involve "the community", which basically involves the curating artist(s) dictating their big idea to the people and how they're going to be a part of it, via meetings and workshops. Once the piece or event is finished, the artists packs his bag with a "I went to Ballymun and involved the community" stamp on his CV, and the process begins again a year or two later, with pretty much minimal local involvement at the top level.

"So whats your solution then?" I dont have one. I dont live in Ballymun and I never lived in the Clarke Tower so I cant authentically say what way I'd feel about loads of curious strangers coming over and poking around in my home I used to live for years like an empty zoo, or what way I'd like it to be artistically interpretated or used. But I like the idea that Des Bishop had for his recent comedy show - no, not the one about getting a workshop going, but going out into the street, picking up wandering young lads who were messing about, and filming them with an angle grinder in an abandoned flat. Bishop isnt my favourite comedian but he made the good point that most of the people who come to these trendy art workshop things in Ballymun are the people that are already "saved", what about those that arent? Anto or Mick or Paula can do good graffiti, fix a car or a bike, or are handy with tools but because they cant read, they're told they're "illiterate" and hence that's the end of the line for them.

How about an art scheme or event that involves them? They get turned loose on the tower with a thousand cans of flourescent UV spray paint and scaffolding all around it on the exterior, and get paid to write or draw whatever they want every day for a week, with a big curtain covering their efforts. Just before the tower gets imploded, the curtain is taken down for half an hour, so everyone gathered around for the implosion gets to see their work (every tower implosion brings thousands of watchers, from all around the local area). So what if its crude, haphazard and not as cutting edge as you might like - when anyone starts out making art their first piece isnt a Picasso, everyone has to start somewhere. The public get to see it and the "artists" get a life-affirming buzz when that curtain comes down off the tower as people applaud and cheer their work before the building comes down, maybe opening their eyes up to an art world that is in reality a million miles away from their lives.

Art doesnt always have to be about changing society but when hordes of bangwagon jumpers arrive en masse into a rougher part of town because the art event has been billed as "urban" or "gritty" you have to ask questions about what exactly is the point of this all. Is it so people involved in higher-thinking activities or comfortable backgrounds can assuage their guilt about having zero involvement with the area up until this point (when the possibility of further arts council funding is dangled there like a golden carrot in front of their noses)? Once its over everyone will go home with a brief satisfaction in their thinking they "know" Ballymun now, or at least they saw it. Meanwhile once the show's rolled out of town, the local residents will just get on with their usual daily lives (and protesting regularly against the delays of BRL), only four or five miles up the road from town but metaphorically a million miles away from the world of "art", its patrons, and its condescending attitude wrapped in a layer of involvement or experimentation.



 #   Title   Author   Date 
   Des Bishop     funny ha ha    Sun Apr 01, 2007 22:37 
   Seven Towers     Tadhg    Mon Apr 02, 2007 00:37 
   A suitable theme tune for the ballymun project     wageslave    Mon Apr 02, 2007 02:48 
   sub sahara, ballymun ?     c murp    Mon Apr 02, 2007 03:01 
   Excellent article     MG    Mon Apr 02, 2007 15:46 
   I agree     Marlboro Man    Mon Apr 02, 2007 15:57 
   Philistines     Andre Breton    Mon Apr 02, 2007 16:18 
   It looks really nice     MG    Mon Apr 02, 2007 16:57 
   being a philistine doesn't make you a rebel     Dan    Mon Apr 02, 2007 16:58 
 10   Philistines?     Marlboro Man    Mon Apr 02, 2007 17:05 
 11   what about piss in the lifts     Gearoid O Loingsigh    Mon Apr 02, 2007 17:12 
 12   Radical Chic     Until Jerusalem    Mon Apr 02, 2007 17:19 
 13   noisey hotel     ballymonkstown    Mon Apr 02, 2007 18:36 
 14   officials     Artoid    Mon Apr 02, 2007 19:44 
 15   some thoughts on the above     c murp    Mon Apr 02, 2007 21:28 
 16   Opener     x    Mon Apr 02, 2007 22:35 
 17   art and irony     hope    Tue Apr 03, 2007 01:16 
 18   here here     c murp    Tue Apr 03, 2007 01:33 
 19   aggressively nuetral!     krossie    Tue Apr 03, 2007 10:36 
 20   Understanding     MG    Tue Apr 03, 2007 11:41 
 21   Ballymun and Community Art     Fred Johnston    Tue Apr 03, 2007 19:02 
 22   Flooring     Caobhin    Tue Apr 03, 2007 20:30 
 23   little other press tie-in.     dr magneto    Tue Apr 03, 2007 20:44 
 24   more thoughts on the above     c murp    Tue Apr 03, 2007 22:14 
 25   My art piece is better than yours     mg    Wed Apr 04, 2007 11:42 
 26   subjective choice     c murf    Wed Apr 04, 2007 13:08 
 27   Art for the Sake of Bollox     JarJarBlanks    Wed Apr 04, 2007 13:25 
 28   swipe cards and other myths     milis    Thu Apr 05, 2007 12:24 
 29   There we have it:     well-heeled cad    Thu Apr 05, 2007 15:36 
 30   agree     balance    Thu Apr 05, 2007 19:55 
 31   "ART" : what drives people to life and death     dunk    Thu Apr 05, 2007 20:39 
 32   agree     balance    Thu Apr 05, 2007 20:44 
 33   "ART" : what drives people to life and death     dunk    Thu Apr 05, 2007 20:49 
 34   Anto and paula.....     wageslave    Fri Apr 06, 2007 01:48 
 35   Visited last night (honest appraisal)     The squirrel    Fri Apr 06, 2007 11:38 
 36   Crowd     yut    Fri Apr 06, 2007 12:14 
 37   Two cents     Local Resident    Fri Apr 06, 2007 13:25 
 38   Uplifting Art     nessargh    Mon Apr 09, 2007 13:07 
 39   Outside Looking In     Until Jerusalem    Tue Apr 10, 2007 13:37 
 40   Not everything     galway water drinker    Wed Apr 11, 2007 00:08 
 41   out of the ghetto     dunk    Wed Apr 11, 2007 12:59 
 42   contacting locals     krossie    Wed Apr 11, 2007 15:03 
 43   : )     m.    Wed Apr 11, 2007 20:38 
 44   In fairness     Dunkwatch    Thu Apr 12, 2007 00:46 
 45   Inviting locals     HW    Thu Apr 12, 2007 15:58 
 46   Hotel!!!!!!     Me07    Thu Apr 19, 2007 01:46 
 47   Auction     reprint    Fri Apr 27, 2007 00:13 

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