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					                               “On

     through the

     not so quiet

                          land”                   1




1
    Title of etching by Diarmuid Delargy (1983)
                                                             Neil Jefferies

              Cardiff School of Art and Design

                                                                             UWIC

                                               BA(Hons) Fine Art

                                                                                 2008



          “It was a life-death situation and you could not comprehend what the rules were,

   the territory of Belfast was very strange, it was a war zone city and you were continually

       stopped at security checkpoints and searched, you had to always carry ID, there was

                                        constant harassment which almost became boring.”

                                                Andre Stitt, Early Ackshun Interview (pg8)




         “No one here can avoid being aware that a massive cultural change has occurred

  in Northern Ireland, including the biggest population shift since World War two, but with

an almost defiant „business as usual‟ attitude, Ulster men and women carry on with living”.

                                                       Mike Catto, Art in Ulster: 2 (pg 144)




                                                                                       -3-
               Performance artist André Stitt is one of the most established

       artists to come out of the context of the ‘The Troubles’ in Northern

         Ireland yet his work seems almost entirely idiosyncratic with that

              created by other artists who came out of the same situation. 1




                 Was Andre Stitts artistic practice a product of the context?



                      Was the situation of ‘The Troubles’ so multi-faceted no

similarities can be found in the way it nurtured Fine Artist development

    and the way they then relate back to the circumstances in there work?




1
 This period, roughly from the late 1960‟s to the early 1980‟s will be known by its
euphemistic label „The Troubles‟ through-out this document.


                                                                                      -4-
                               Contents page

                              Part 1: Introduction

      Part 2: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and

           Andre Stitts choice of Performance Art


Part 3: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and Andre

                  Stitts adoption of private rituals


   Part 4: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and the

                          practices of other artists


   Part 5: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and its

                 legacy on the work of Andre Stitt


                                Part 6: Conclusion




                                                -5-
    “On through the not

                so quiet land”

                                 Part 1: Introduction

        Anyone who saw or read about Andre Stitts performance piece

„Romper Room‟1 in which the artist practically had a breakdown in front of

the audience, whom he berated and physically attacked while brandishing

UVF paraphernalia and an effigy of Lenny Murphy, could see how deep and

inescapable the imprint of Belfast and the troubles it played home to is on

the mind of the artist.2 This imprint hasn‟t always translated itself into work

so disturbed and masochistic but it has led Stitt to repeatedly reference the

city and its social geography in many performances throughout his career.

This document will aim to prove that these axiomatic references were not

the full extent of the influence of the city on Stitt, and that the influence


1
 „Romper Room [AKA Did my friends have fun at play]‟ Exiles studio, London, 1991
2
 The „UVF‟ is the „Ulster Volunteer Force‟, a proscribed loyalist organisation and Lenny
Murphy was the leader of a group of protestants who carried out a number of sectarian
murders during „The Troubles‟


                                                                                      -6-
realised itself in a far broader and more fundamental way. It will also aim

place Stitts work within the broader context of recent Northern Irish art in

order to draw parallels with other practitioners who have come out of the

same situation and show that even though the contemporary art produced in

this province appears disparate there are similarities in the way „The

Troubles‟ influenced the outlooks of these artists and was subsequently

assimilated in to there work. This will be done by first looking at the

development of Stitts practice during his years in Belfast at the start of his

career, 1976-1980, to present the argument that there was a tangible

influence of „The Troubles‟ on his choice of performance art as the medium

for his artistic expression.1




             Part 2: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and Andre

                       Stitts choice of Performance Art



         The adoption of performance art as the primary medium for Stitts

artistic expression was not a conscious decision taken at a single point in

time to leave painting (his preferred medium prior to his degree) for an art

form that would suit him better. It was instead something that came about

due to the on-going creative evolution Stitt went through during the late 70‟s

which saw him go off on many creative tangents and trajectories and trying




1
  Obviously it would be impossible to charter the practices of every one who ever picked up
some arts materials and created work in the province or indeed to discuss the work of crafts
persons either. Thus this document will be intent on looking at the work of Fine Artists who
went on to exhibit there work on a national and international level. It is this select group that
is implied when the terms Northern Irish artists, or Ulster Artists are used in this document.


                                                                                           -7-
numerous different styles and mediums, in order to feel out the approach and

techniques that best suited him.1

         Stitt had always wanted to be an artist2 and so he had always made

art and it is unsurprising that this autodidactic art education that he had when

he commenced his foundation degree at Belfast polytechnic in 1976 was a

practice that revolved around one of the conventional art forms, in this case

painting. However 1976 to 1980 was primarily a period of experimentation,

and so, in union with his painting practice he also began to create live works

which he referred to (and still does) as „Akshuns‟. Over the years these

„Akshuns‟ gained in there prominence and this resulted in Stitt burning all

his old paintings outside the polytechnics campus as a symbolic flight from

his previous interest in the traditional medium of painting.3 These early live

works took the form, mostly, of social interventions carried out in all manner

of places from the private to the public with there main aim usually being a

provocation that would draw attention to what was happening both in the

context of art history and the social unrest in a non didactic way. 4 They were

chiefly exploratory and were neither formalised or fully understood in terms




1
   “..it was not a case of „oh OK that‟s not working for me and so ill do this other stuff that
will work better‟… for me it was part of an on going process. I think all art practice is a
process and things evolve; maybe tangents occur, trajectories, parallel narratives, paradoxes,
dead ends, and outer-limit explorations caused by taking risks and meeting challenges.”
Interview with artist by author (un-paginated) (Refer to the appendix for copies of all
unpublished interviews)
2
  “I had always made art, ever since I was I child” ibid. (un-paginated)
3
  “…I burnt all my paintings in front of the Art school… There was a movement from the
institution out into public space… [it was] against the formality of an art school system and,
indeed the formality of making art…” Small Time Life, (pg 15) (For future information of
books mentioned and quoted from see Appendix.)
4
  “These interventions were self-consciously provocative. I was questioning what this all
meant, the meaning of art, its cultural and economic value, its reproduction and ideas of
originality. I was trying to work this out for myself as much as anything…” Interview with
artist by author (un-paginated)


                                                                                          -8-
of there style or there conceptual content, 1 yet ultimately this is a period in

which live Art became more and more prominent over painting as Stitt

chosen artistic medium and this is because of three, prominently context

related, reasons.

          Firstly there was the influence of Alistair McLennan who arrived in

Belfast a year prior to Stitt commencing his foundation coarse and who later

became his tutor on the BA coarse. McLennan was the primary exponent of

performance art in Belfast at that time and it was through contact with him,

at first through watching him perform on the streets2 and then later when he

was his tutor,3 that Stitt was able to nurture and formalise his understanding

of live art which in turn perpetuated his willingness to use it as a mode for

expression.

         The second reason is that Stitts painting practice was becoming more

and more physical in its creation, he started making paintings using „real‟

objects such as “…industrial paint, burning plastic, burning wood…4” which

were being applied to the canvas through much less traditional, more

„Pollockian‟ means such as in „Sound and vision.‟5 This is something that

came out of his working class background, as during this era there was a

burgeoning civil rights movement which underlined the sanctity and

importance of labour and the working classes, something that was not lost on


1
  “…it was about a series of layers and exploring through those layers, making art is not
about making a bunch of statements, I could just get on a soap box and say what I think…”
Early Akshuns interview. (pg 16)
2
  “…I became aware of the existence of Alistair MacLennan simply because the other
students would be saying „let‟s go down and look at this crazy guy from Scotland on the
streets of Belfast‟. Almost like it was a dare…” ibid. (pg 4)
3
  “Alistair McLennan was assigned my tutor we would talk together… he was a fuzzy
presence in my life that was supportive but did not interfere.” Interview with artist by author
(un-paginated)
4
  Quote from „Small Time Life‟ (pg17)
5
  „Sound and Vision‟, office block, city centre, Belfast, (1978)


                                                                                          -9-
Stitts father1. It was in this environment that Stitt began to see art making as

similar to labour and so as the process of creating paintings became more

laborious he became more aware of his physicality and that drew him closer

to the idea that these actions were valid in their own right and more

interesting then the paintings produced.2

         Thirdly there was the fact that as the paintings he produced moved

ever further from tradition as he tried to ally art with labour, he became ever

more aware of what he calls the „hermetically sealed‟ nature of the painting

medium, specifically that which existed in Belfast. 3 Stitt was starting to

understand this painting tradition as something that remained confined in the

context of the parochial art gallery and would only leave to be transferred to

another local art gallery;4 it was a tradition that was almost entirely ignored

by both the every day world outside the gallery5 doors and the international

arts scene6. This was problematic for Stitt who aspired to penetrate both of

these domains and reach there respective audiences, and thus he distanced

himself from the traditional medium.


1
  “…I came from a very working class back ground, I had Marx shoved down my throat, my
farther was in the trade unions and in to socialism…” Interview with artist by author (un-
paginated)
2
 “…I was using were industrial paints so there was this sense that it was something to do
with labour. The idea of carrying out work and allusions to industry. That influenced how I
looked at art, that art was creative work…. It wasn‟t separated from the rhythms of labour,
the work in our every day life.” Early Akshuns interview (pg2)
3
  The phrase „hermetically sealed‟ is used by Stitt in a number of different sources, see for
example Early Aksuns interview ( pg2)
4
  “…if it [art] ever moved outside it would be to another institution like a museum or
gallery…” Interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
5
  There are numerous documentations to the Northern Irish publics lack of interest in art in
the writings of both Stitt and other contemporaries, however the situation is best summed up
by Mike Catto who says in „Art in Ulster‟ that Ulster‟s favourite medium of art was painting
as “Paintings can be ignored” (pg10)
6
 “…by its own very nature [Northern Ireland] was sealed in and that‟s what it felt like, it
felt like you were in a very local are, cut off and „The Troubles‟ made this even more acute,
they made you feel even more cut off, we felt people did not want to visit, there were non of
the large exhibitions you would get in main land Britain…” Second Interview with artist by
author. (un-paginated)


                                                                                      - 10 -
    Part 3: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and Andre Stitts

                          adoption of private rituals



         During the whole of this period, in parallel with the above discussed

public interventions, set performances and paintings, Stitt was also carrying

out ritualised actions/performances in private spaces as another branch of the
                                                      1
exploration and experimentation process.                  The performances revolved

around repeated actions or processes and were based even more on impulse

and intuition then the public works of the time. These performances can be

seen as simply experimentations and practices as elements from them were

often taken and then clipped and re-worked in order to create pieces to

present in public, however they can also be understood as works in there

own right and are central to understanding the influence of Belfast on Stitt

during this period. The reason they are so important is that they contain an

obsessive investigation in ritual actions and this is something that can be

understood as a direct product of the era he was studying in.

         Stitts interest in rituals is something that was very much nurtured by

the phenomena of the context he lived in, phenomena that can be divided in

to three different strands. Firstly, Stitt was brought up in Belfast‟s protestant

unionist community which, just like the nationalist catholic and English

military communities, was saturated by rituals set by time date and occasion,

rituals carried out both privately and in the face of the opposition.2 They, and


1
  The actions were carried out in numerous places including Stitts house, the polytechnics
campus and an abandoned church. On the advice of tutor Alistair McLennan the pieces
were captured on camera, however early versions remain undocumented.
2
  “This society, this culture, was permeated by rituals; the calendar was set by the
ceremonial. There was a continuity of ritual activity throughout the year utilised to


                                                                                      - 11 -
the dogma that accompanied them, were so prevalent at that time that people

were killing each other over it and so it was no big leap for him to take on

rituals as a mode of expression. Rituals permeated almost everything, they

were all around him and he felt that through utilising them in his work he

could come through to some sort of understanding of them,1 and how they

„created stability‟, „perpetuated a self knowledge‟ and „perpetuated an

identity‟ 2 . During these practical experiments he would indiscriminately

appropriate rituals and styles from numerous tribal cultures, in order to

create vast numbers of performances and deepen both his knowledge and

experience of the act of ritual. However this appropriation went deeper then

merely aesthetic borrowing because there was also a large level of

identification with the people who he lent from, peoples who he understood

to have been marginalised, brutalised and controlled by powerful forces

from outside there culture.3

         This is the second contextually related reason that drew Stitt to a

fascination with rituals; his identification with the tribal communities who

he felt had gone through a similar experience as his. Stitt had been brought

up in Belfast protestant unionist community; however unlike other parts of

this community he saw the English intervention in Northern Ireland as an

occupation and as something wholly negative. He related to his Celtic

heritage and understood it to be an identity that was being usurped and


condition and inform identity and to repress and uphold a social and cultural hierarchy.”
Early Akshuns interview (pg 9)
1
  “Why do we follow ritual? … Well, I started consciously exploring, inventing and
developing „personal‟ rituals that would, I hoped, lead me to some form of catharsis,
understanding, realisation, possibly a transcendence of my own conditioned identity.” ibid.,
(pg10)
2
  Quotes taken from Interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
3
  “I became interested in communities, social and cultural bindings and groups that had
experience of disenfranchisement and marginalisation” Early Akshuns interview (pg 9)


                                                                                      - 12 -
suppressed by the dominate British culture just as the „white man‟ had

plastered over the traditions of the Native Americans while imposing there

own culture values.1 Stitt was drawn to the act of the ritual as he understood

these past cultures to have used them as a way to confirm there identity in

the face of dominant culture imperialism and felt we could use them to do

the same.2

         This then links to the third contextually related reason Stitt began to

experiment with ritualistic actions, his interest in utilising it to help as part of

a holistic process to heal him from the psychological damage inflicted from

the violent situation he was living in.3 Stitt describes Belfast as a war zone

city, it was a situation in which you were constantly stopped, searched, and

harassed and you were always in danger of being abducted or beaten by

fringe paramilitary groups. Stitt was angry, bored and frustrated with this

continual harassment and in turn it had a strong affect on his psyche as he

witnessed the dissolution of communities and the violation of many of its

people through intimidation, beatings, and military interventions. It was in

this situation that art, along with other activities such as meditation, became

a vehicle for healing as well as copping with the situation. Stitt understands

this as an element that was in his work back prior to his under graduate

education, a good example of which is a group of paintings he did when he

was still at school. The paintings were of windows and the view outside

them, however they did not depict the streets of Belfast, instead they were

1
  “I was looking at my identity as both a result of and a response to colonial power and
dominate British indoctrination” ibid (pg 12)
2
  “So, by creating these „rituals‟ I was looking for a way to decondition myself, to affirm my
identity, one that would be outside my own culture” ibid (pg13)
3
  “…I wanted to break through to another level; I think of it as something spiritual, that is
why I did a lot of intense duration work, to get into another state…” Interview with artist by
author (un-paginated)


                                                                                       - 13 -
far more abstract and formalistic.1 Stitt understands this to relate to a wish to

control that which was on the canvas; the artist had the ability to create a

situation in which he had complete control and power, something that was

therapeutic in a situation were people were robbed of much of there power.

In his private performance work of 76-80 it was no longer a case of an

escape into the controlled image of the canvas but was an escape into the

constructed micro reality of the performance, autonomous from the drudgery

of the streets of Belfast, were he, as instigator, once again had power,

freedom and control over his actions. Thus the ritual performances were

carried out as they gave him a temporary sense of power, individuality and

growth as well as a catharsis, and these were the healing element he was

aiming for.2



         And so it can be seen that the developments of Stitts practice was

influenced by a number of contextual factors and these factors, though they

may seem particular to him, are variations of broader contextual phenomena

that were there to influences the work of all artistic students and professional

practitioners at that time. Firstly, up to date cultural influence from outside

of the province, something that was almost entirely endemic in the unstable

Belfast art scene that pounced on many of the new styles and developments

that arose both in Europe and in the USA.3 Secondly, labour, poverty and the

growing civil rights movement, a theme continually reoccurring in work of

1
  Stitt talks about this in „Interview with artist by author‟
2
  “I must say afterwards I always felt brilliant, it was like reconditioning, I felt like it was
loads just coming out of me” Interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
3
  “Whereas in the 70‟s, there was a sense that Irish culture was willing to follow anything
that came its way, that it was so insecure that it leaped on anything, there was instead a
sense in the 80‟s that Irish culture was willing to use anything that came its way, a very
different thin.” Fintan O‟Toole, A new tradition, (pg 11)


                                                                                            - 14 -
artists such as Paul Seawright whose photographic pieces echo a sense of the

periods social deprivation.1 Thirdly, frustration with the traditionally minded

arts structure, which is entirely self-evident when studying the spectrum of

work and cultural synopsis from that era. Fourthly, the ritualistic nature of

life in Belfast, which comes across in the work of most of Northern Ireland‟s

small contingent of performance artists.2 Fifthly, post-colonisation and the

more „innocent‟ Celtic time, a subject at the centre of the performances of

Nigel Rolfe.3 And sixthly, the healing and steadying power of art at such a

turbulent time, as can be seen in the work of painters such as Michael

Coleman and Richard Gorman who seem to purge there anger by

transferring it to the canvas. 4

         Thus the next question is; did this group of stimuli result in any

noticeable similarities in the way these artists created there work. A question

that will be tackled next.




1
  See for example the C-type photographs presented at the touring exhibition „Irish art now‟
catalogue.
2
  See for example the work of Alistair McLennan.
3
  See for example the performance „Irish stories „Amerikaye‟‟
4
  See for example the work of the two mentioned artists at the „A New Tradition‟ exhibition
catalogue


                                                                                      - 15 -
          Part 4: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and the

                          practices of other artists

      In „Directions Out‟1 art critic Brian McAvera puts forward the idea that

the conflict in Ulster was a great stimulus for high quality artistic activity as

it was a bitter enough conflict to reveal the true depths of human brutality

but unlike other wars it was temperate enough to allow the artist time to lay

out his materials and create work.2 It is hard to find an interview with an

artist who came out of this context were they do not talk about just how

much the „The Troubles‟ pervaded in to there lives, “…always nagging at

the back of one‟s mind…”3 and different artists talk of it changing them in

many ways, such as imbuing them with a „heightened awareness‟ or deep

felt „anger‟.4 However the best testament to the power of „The Troubles‟ on

the psyche of this large corps of artists and the development of there art

work is in the fact that it was able to pierce through the highly controlled

atmosphere of the arts institutions of Northern Ireland and mould Stitt and

his peers in to artists that created work that was far removed from the

parochial and traditional art that these establishments promoted.

         The funding, exhibiting and educational institutions of Northern

Ireland during „The Troubles‟ have come under a large amount of criticism

in recent publications,5 the charges levelled against them being firstly, that


1
  McAvera, B. (Ed). (Date not clear), Directions out, Belfast, the Douglas Hyde gallery
2
  The idea that the ongoing tensions created a stimulating context to work in is one voiced
by a large number of other critics, another example is Fintan O‟Toole in „Irish Art Now-
from the poetic to the political‟ who says that „The Troubles‟ have “…been a source of
conflict and cruelty, as well as of richness and complexity”
3
  F E McWilliam, from „F E McWilliam: Woman of Belfast‟ (un-paginated)
4
  Stitt in „Early Ashuns Interview‟ (pg 7)
5
  „A New Tradition‟, „Irish Art Now- from the poetic to the political;‟ and „Art in Ulste: 2‟
are a few books that contain examples of this criticism.


                                                                                        - 16 -
they were badly funded and little more then an outpost for that which

couldn‟t be accommodated in mainland Britain, both in terms of teachers

and exhibitions1 and secondly, and more importantly, that they were not pro-

active in nurturing new developments and trajectories in Fine Art and only

promoted the teaching and exhibiting of what Brian McAvera calls “…pretty,

sensual, painterly and provincial art.”2 Thus producing work of a topical or

avant-garde nature became difficult firstly because, there was a lack of

educational and funding facilities and secondly because due to this lack of

institutional endorsement „New‟ Art became either wholly ignored or totally

disliked by the Ulster public.3

          Now for a nucleus of artists this mode of working, bypassing the

situation and creating work of a totally formalistic or traditional nature was

totally valid. These were artists whose work can only be related to „The

Troubles‟ if you accept Kim Levin‟s conclusion that it is “…not possible for

an innocent image to come out of a place with a troubled history of injustice

and strife…”4 However for a large amount of Ulster‟s practicing artists and

art students who harboured a resentment and dissatisfaction towards the

situation, this introverted investigation into form and martial qualities was a

major problem as they could not vent such frustrations through formalistic

methods so divorced from the state of affairs. A situation best summed up by

Aidan Dunne who talks of “the irony of immersion into a pastoral –


1
  „Directions out‟ (Un-paginated)
2
  „Directions out‟ (Un-paginated) McAvera goes on to point out the arts council never
published a visual arts policy and took a completely passive role in the creation of an
infrastructure to support artists once they graduated. He also highlights the fact there was a
lack of independent galleries.
3
  Data to back up this assumption can be found in Mike Catto‟s „Art and Patronage‟ found
in „Art in Ulstre:2‟
4
  „Irish Art Now- From the poetic to the political‟ (pg 30)


                                                                                         - 17 -
modernist ideal of formalised landscapes and figure paintings while the

world fell apart around you…”1 And so with the context being so intrusive

and inescapable it could not be blocked Stitt and many of his peers either left

for London or fought through the situation and created provocative works

that could in some way relate to the reality outside the art institute.

      However though the influence of Belfast and its warring factions on

the majority of contemporary Northern Irish artists is undeniable, it is a

context that shapes there practices but does not saturate there out put. What

this means is that, like as has been show with the case of Stitt above, the

highly charged atmosphere was influential to how these artists matured yet

the work of those who established them selves as artists on the national and

international scene is not as inundated with axiomatic references and

polemically presented viewpoints as some outside of Ulster expected 2.

      During „The Troubles‟ in Northern Ireland there was so much

„…Naked sectarian propaganda…‟3 that it was something outsiders began to

associate with the district. It was certainly nothing new and dated back to the

start of the sectarian tension, however a familiarisation with tools such as

spray paint, a favourite of American agit-prop artists, and lino printed

posters, a favourite of the student rioters of Paris, saw an explosion of this

propaganda on to the Belfast streets from the late 60‟s onwards. These

creations whether they were graffiti, banners, posters, murals etcetera, were

cheap and quickly produced, which imbued them with the crucial ability to

1
  „Back to the Future‟ in „A New Tradition‟ This conclusion is voiced by many critics
including Fintan O‟Toole who puts forward the idea that traditional art forms could just not
compete with the highly visceral nature of the every day situation in Belfast in „ Light rain
and governments falling‟ in „A New Tradition‟
2
  For example Lucy Lippard visited Ulster in the 80‟s looking for „Activist Art‟ in Northern
Ireland for an exhibition in the US, but left disappointed.
3
  Quote from „Art in Ulster:2‟ (pg 125)


                                                                                       - 18 -
be ephemeral, quickly put up and quickly replaced with a more up to date

round of slogans the following week. Yet the most central element of this

„Folk Art‟ was that it was direct and uncompromising. 1 It shunned artistic

value and utilised symbols and images that were singularly interpretable,

such as the red hand of Ulster, shackled fists, animalised riot police and

British soldiers portrayed as vampires along with well known slogans and

battle cries, in order to successfully foster the intended emotions in its

viewers. Yet unlike artistic groups such as the „Situationist International‟,

artists and art students of Northern Ireland held firm against this type of

work jettisoning the use of simplistic allegories and images. And once again

there were a number of reasons for this that were born out of this specific

context.

           Firstly they did so because of the situation that is best summed up in

the popular Northern Irish saying, “What ever you say, say nothing”, which

refers to fact that to make a statement in such a polarised country would

invariably align you with one faction or another. This is something many

agit-prop artist revelled in, however unlike those in other contexts, in Belfast

there were no clear „good guys‟ and „bad guys‟ for the artist to pick up on,

like the „Situationist International‟ had the capitalists and the feminist artists

had the male dominated Art elite, instead there were only different sides, just

as incriminated in the violence as the other which leads to the common retort

from Belfast‟s artists who say that they may be catholic or protestant but

they are not catholic artists or protestant artists!2


1
  It is argued that these sorts of creations are valid „Folk Art‟ in a number of publications,
see for example Norman Mailer‟s novel, „Watching my name go by‟ (1974)
2
  “I really wouldn‟t try to identify myself using any of those terms [Irish, Northern Irish,
British, protestant, catholic because I think that kind of terminology led us to where we are.


                                                                                        - 19 -
         The Second reason was that there was a great mistrust for the fixed

and simplified image or symbol that directly related to the conflict, which

was held by artist and intellectuals during this period because of both its

ability to polarise and its ability to be hijacked for political and commercial

gains.1 The polarising elements of simple symbolism was a problem because

it was easy for these artists to see that the differences between the different

religious groupings were slight, and often trivial, yet simplified imagery

perpetuated the idea that there was this polarity and that „if your not with us

your with them‟, a factor that only extenuated the violence. The ease in

which these images could be hijacked was also a problem because, as is said

by Brian McAvara the images and imagery of the conflict are always far

removed from the real situation, as they are clipped of the subtleties and

complexities of there back-story and so can be easily utilised by political

groups to propagate simple dogmatic ideas and ideals. 2

         Of coarse, just like there were some artists who tried to turn there

back totally on „The Troubles‟ in there artistic work, there were some artists

who created work filled with simple, easily interpretable imagery and

aesthetic structures that can be read as favouring a particular view point or

out-look. And even though these artists may not necessarily have had

ulterior motives, when carrying out there work it does not stop the critics

from recoiling and accusing them of playing in to the hands of the sectarians,


The fact that a person have labelled themselves in certain ways as British, Irish, Northern
Irish, English whatever, is wholly problematic.” Paul Seawright in „0044‟
1
  „I was only fourteen or so at the time of Bloody Sunday. It was almost like an
awakening… I was always aware of something going o in the environment. Seeing TV
awoke me… how people are confronted with their instant history…” Fergus Delargy in
„directions out‟ (un-paginated) / “When I was ten, I had an awakening to the power of the
media… it awoke me to the power of the media and the use of an image” André Stitt in
Interview with artist by Author (un-paginated)
2
  „Directions out‟ (un-paginated)


                                                                                       - 20 -
a situation indicative of the fear the art community had of its produce being

used in the political domain.1

        It is a truism to say that one of the best arbitrators of Art is time, and

as is apparent when viewing the catalogues of the exhibitions of Northern

Irish art2 as well as the artistic analysis that goes with them, that neither the

traditionalism the institutions wanted or the fiery propaganda that could have

become part of the constant back and forth between religious groups, attain

much notice in the Cannon of Ulster‟s art. Instead these exhibitions are filled

with art that sits on a sort of middle ground, but that is neither of the above.

It is art that goes for what Fintan O‟Toole called the „Third Perspective‟3.

         Though the actual phrase „Third Perspective‟ is something that only

comes up in the writings of O‟Toole, 4 it is his chosen name for a broad

definition of a way of working that defines virtually all of the cotemporary

synopses that have been written about the work of fine artists of this period.

It is the idea that Ulster was a place of duality: north, south; protestant,

catholic; republican, unionist and that it was quite clear to see that these

conflicting viewpoints were causing such misery that artists would, in the

words of artist John Kindness „seek to rise above the stupidity‟5 of these




1
  Examples are too numerous to list, a good single example would be the following passage
from „A new Tradition‟ in regard to Richard Hamilton‟s picture „The Citizen‟ which
portrays a Republican prisoner. “ The citizen fell short „Art‟ because, for the more
sophisticated art audience who also knew something of the background to the North‟s crisis,
the painting explicitness was unpalatable as it echoed the „religious pictures‟ of catholic
tradition rather then a modern or modernist, art and society.” (pg 118)
2
  These exhibitions have taken place on numerous occasions both nationally and
internationally over the last decade and have already been listed above.
3
  „Ireland‟ in „Irish Art Now- From the poetic to the political‟ (pg21)
4
  Though In „Irish Art Now- From the poetic to the political‟, Declan McGonagall‟ uses the
phrase „Third Reading‟ (pg20), and in „Directions out‟ Brian Mcavera uses the metaphor
„circuitous curve‟. (un-paginated)
5
  Quote from „A new tradition‟ (pg 118)


                                                                                    - 21 -
tribal conflicts. Thus artists created work that was not partisan propagation

affiliated with any one group but that was;



           “…inclusive and not exclusive of opposites; in which linear, one

dimensional readings of anything of value- from culture, politics, and

society, to identity- can be dismantled and reconfigured. It is the historical

claims on truth- singular readings of value- in which these artists are either

trying to engage in order to transform, or from which they are trying to

disengage.‟1



           Ultimately it is art that attempts to unfasten itself from the

presentation of universal truths and party lines and it does this by shunning

singular readings, reactions and fixed symbolism and it relates to the

situation without needing to re-create shocking or bombastic scenes of the

bombing and shooting as the artists have seen how these linear images have

been continually hijacked for political gains. Instead its approach is coded

and oblique, its response to the situation is layered, letting the resonance of

the circumstances filter through and be open to more varied interpretations.

Lucy Lippard once wrote that there are two types of art that relate to

politically charged situation, “…art that is socially concerned and activist art

[that] tends to be socially involved”2, and it is clear to see that the art of

Ulster was the former.

           Now, Lucy Lippard follows this above mentioned quote by saying

that whether works of art fall in to the former or the latter category is not so

1
    Fintan O‟Toole in „Irish Art Now‟ (pg20)
2
    „Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power‟ (pg 349)


                                                                          - 22 -
much something that is decided by critics and interpreters but is a choice

made by the artists upon beginning there work.1 This was certainly the case

of the artists of Belfast, where the choice was made, not to ignore the

situation but also not to get involved, however this „Third Perspective‟ ,was

in no way a mode of working that was accompanied by a manifesto or a set

of written up rules. Instead it is a broad way of working that does not

manifest in any one particular form, with each artists letting there

experiences of „The Troubles‟ filter through in to there work in there own

specific way. 2

         Now it would be a task far too ambitious for a text of this size to

systematically charter even a small portion of Northern Irish artist to see

how the „Third Perspective‟ applies to there work, so instead attention will

return to Andre Stitt. This document will now show how Stitt assimilated

aspects of „The Troubles‟ into his work in order to show how his out put

fitted in with the concept of the „Third Perspective‟, and how that shows

him to be part of a wider corps of artists who were, to a certain degree, a

products of „The Troubles‟




1
  Ibid.
2
  This was a situation that was very much symptomatic of Northern Irelands lack of a
network of independent galleries at that time that would have, possibly, brought these artists
together and homogenised there approach or created groupings that share similar values.


                                                                                       - 23 -
           Part 4: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and its

           assimilation in to the work of Andre Stitt


         During these early years of experimentation Stitt allowed himself

considerable room to manoeuvre as far as subject matter was concerned as

he was far more interested with the completing of tasks and ritualistic cycles

of destruction and re-building. The subjects that were to become part of

these performances were not picked up through discourse or a course of

decision making but through a process of what he terms „Osmosis‟1, where

he indiscriminately sucked up and appropriated all the influences around

him before “…spewing it out in forms such as actions, provocation,

interventions and then traditional mediums such as painting.” 2 Now this

„Osmosis‟ led to the taking up of a huge variety of different sources as

inspiration and subject matter and spanned from first Nation Indians to

Celtic traditions, from popular fiction writers to Art History. 3 However the

sectarian situation repeatedly rose up as subject matter in these performances

and this is unsurprising, firstly, because of the intrusive nature of the subject

and secondly because, as has already mentioned above, Stitt felt

performance had a healing and cathartic quality and felt that his

performances had the ability to bring forth and realise the deep subconscious

anger caused by the situation, thus we would utilise references to the

situation in work in order to help achieve this catharsis. There are three

1
  A term used in Interview with artist by author
2
  Interview with artist by author, (un-paginated)
3
  A spate of criticism has already been levelled at the educational institutes during this
period however one of the positive points that Stitt talks in relation to the education faculties
is that they granted students a high level of freedom to experiment as they were not tied
down to continual classes and assessment. See interview with artist by author.


                                                                                          - 24 -
different types of references used in Stitts performances in regard to the

sectarian violence.

         Firstly there was the introverted reference. These are references that

came from objects used that were imbued with meaning in relation to „The

Troubles‟ for Stitt yet it was a meaning that did not necessarily transpose

over to the audience as the objects were not openly referential to the

situation. The relevance of these references came out of the fact that the

performances were primarily intended for fostering the right emotions in

Stitt in aid of the above mentioned process of psychological healing and that

the audience‟s role was to be whiteness to these acts but not necessarily have

to be able to read the performances narrative.1

         Secondly there were explicit references made to the context. The

chief group of explicit references to the situation involved using materials

with were gleaned from the public domain as opposed to traditional artist‟s

materials. Stitt used objects that were related too, or sometimes literally

created by, the bombings and disorder that were going on at that time,

objects such as burnt wood or consumer detritus scattered after a blast 2 .

These items were collected up and used in interventions and performances

such as „Body piece‟3 which were often carried out in the same or similar

place to where they had been picked up from. This was done because these

objects unequivocally referenced the situation of Belfast and so they were


1
  In Interview with artist by author, Stitt goes as far as to suggest the most important role of
the audience was in the energy he felt they gave him during a performance. “Working with
the audience can be pretty confrontational too, you have an audience there and you start
doing things to them. I always wanted to explore this relationship, its usually more intense if
the audience is in the room” (un-paginated)
2
  The use of these types of objects at that time in Belfast was rare but not unheard of, as for
example F E McWilliams used a chard fire bomb door in an instillation in Kassel, Germany.
3
  „Body piece‟, Belfast, City centre 1978


                                                                                         - 25 -
the most potent tools when it came to coming to terms with the situation and

reaching some sort of reconciliation as they created a real physical

connection between the artists work and the day to day conflict on the

streets.1

         Thirdly there were the incidental references. As is mentioned by Kim

Levin in the text already quoted above,2 it was hard for an innocent image to

come out of such a loaded context, and with Stitt using such a huge quantity

of objects often loaded with interpretations, references to the situation would

inevitably come through in unintentional ways, both for the present audience

and for Stitt when he went through documentation. An example of this is

talked about by Stitt in „Interview with artist by author‟ were the artist talks

of intuitively picking up and working with some red, white and blue, bunting

he found in a venue he was working in. He had been drawn to the objects

physical qualities but in hindsight he saw it shared the colours of the British

flag leading on to a host on interpretations in the actions he involved it in.



         The character of the city, its aesthetic, its people, its ills and its

religious factions all became layers to Andre Stitts performances, however

as Stitt intended these performances to be part of a broader scheme of

personal confrontation and healing of the general trauma he felt „The

Troubles‟ caused him they are free from didacticism and the tacking of

sides. Thus even though his motivations for creating art and the work he

made was some what esoteric, because he did not try in any way to sidestep


1
  “…I wanted a relationship with my art making to existed with the city, being in the city,
being on site and making work, so material that used direct reference to the conflict as far
as I was concerned had to be used…” Second interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
2
  „Irish Art Now- From the poetic to the political‟ (pg 30)


                                                                                      - 26 -
the subject or propagate ideals but instead let it permeate the many levels of

his performances, similarities can be drawn between that of his work and

that of other successful Northern Irish contemporary artist.

        And so it can be concluded that the work André Stitt has a place

among the broader context of Northern Irish art and that this group as a

whole was very much influenced by the context they inhabited. However to

fully demonstrate Stitts artistic practice was a product of his time this

document will now look at the direction his work took after leaving Belfast

to demonstrate the cities continued influence.




                                                                        - 27 -
           Part 5: The influence of ‘The Troubles’ and its

                  legacy on the work of Andre Stitt

         After graduating from Ulster University in 1980, Stitt moved on to

Islington, London with a number of his peers for a number of different

reasons.1 It had been Stitts ambition to move to London ever since he had

visited the capitol as a child and felt the tangible will for change and

uncensored culture that „Swinging Sixties‟ London exuded.2 By the time he

arrived in London this culture had been succeeded by the dog-eat-dog

unrestrained capitalism of the Thatcher era, yet England still had far better

resources and a far greater acceptance of contemporary performance art in

comparison to Belfast.

      These new resources and freedom are responsible for the two main

developments in Stitts work that took place during this decade. The new

resources meant that the gallery work that Stitt now produced was far more

theatrical in style with managed lighting, backing tracks and seated

audiences 3 and the new freedom meant Stitt could now attempt more

ambitious street work that would have been too dangerous to carry out in

Belfast. 4 The open-mindedness of London meant the artist now had a far


1
  In „A concise History of Irish Art‟ Bruce Arnold says that it was a sense of being bypassed
by the industrial and cultural revolutions, and of being physically cut off from areas were
„things‟ were happening that led from the 17th century on to a large contingent of artists
moving to far more metropolitan areas were they felt there work would be accepted, and
more importantly sold. These reasons along with a wish to move to a less physically
dangerous context were very much at the forefront of Stitts decision to move to London.
2
  “I remember the very first time I came to London was on a school trip when I was about
11 or12 years old, which was about 1968 or 1969… Similarly, all my formative experiences
were bound together by this certain feeling of optimism and, also importantly revolution”
Stitt in „0044‟ (pg 144)
3
  “The Akshuns became more theatrical in terms of their structure- reliant on lighting and
backing track, designed for a seated audience…” Small Time Life (pg 33)
4
  “Tara and I made Duck patrol- “out for a day in London- a humorous idea about a real
army patrol. Of coarse, it was nothing like an army patrol we were carrying toy guns, with


                                                                                      - 28 -
greater freedom to develop and test his ideas and his style which led to a

dynamism that saw him creating solo interventions, group interventions, solo

performances, group performances, photographic work, music, video work,

paintings and curatorial projects that would manifest themselves at venues as

disparate as a gallery to a festival or a Rave to the London underground.

        Stylistically London also had a large impact on the artist‟s work, an

impact that was mostly related to Stitt now livening within a far more

successful consumer capitalist culture that was quite different to the

militarised and dangerous streets of Belfast. Stitt understood consumer

capitalism as a system that had the possibility to devaluate and traumatises

the body, not in the physical sense, but in a psychological sense by offering

“…salvation for the individual,” while actually doing “… the opposite, it

creates a spiritual void.” 1 The three main stylistic developments in Stitts

performances during this period were the inclusion of vast amounts of

consumer detritus, 2 the inclusion of sexually violent actions3 and a focus of

personas representing those who had been excluded or disenfranchised by

capitalist society. 4

        Now it is unsurprising that these new elements were assimilated in to

Stitts work as his performances were very much about a personal response to

the environment, or at least Stitts perception of it, that he was in at that

particular point. London undeniably had a large affect on Stitt‟s practice

which was redirected and reinvented over the course of the next decade.


plastic ducks on our heads… The Akshun would have been much to dangerous to do in
Belfast…” ibid. (pg 29)
1
  Ibid. (pg 43)
2
  See for example “Mysteries #1” Milton Keynes exhibition Gallery, Milton Keynes,
England. (1987)
3
  See for example “mysteries #2”, Cambridge Darkroom, Cambridge, England. (1987)
4
  See for example „The Gimp‟ in “Covert Activities” Hardcore tour, USA, (1989)


                                                                               - 29 -
However it can be argued that the context of London was only manipulating

the route that had been defined and commenced in Ireland, and that the

influence of his home nation was still a tangible reality in his work.

However as before, this influence did not just exist in the form of explicit

and axiomatic references and though there were sporadic performances such

as „Romper Room‟ 1 that dealt with incidents gleamed specifically from

recent Northern Irish history or „Six Degree Maximum Head Room‟2 that

used predominantly Belfast related props and imagery, a large majority of

his work contained no explicit references from Stitts homeland.

        Instead the legacy of the influence realises itself, not through

systematic and purposeful references to „The Troubles‟ but instead through

the presence of topics that were very much at the forefront of Stitts

experience of Belfast that run almost continually through his work over the

next decade. These are broad topics which had become ingrained on to his

mind due to the intensity of there presence in Belfast, topics that Stitt

continued to revolve work around, even once he had left Belfast, due to the

continual process of trying to come to terms with the trauma they had caused.

        There were no rules for the topics realisation in his work but there

existence becomes apparent after surveying the entirety of Stitts artistic opus.

These topics are, of coarse, prevalent, to varying degrees, in other societies

and are sometimes present in the work of artists who have not necessarily

lived through „The Troubles‟ or other embattled situations, however there

collective, concentrated and repeated existence in the situation of Belfast and

the work created by Stitt in London creates the argument that Stitt artistic
1
 „Romper Room [AKA Did my friends have fun at play]‟ Exiles studio, London, 1991
2
 „Six degrees maximum head room‟ [w/Eden Diebel, BMUS and Tara Babel], Waterloo
gallery, London.


                                                                             - 30 -
practice continued to resonate the influence of the context he was brought up

in. These issues can be roughly divided into four groups, each of which

being present in Belfast and Stitts perception of Belfast and also manifesting

themselves as concerns central to the vast majority of Stitts performances at

that time. These four groups of issues or topics are that of „Post-

Colonisation‟, „Human Tragedy‟, „Alienation‟ and „Masculinity‟ and there

existence in the work of Andre Stitt and there importance during „The

Troubles‟ will be mapped out below.



         In 1972 the parliament of Northern Ireland that had been based in

Stormont Castle crumbled and was replaced by direct rule from Downing

Street in tandem with an intensification of English military presence. The

intention of this force was to try and control the escalating levels of sectarian

violence, however the presence of armed soldiers from mainland Britain

only vindicated those who believed England were intent on indirectly

colonising the island and stopping it from growing in to an industrial

competitor. 1 This sense of being the victim of some sort of post-colonial

British plot was endemic in many section of Ulster‟s community and as has

been mentioned above, this was also the case for Andre Stitt.2



1
  “In a political sense the castration of Ireland only happened after the act of union of 1800.
Prior to that, Ireland was an economic treat of Britain for instance, and I think the act of
union was a deliberate device to emasculate a competitor. We have been suffering from this
not just in the recent cycle of „trouble‟ but there is a cultural political and social inferiority
complex which is well-established in this whole country that is unnecessary and not
inevitable” Decaln Mcgonagle, „the place of place in art‟ (pg 14) There is a broad spectrum
of work that deals with the issue of colonisation from Northern Irish artist though that of
performance artists Nigel Rolfe is possibly the most established.
2
  “…the British government, what was formerly the British empire, a force, a powerful
force that has degraded people, that has destroyed people, carried out torture and genocide
around the world, its totally hypocritical for present governments not to mention this,
especially in relation to what is going on in the world today in relation to present conflicts,


                                                                                           - 31 -
         However there are no direct, spiteful barbs towards the British Army

or any other colonising power in Stitts work, and in fact there is relatively

little reference or criticism back to the British intervention once he relocated

to London.1 Instead Stitts heightened awareness to the matter of colonisation

manifests itself more in the inclusion of issues fundamental to it, namely the

struggle between indigenous peoples and a powerful usurper, and the

yielding of power by a dominate group over a colonised minority.2 For Stitt

all areas of conflict and colonisation, once the many layers are peeled away,

have a simple foundation of a number of fundamental „Question‟ 3 , “the

disintegration of human rites, the abuse of human rights through

manipulation and control, the disintegration of a sense of community
                         4
through control…”            Now for Stitt consumer capitalism shared this

foundation, even though it was not as self evident, as with physical

colonisation which led him to create work that presented the issue of

colonisation in a far more topical way to the consumer capitalist situation he

now lived in. His work reflected the capitalist „photocopy culture‟ that

could mass produce cheap cultural products, submerging traditional cultural

values and manipulating masses though making them feel they constantly

needed to purchase and consume, 5 yet it was still driven by an interested in




spreading democracy is a language I‟m shore they always used.” Interview with artist by
author, (un-paginated) also see „second interview with artist by author‟
1
  Of these few, „Duck Patrol‟ [w/Tara Babell], Central London, (1981), is a good example.
2
  “…I was concerned with how power is used for the manipulation of the masses…” second
interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
3
  “…each area of conflict may have its own specific situation but below that there are a
number of human questions, which are always the same…” ibid.
4
  Quote taken form second interview with artist by author.
5
  The prime example for this topic on Stitts work is the strain of work under the broad title
of „The Tourist‟ Here the colonising British soldier, becomes the colonising western tourist,
instead of usurping political hegemony through force he usurps cultural hegemony through
the excess consumer culture In the performance Stitt would consume and cover himself in


                                                                                      - 32 -
the concept of the mechanisms groups use to control groups weaker then

themselves.



        Photos journalistic reports and film reels depicting violent murals,

armed soldiers and burnt out cars, repeatedly appeared on the Irish, British

and European news to document the tragedy of „The Troubles‟ through out

its duration. These streams of images, when removed from the complexities

of the actual situation helped portray Ulster as a bleak war-zone to the

outside world.1 However the real human tragedy did not lie in the combat

which even during its high claimed less lives then that of road accidents, 2

instead it lay, firstly, in the poverty, neglect, unemployment and deprivation

that occurred due to the lack of international investment3 and secondly, in

the disintegration of the sense of community as the issues of the political

domain intruded in to that of the domestic world.4

        Even once Stitt had left the city for London, he did not shy away

from these tragic circumstances of Belfast, with dreadful events in the

countries recent history in the foreground in performances such as „Kincora




cheep, trashy food stuffs and commodities, till the excesses become too much and he is sick,
something diametrically opposed to the allure of capitalism
1
  „In Northern Ireland there is no shortage of photographic images which depict „The
Troubles‟…an outsider, ignorant of the complexities of the context, is encouraged to believe
that comprehension can be equated with the striking image” Brian McAvera, Directions out.
(un-paginated)
2
  No specific data to back this up can be found however it is mentioned enough times in
publications to assume it is correct.
3
  Something that was very much a consequence of the international perception of Belfast as
an area of intense conflict
4
  This is something depicted in a vast number of art works from Northern Irish artists, but
seems a subject most at home in the expressive paintings of Brendan Ellis were the city
becomes more like a prison to its lonely inhabitants, See particularly „The Running
Man‟(1984) and „Woman On The 10th Floor‟ (1982)


                                                                                     - 33 -
(Violations by Gods Bankers)‟. 1 However performances such as this that

focused specially on a particular, thoroughly researched incident, were not

the norm in Stitts opus, instead, he allowed himself far more room to

manoeuvre as far as topical content was concerned. This was because of the

previously mentioned aim for Stitt to use performance art to peel back the

layers of his psyche and confront the trauma he experienced in Belfast in aid

of a form of resolution. 2        However as an artist Stitt felt it was not for him

to dwell on specific issues, but instead to tackle and amplify the more

general sense of trauma that residues at the foundation of all conflicts, thus

he dealt with a wide variety of human tragedies, subjects most often gleaned

from sources local to the site of the performance.



         Northern Ireland was home to a bewildering number of different

social and political grouping each going through a continued physical and

psychological battle of attrition with opposing groupings. This was a

situation that helped nurture a sense of alienation among the residents of

Northern Ireland, as they were always in one grouping but outside of

another.3 And because this “…concern for labels, flags and emblems don‟t




1
  „Kincora [violations by gods bankers]‟ [w/ Paul Bowen], 1983/1984, Air gallery London/
London film co-op a performance about the reported abuse of young boys that happened at
Kincora boys School.
2
  “I always thought some one who was spiritually and mentally well was someone who,
would go into those place to find out, I think the problem is ignorant, people walking
around with a sort of exterior that says every thing is ok and you can see there state of mind
coming towards you…” Second interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
3
  “The idea of labelling is a real problem, because as soon as you adopt any of those labels
you ostracise and exclude people.” 0044 (pg18)


                                                                                       - 34 -
end in the political world but intrudes into the domestic world” 1 the

alienation of people and groups happened on a particularly personal level. 2

         For Stitt this sense of alienation was further heightened both by his

own wish to place himself as an outside in the general community3 and the

rarefied existence he had that involved tacking drugs and creating esoteric

performance art while squatting. Stitt believed there to be a heroicism to the

loner identity and by becoming the outsider Stitt imbued himself with a

sense of self-righteousness as he actively continued to confirm this role both

purposefully4 and unintentionally5 . This wish to be alienated came out of

Stitts experiences in Northern Ireland were he felt outside of the wider

community6 in a situation were conformity was central to surviving. 7 He

was unable to define himself in relation to the groupings of the city which

led him question his own self-worth as some one who did not have his place.

Thus, in London he began to investigate characters who shared this sense of

disenfranchisement in his performances, but again relating this central theme

to consumer capitalism. Thus his performance work centred on those who


1
  Painter Catherine McWilliams, Identities, arts and research exchange Belfast, 1987
2
  The sense of loneliness is instilled in the work of a number of northern Irish artist
including Dermot Seymour and Catherine McWilliams the latter often having and Edward
munch like quality
3
  “I was often placing my-self in the position of the outsider and so there was always going
to be this possibility to become alienated, it didn‟t matter what environment I was in
because I could make it happen, possibly in-ordered to make myself feel special and
different.” Second interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
4
  In the book Small Time Life Stitt talks about the numerous ways in which he perused this
status, such as by being itinerant, reacting badly to commissions and by purposefully
subverting what was expected of him.
5
  One of the main reasons for Stitts growing alienation was his growing dependence on
drugs and alcohol, also talked about in Small Time Life.
6
  “There was this acquisitive culture in London and everyone was aspiring to this thing, and
I didn‟t think that had value, just like I didn‟t think the sectarian dogma of Belfast had value,
so my aspirations were different in both cities…” Second interview with artist by author
(un-paginated)
7
  “Don‟t forget that in Belfast you didn‟t want to stick out from the rest of the crowd
because that could lead to extra harassment from all sorts of different groups, you went
about your business and just tried to blend in.” Interview with artist by author (un-paginated)


                                                                                         - 35 -
had been excluded from this consumer culture, people such as the loner, the

addict, the mad-man and the disabled.1



         Irish broadcaster and lecturer Liam Kelly talks of the street of Belfast

were not a place for “…religious contemplation…‟ and were “…perpetually

in a state of arousal or group agitation.” 2 They were streets seething with

tension, always on the verge of violence erupting making them a situation in

which masculinity was decisive. This was firstly because you had to be

robust in order to survive and secondly because it was a situation that firmly

perpetuated the archaic stereo-type of the male and the female and what was

to be expected of them.3

         For Stitt the idiom of masculinity was seemingly thrust against him

by the Belfast community, yet it was something he trouble with, as he

closely associated masculinity with violence4 yet he understood himself as a

sensitive and venerable human being.5 Thus as with other aspects of Belfast

life that remained in his work, Stitt began to confront the idea of masculinity

in his performances as a mechanism to come to terms with the trauma he felt

the subject had caused him. This often meant taking his personal perception

of the issue and pushing it to extremes.                An object often used in his


1
  “…there were some very disturbed people there too, in the squatting scene, a lot of people
who had been damaged in some way as a result of the consumer society…” Second
interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
2
  Quotes taken from „Thinking Long‟, (pg 80)
3
  A situation continually observed in the paintings of Rita Duffy were the women cradle
babies and reside firmly in the house and men and boys are on the streets feuding, see for
example „Feuding‟ (1984)
4
  “I was interested in trying to find out and expose what masculinity stands for and what
men do, that can be anything from domestic abuse to civil abuse, random acts of aggression,
all the violent aspects of masculinity” Second interview with artist by author (un-paginated)
5
  “In Belfast there is an understanding of what it means to be a man, what you as a man are
supposed to be like, aggressive, yet I understood myself to be sensitive person, but then in
those circumstances you have to be careful when you let your guard down.” Ibid.


                                                                                      - 36 -
performances to this end was a hard plastic phallus strapped to his crotch, an

object that was indicative of his person, and by extension all men, it gave off

the impression of being hard and impenetrable yet was a mechanism to hide

the venerability of the person below.




                           Part 6: Conclusion

         A criticism that is often levelled at the artistic scene in Belfast during

„The Troubles‟ is that it failed to produce a George Grosz like artist who

could create highly charged work documenting the situation that would

express the artists deep felt anger and savagely satirise those at fault.1 Now it

is true no successful Northern Irish artist has made such work, yet it is still a

spurious criticism to make for two reasons. Two reasons that seem to have

been quite clear to the Artists of this era.

         Firstly that the Northern Irish political situation was not one were

one group openly exploited, manipulated and profited from another, like the

capitalists and aristocracy did with the proletariat in George Grosz‟s Weimar

Germany. Instead it was a situation of attrition between different factions

with no realistic end in sight. It was a situation were to create work

propagating ideals or openly criticising groups would be tantamount to

taking sides in the constant back and forth, something it is clear these artist

wanted to avoid.

1
  The are a number of publications that raise this or similar arguments see for instance „Art
in Ulster:2‟ (pg 128)


                                                                                        - 37 -
           Secondly, art, no matter how powerful, was impotent in the face of

real fighting and could do little other then reinforce entranced beliefs, a

conclusion Grosz himself came to late in his life as he slipped in to a cosy

middle-class nihilism as a result of putting his faith and artistic prowess

behind ideals and organisations that would go on to let him down.1

           Yet the issue was not in any way bypassed but instead artists created

work that confronted and empathised with the trauma of the situation but did

not become politically involved. However there was no „School‟ or

homogenised movement of artists during this period and so this „modus

operandi‟ was realised in a vast numbers of different styles and mediums

with artists often rooting out and appropriating from foreign avant-garde

developments. But among these artists there was one who went the furthest

in seeking a new mode for expression and this was Andre Stitt who had a

strong personal desire to leave all traditional art forms behind as he felt they

were ostracised from the day to day situation on the streets.

           It is in this search for a non-didactic and non-partisan way to express

feeling towards the situation that is the key to understanding Stitt‟s artistic

out put as a product of his time and the artists of Ulster as, in one sense at

least, fundamentally linked.



                 Neil Jefferies




1
    See for instance “George Grosz” ( pg 234)


                                                                            - 38 -
                         Bibliography
  Bridgwater, C, Kelly, L, Brett, D. (1995), Irish Art Now-Poetic land-

 Political territory, Sunderland, Northern centre for contemporary art.

Catto, M. (1977), Art in Ulster: 2, Belfast, Blackstaff press limited

Grosz, G. (1923), The day of reckoning, Berlin, Allison and Busby.

Jackson, A. (2004), Home Rule: An Irish History, 1800-2000, New York,

Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Kelly, L. (1996), Thinking Long, Belfast, Gandon.

Knowles, R. (1982), Irish Art, New York, Wolfhound Press.

Mcavera, B. (Ed). (Date not clear), Directions out, Belfast, the Douglas

Hyde gallery

McGonagle, D. (Ed). (1999), Irish Art Now- From the poetic to the

political, London, Merrell Holberton Publishers.

McWilliams, F E. (ed.) (1973), F E McWilliams: Woman of Belfast,

Belfast, McClelland International Galleries.

Murray, P. (Ed). (1999), 0044, cork, Crawford municipal art gallery.

O’Toole, F. (Ed.) (1990), A new tradition, Dublin, Gandon,

Schneede, U. (Ed.) (1979), George Grosz, London, Gordon Fraser.

Stitt, A. (2001), Homework, Cologne, Krash

Stitt, A. (2001), Small Time Life, Cardiff, Black dog press.




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