This year’s EVA, under the theme of ‘Agitationism’, works I feel in a way that would be unavailable to it if it were to take place in Dublin, for example. This was one of the main impressions I got from a day spent traversing its spaces – a day as exhausting as it was insightful, and disquieting. To be more precise: the social, economic and political themes that it takes tackles feel particularly demanding and relevant, there, in Limerick, some 200km from the economic hub of the country. I am no expert on Limerick, visiting really only when EVA takes place, but I do remember festive dashes spent on Cruise’s street as a child: being from Tipperary, rare was the occasion when my parents brought us to Dublin. Limerick simply made more economic sense. And it has certainly changed from then. Following a trend evident throughout rural Ireland, the center has been emptied and displaced, and at times looks truly down and out. With the green shoots of recovery gleefully being touted in Dublin, EVA and Limerick help to put this shift in perspective: the problems that led to the financial crises are structural, and necessarily so. Furthermore, centers become more and more concentrated, even in light of an idealised hyper-connected worldview. Displacement is the necessary conclusion of this ineluctability. This can be an opportunity, however, and the Limerick art scene, of which EVA is its most fantastic embodiment, is indeed evidence of this.
The exhibition, which stretches to four sites over the city, feels entirely apt, and vital. This year’s curator Bassam El Baroni defines ‘agitationism’ as ‘the condition of living under a constant flow of agitations’, but also, importantly, of their negotiation: where to subjectively or collectively situate oneself with respect to political, social and temporal anxieties? How to situate oneself, to paraphrase the Berardi (the touchstone for Annie Fletcher’s 2012 EVA), after the future? For inasmuch as our days become fuller and more chaotic, the capacity to imagine anything different becomes nigh on impossible. How to situate oneself with regard to the illusion of choice that effectively functions to neuter the horizon of decision? This EVA, indeed following on from its preceding instantiation, places itself firmly within the horizon of the ‘contemporary’: the ubiquitous abstraction that dominates neoliberal capital, its arbitrariness; the limits of political imagining; the question of systems and technology, of which art is but another. Indeed, a question that dominates for me is: what is arts relationship to the world? Should it reiterate dominant systems of exchange, and modes of imagining, or try, once again, to imagine something new? It is these question that one of the highlights of this year’s exhibition, Elizabeth Price’s filmic contribution The Tent (2010), takes up. Working within a specifically charged historical document, Systems, a book published by the British Arts Council in 1972-3, Price’s characteristically slick work works within the utopian ideals contained therein. Anxiously, it thinks through the question of art broadly to wider systems of exchange, and new technologies. How might sensitivity be forged, and where should this be located? Price’s work approaches these questions from a diagonal, and, in opposition to other, more overtly political works, seeks to implicate the system of art within that which is being critiqued.
Much of the work of EVA seeks to deal with political, social and economic questions, like Price, and does so to varying degrees of success. The Serbian artist Neša Paripović’s video, N.P. 1977 (1977), which is located in one of the Kerryvale plant’s many chambers, addresses this question with humour, and yet no less sharply. In it, the artist/protagonist sets off through Belgrade seemingly with great purpose, taking well-worn short cuts to reach his destination, it would appear, quicker. There is no endpoint, just the purposeful purposelessness that, it might cynically be argued, is the action of art itself. Metahaven’s installation Black Transparency (2013-14) considered the social and political responsibility of art more pointedly, forging greater connectivity in the hopeful service of antagonism: two keffiyeh adorned with USB stick tassels hung on one of the walls, an eloquent nod to the irreducibility of information and social networks to both surveillance and revolt. Unfortunately the video component (shown on a small monitor without headphones) was virtually silent under the noise of another, more pressing video installation within the cavernous space.
Abstraction, and the increasing ambiguity on which the contemporary experience is founded, is also an important point of departure for many artists here. For the Greek artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos (History Zero (2013)), this abstraction’s main vehicle is that of exchange value, and how this is translated into real terms. From bitcoin, to depression era nickels, to Angolan beer money, its staggering multiplicity of forms illuminates the real weirdness, and arbitrariness of money. Indeed, the work implicates itself inasmuch as art itself might be thought of as money, too. How to realistically offer and alternative to the alienating action of exchange value, when even the radical potentiality of art is flattened? Eva Richardson McCrea’s filmic contribution Film/Act/Event (2013) asks a similar question, pertinent in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis: how, in the wake of a crisis, do we rebuild? How to avoid a simple ‘more of the same’? Using Badiou’s The Incident at Antioch (1982-89) as a template for the film, she alludes to the difficulty of political imagining in a landscape in sharp necessity of it. Indeed, Richardson McCrea subtly points to the paradoxical incompatibility of crisis and event, a sensibility that pervasive to contemporary experience.
Other real highlights of this year’s EVA for me included: Patrick Jolley’s meditation on the inhuman, and its centrality to the human in This Monkey, from 2009; Mona Marzouk’s wall paintings, which meditate on the abstraction that underlines fundamental human ideals, Moby (For Trayvon), 2014; Amanda Beech’s paranoid Final Machine (2013), which continues to remotely perturb; and Pauline M’Barek’s materially sensitive meditation on systems of display, in her works Showcase (2012) and Trophy Stands (2011). The exhibition as a whole functioned as a discrete system that sought to hold up a mirror to the daily agitations that dominate contemporary life, how they are represented, made manifest, and, most importantly, lived. EVA – as a system – forcefully questions its own relationship to these strains, and its own role in said representation. Sited, vitally, in Limerick, these questions have never been more pressing, or urgent.