b. 1968, Ireland
Made for both gallery and screen, Jonathan Cummins approaches his work as a joint process of enquiry and engagement. It addresses complex themes including ideological belief, political violence, and the question of how one can listen to people with whom one may disagree, raising the fraught question of whose voices can and should be heard in contemporary Ireland. As a consequence, the work can be considered raw, discomfiting, and refuses simplistic positions or analysis. The range of questions explored in the work include: how to facilitate and structure encounters of difference; who speaks with whom in society; the ethics of representation; citizenship and statehood; responsibility for institutions; and tensions around notions of patriotism/terrorism, loyalty/dissent, comradeship/family. The complex negotiation involved in bringing these films to a public audience is situated within a tradition of ‘parrhesia’, meaning frank or courageous speech.
It is essential to recognize that speaker, listener and institutions all have responsibilities in regard to creating the conditions for citizens to speak and listen to one another. Cummins’ practice resists familiar forms of straightforward documentary narration. In many respects, this constitutes a form of societal critique as the films emerging from this practice of conversation and listening create a place where conflicting points of view confront one another without expectation of reconciliation or consensus.
For EVA International 2016, Cummins presented When I Leave These Landings (2004–09), Go Home (2010–13), and Out the Road (2012–16). These interconnecting film installations trace the impact of militant ideological conviction on the self and family through a series of sustained conversations with a group of IRA anti-Agreement* republican activists and their families.
Developed with the participants over twelve years, these significant and sensitive works evolved from Cummins’ work with political prisoners in Portlaoise Prison, a maximum-security prison in County Laois. The conversation begins in prison with When I Leave These Landings. It continues after the men’s release with Go Home, and extends to include the men’s families in Out the Road. The works offer an intimate examination of political violence, imprisonment, failure, and the impact of ideological conviction. They refuse familiar tropes of propaganda, sentimentalism, ideological certainty, and knee-jerk de-legitimation for either personal or political reasons, instead probing these difficult territories with those involved in paramilitary organizations and highlighting the effect of that involvement on both themselves and their families. Part of this process also involves reflecting upon ageing and the self-questioning that accompanies this. The far-reaching impact on family also reveals the complex and sometimes tragic nature of the love of families, who are often invisible in debates about political violence and imprisonment. Moving between the time in prison and that time of transition shortly after release, the films ask us to grapple with a difficult present and our relationship with our collective past, and to wonder about our future together.
* Good Friday Agreement/Belfast Agreement, 1998
Jonathan Cummins graduated in 1998 with an MFA in media art from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he also studied screenwriting. He also received BA (Hons) Sociology from Trinity College Dublin in 1990. He has been a lecturer at the Belfast School of Art, University of Ulster since 2003, and for the past ten years he worked with prisoners as part of the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) Art Programme. Made for both gallery and screen, his work is often presented as interconnecting film installations, as in his works When I Leave These Landings (2004–09), Go Home (2010–13), and Out the Road (2012–15).
Recent exhibitions include: When I Leave These Landings (2014), Shirt Factory, Void, Derry; When I Leave These Landings (2013), Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, and NCAD Gallery, Dublin; La Friche la Belle de Mai (2013), Marseille; When I Leave These Landings (2009), Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris; Rencontres Internationales in Berlin (2010), Madrid (2010), and Paris (2009). He has also participated in other events such as the conference Civil Unrest and Socio-Political Changes: Marginalisation, Disintegration, Exclusion (2015), Tblisi, Georgia. Cummins has also curated exhibitions with artists such as Brian Maguire, Santiago Sierra, Phil Collins, John Gerrard, and Eija-Liisa Ahtila.
(Text: EVA 2016, Still (the) Barbarians, catalogue)
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