Commemorating 1916

quarto has become involved in projects arising from the Decade of Centenaries concept, including On the Brink: the Politics of Conflict 1914-1916, which explores the interconnectedness of the First World War, national and revolutionary politics in Ireland, and the Easter Rising; and Connecting Commemorative Communities, which addresses localised commemorations of the Decade and more.

For me this entails reading and re-reading histories and interpretations of these years, and re-connecting to theory on memory and commemoration I was introduced to during my Master’s in cultural memory at the University of Brighton. It is a commonplace that people in Ireland are too concerned with history, and increasingly it is also said that we are not concerned enough – meaning that we accept simplistic shorthand versions of our history that do little to help us understand or empathise with each other. Edna Longley points to our tendency to ‘cynical, selective forgetting’, and hopes we can move to ‘responsible, alarming memory’ instead. She also has a concept of ‘constructive amnesia’ as opposed to ‘destructive remembrance’.[1]

I am a member of an artists’ collective called Loci (http://www.lociartistsgroup.com), and as a group we are developing artworks responding to calls to remember and reflect on 1916. One approach to this centenary year is to sidestep the traditional narratives of nation, identity, empire and revolution, instead dwelling on untold or under-represented Irish or British stories. With the idea in mind that we engage too little with history, though, I have found myself leaning towards further investigation of these traditional narratives. I feel that this could be a productive project if done critically, with an ability to hold different, disparate and even conflicting ideas about nation and identity in tension.

My focus for forthcoming artwork this year is the figures of Erskine Childers, Roger Casement and Jack White, all members of Irish Protestant Ascendancy families who became involved in revolutionary politics. Casement was executed by the British for treason in 1916, and Childers was executed by the Irish for treason in 1922. White seems to have been seen as an outsider by everyone involved in Irish politics at the time, including the British. I want to use the lives of these men, all of whom dealt with competing loyalties and hostility from multiple quarters, to consider the question of whether complex identities became less and less possible as Ireland moved through revolution and war and into independence.

Bryonie.