Wednesday 23 May 2018

What Lies Beneath: Making a Meal of It by Diarmaid O'Sullivan

Making a Meal of It by Diarmaid O'Sullivan Oil on board on canvas, courtesy of the artist

Making a Meal of It
Making a Meal of It

Niall MacMonagle

The Proclamation, written by Pearse and MacDonagh, and unveiled in every primary school in 1966, was presented again to Irish boys and girls in schools this year - it is Ireland's foundational, aspirational text. But, as a nation, if we measure ourselves against its ideals, we've a way to go. Admired for its inclusiveness, rare surviving copies change hands for huge sums - but artist Diarmaid O'Sullivan, within a junk food context, daringly and provocatively suggests that the high thinking it originally embodied has not yet been realised by Irish men and women

The Kerry-born 26-year-old O'Sullivan says he "wanted to respond to the Ireland that we live in today, and ask the question 'how far have we come?'. I was going to wrap the chips in newsprint, like long ago, but I then used the Proclamation as a statement".

This is one of three paintings in which the Proclamation wraps chips, becomes a burger box, and decorates a paper cup. O'Sullivan says "it evolved into a fast-food meal, making the piece even more relevant to contemporary Ireland".

Is this not insulting? "As an artist, my job is to reflect, to respond to the world around me," he says. "If this can lead to a debate or dialogue then I have succeeded in creating a meaningful work of art. I believe we have lost our way a little bit in 21st century Ireland - many of my friends have emigrated. In Cork, where I live, homelessness and the housing crisis are very evident."

O'Sullivan's container of chips is crisply perched on a biscuit-coloured base against a grey, blank background. Bold lettering and missing bits suggest that the Irish Republic isn't quite there. The seven signatories placed the cause of the Irish Republic "under the protection of the Most High God". These French fries are for gobbling up, the packaging will be dumped. God on high.

Politicians tell us that Ireland's on the move again. This month the Just Eat Takeaway Economy Report announced that the Irish fast food scene, with almost 3,000 premises employing 25,000 people, generates a €1.48 billion spend on takeaways in this fattening little country. On the move? We are waddling. Directionless.

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