Tuesday 19 March 2019

'We are awaiting responses from Dublin City Council and government ministers ' - Street artists on a mission

Tourists and locals were greeted by the faces of Michael D Higgins and Father Ted character Mrs Doyle (Photo: Instagram/SubsetDublin)
Tourists and locals were greeted by the faces of Michael D Higgins and Father Ted character Mrs Doyle (Photo: Instagram/SubsetDublin)

Payu Tiwari

Art is a good surprise to get on mundane city walks, wherein a casual stroll leads to a piece of work on a wall that was initially drenched in grey.

The art, like the walls, does not appear out of thin air. It’s the result of many artists toiling together behind the scenes.

Dublin’s landscapes are in the process of a splashy makeover, courtesy of several street art ninjas.

There’s one bunch though, that’s most commonly known and steam rolled over by the authorities, called Subset. 

Subset call themselves an “artist collective” and refuse to give out individual identities. They insist that it’s not about people, it’s about the art.

“We try to let our work speak for ourselves.” The whole conversation flows in plural, the “we” never gets replaced by an “I.”

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#repealed #41 #greyareaproject

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They’re okay if not many people know who they are or that they’re behind some of the very famous murals in the city.

“That’s great. We don’t want people to make it about us. It’s about the work that we create.”

Since March 1, under the project "Grey Area" Subset and 35 other artists are carrying out a total of 25 productions within Dublin city centre and its suburbs. They hope to tackle the bureaucracy that makes their art illegal and causes constant feuds with the Dublin City Council.

It’s a city-wide initiative which aims to highlight the importance of artistic expression on Dublin’s terrain.

With this project, they plan to challenge the existing council laws that are in place for street art, claiming that the laws are time consuming, costly, and unnecessary.

“We are aiming for an amendment to existing legislation in order to facilitate the evolution of large format artwork within the public realm.”

"We have developed a public art framework which has been submitted to Dublin City Council and Government Ministers. We are awaiting their response."

When asked for their take on this project, the council responded by citing the laws that govern provision of murals, whether artistic or commercial in nature.

About these very laws, they said, “The existing national legislation does not prohibit street art. However it requires that planning permission is applied for in advance of the use of a structure for the purposes of providing street on it. A material alteration of a building/outdoor structure in general needs planning permission. “

Most recently, Subset were told to remove its murals on Cecilia Street of President Michael D Higgins and Father Ted character Mrs. Doyle.

Siopaella Designer Shop, whose walls the murals were painted on, posted a long message on Instagram complaining about the removal. 

“Beautiful artwork creates respect - this is what we learned in this short month. It is unfortunate that Dublin City Council has taken this approach when it could instead be fostering creativity and adding to our city’s culture by encouraging such art works.”

By now, Subset has removed ten large format artworks at the request of the Dublin City Council.

They think one of the biggest issues here is the council does not know how to tackle street art.

“We think the council’s issue is that they don’t have a system in place to monitor it,” they said. “Since street art is growing in Dublin, the only way they can tackle it is shut it down rather than work with it. It’s probably a lot of work for them to put a system in place.”

When asked about DCC’s response to the Grey Area initiative, Subset replied, “They are the regulators and we are the innovators.”

Subset had its own set of struggles before they could plant their feet on firm ground, during which they received several suggestions to just leave the country.

“A lot of successful artists in Ireland will tell you that there have been moments where they wanted to leave or have left. We have been told to leave because it’s so much easier to do it elsewhere, on numerous occasions.”

Subset say they want to stay in Ireland to focus on the necessity for artists to grow here, and insist on changing the way things work here to make it easier for homegrown artists to prosper.  

“What we really, really want to do is almost make a path going forward, so that it’s way easier for other artists to make it.”

Besides the usual struggles artists face to sustain themselves in harsh economies, the tedious elements involved in pursuing art in Dublin are also a major discouraging factor.

“For our medium of art, there is no infrastructure for it to be legal. That’s one difficulty. The second one’s the acceptance and value put towards artists - you might say that at surface level, a lot of artists get recognition but that’s not enough.

It’s hard because we’re usually undervalued, under appreciated- essentially, they want to take our culture, package it and resell it like processed food.”

Subset publicise their art mainly via social media. But like everything which involves social media, it’s a slippery slope.

“Standard Issue Middle Class Gobdaws Masquerading as Urban Radicals,” reads their Instagram bio. This line was intended as an insult, once thrown at them from the dark corners of Reddit. But they embraced it, and now willingly associate with it. 

“This one troll, he was just taking the piss out of us. But we loved it.”

This group of standard issue middle class gobdaws wants to change the way street art is treated in Ireland.

If the scale of their progress is monitored, they’re doing well for their cause. What advice would they give to artists?

“Keep making art. Let the art speak for itself.”

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