P45: Things Can Only Get Better?
A Story & Two Narratives
& LAURA FITZGERALD(IULLUSTRATIONS)
& LAURA FITZGERALD(IULLUSTRATIONS)
The film, P45 by Laura Fitzgerald is 50 minutes long. It has about 50 breaks in the narrative and there are about nine plot lines. The narrative is broken up further by changes in the motion sequences, by allusions to, and the creation of, many different time lines, and the use of hand-gestures into the film frame.
This work has deception at its core, the artist conscripts, every object or creature that she encounters on her walks, as actors for her creative ends. This has a disorientating and sometimes humorous effect on the viewer-you laugh even though you know you are being duped.
The hand gestures direct and manage the viewer, and they licence the voice-very much like the gesture in a drawing or in paint, and resemble the pointing gestures of politicians; gesture has an intrinsic value directing you to believe what you see, even though what you are actually seeing is a figment of the artists imagination.
P45 is filmed using a mobile phone and this gives it a ‘devil may care’ insouciance. However, the devil is actually in the detail and there are layers and layers of detail. The different threads of narrative are delivered in a jocular style by the artist, sometimes with a comic voice-overlay. There are demons in the subject material too–those demons with which every artist or creative struggles; The scourge of imposter syndrome, the misery of constant and gnawing poverty, the struggles for sovereignty and for authenticity in their work and the insistent devil that strives for success.
Fitzgerald alludes by stealth to social and political concerns by using pathetic fallacy, conflating the ominous political situations in Britain and America with grey clouds, and suggesting that immense and solid boulders should personify established artists.
Metaphor and allegory are employed liberally throughout; a butterfly signifies the short working life of an artist. A dead and mutilated sheep symbolises the artist who could not handle the pace. German conceptual artist residents are cast as cattle in a byer. A freshly harrowed field, represents the artist’s practice–complete with great chunks of rock that make manifest the conceptual theory which is the armature of her creative work.
Myth makes an appearance too in the form of; The Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus is cast as an employee of Fitzgerald’s father, who farms a particularly rocky mountain holding in West Kerry. Sisyphus apparently went rogue and left the family in extremis. As a consequence of this Fitzgerald’s father took to the drink. By association, we understand this myth as the allegory for everyday human (artist) drudgery, and for the existential crisis that faces those who would make art.
Anxiety overlaid with nervous humour is the mood of the piece, and is best illustrated in the driving sequences, where the action of driving around a twisting road makes the viewer nauseous. The accompanying narrative is chirpy but worried that the belief system and the expectations that we have been conditioned to anticipate, cannot materialise in the current cultural and socio-economic context.
Land Art, the spatial practice of walking, of forensic looking and accelerationist theory are present too.(1) The artist cites Francis Alys and Richard Long as having had an impression on her; although It is clear from her monolog where she departs from their influence.
Walking in the land is integral to Fitzgerald’s world making. According to De Certeau walking–
“…is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian…is a spatial acting-out of the place…[and] implies relations among differentiated positions” (2)
The grisly image of the dead sheep, reminds us of Kristeva’s theory of the Carnivalesque; where;
…everything familiar–‘identity, system, order’ – can collapse, can momentarily be lost, and our vulnerability can be exposed in the “fragility of the law” that binds us in social and in metaphysical order.”(3)
14 February 2049
The day before she leaves for the Colony, Laura is stifling back the tears. The neighbours have been coming and going all morning, wishing her well, telling her that they always knew that she would reach great heights, hoping that she was feeling better and asking if she had plans for the farm. It was all very poignant and moving and yet, there was a significant sense of Déjà vu, or maybe it was just some little rogue synapse firing at the wrong time at the back of her brain, but she felt very strongly as though she had been through all of this before.
Her dad, her grandad, and sisters had packed up and shuttled out last year, and even though Laura had had a lot of success in her art career, she was still in debt and effectively penniless. The last two relationships that she had been through, turned out to be traumatic, the first was too gentle for this world and he ki☠︎☠︎☠︎d himself by imbibing massive quantities of IPA, while the most recent incumbent had turned into a psychotic stalker. Tinder Premium had really let her down, but then all of those algorithmically modulated platforms were ‘giving gip’ these days.
From what she had heard, life in the colony was very different, the year was longer for one thing, and the land was unlike any terrain to be experienced here on earth. She would be able to take her walks, but only before sunrise, after the sun was up-the risk of exposure to radiation was too great. Sleep patterns were different in the colony, one had two and possibly three short sleeps in a day. 💤
There would be a lot of nocturnal activity to avoid the damaging radiation of the sun. The dust she had heard, would be a huge problem. She wouldn’t be able to utilise those objects and animals from the landscape that had populated her previous work, and that had been useful as metaphors, or as actors in her deceptive strategies and narratives. The colony landscape was a red dust bowl very unlike the lush green of west Kerry that she was part of and felt connected to–she would just have to form new connections there. Any work resembling her former drawing practice would be out, because the colony forbade the accumulation of superfluous objects or clutter as it diluted the terraforming efforts of the community. Ones’ focus would be on adapting to the new environment, so there would be little time to contemplate the creation of conceptual pieces of art.
But artists scientist and philosophers would be working together there, and they were valued members of the community. Their work built the new colony and its society, and there were rumours that; though adapting to the new physical environment was very difficult,living in the new colony community, easily surpassed anything that the earthly social experience had to offer.
There certainly would be massive changes to her practice, but this was a welcome prospect for Laura as the trend in the earthly art world had, in recent times migrated towards the virtual platforms that were invariably controlled by monopolistic corporations.
As human subjectivity and sovereignty had declined, creative expression had been reduced to a leisure based experiences, art institutions had become theme parks, legions of artists had found low paid employment there and were content with this occupation.
However, as a successful but impoverished artist, Laura had been coerced into the role of aesthetic life coach or personal artist to the tiny ruling elite, whose compounds she visited on a regular basis.
Even this role was short lived as the super-rich required a steady stream of successful artists to reassure them of their exclusivity, and of the authenticity of their human identities. She found participation in their secret art rituals and the propping up of their clandestine cultural network nauseating, but the tyranny of her success meant that it became increasingly difficult to extract herself. The whole thing had become too much, and for the second time in her life, Laura crashed, and she needed medication to get through the days.
Grandad, now in his nineties, but physically fit and sharp, had emigrated with the rest of the family on the 2048 shuttle. He had been invigorated by the move and had adapted to the changes much quicker than all of the others. His experience in meditation had made it easy for him to learn telepathy and he had been slowly inculcating Laura into this practice before her crash and the subsequent medication that had turned her brain into jelly. One of his last coherent messages to her had been a summons to come to the terraforming project. He had been meeting with some politically engaged artists from the colony and they were recruiting for new members. He felt sure that Laura would be happy in their midst. And so she had packed a few things, and had given away most of her earthly stuff. She had off-loaded the farm to a property developer called Sisyphus and used the proceeds to book the shuttle, all she could hope for now was a safe flight.
In a remote part of West Kerry Laura arrives home from London after a gruelling and impoverished few years in University, she is absolutely sure that her time abroad will enhance her exotic capital as an artist. In Ireland an artist is never really appreciated in their home place-it’s a given–you have to go abroad before anyone will take any notice, so she has good reason to expect that the spell abroad will mark her out from the crowd. When Laura reflects upon the seemingly superior education that she received, she has questions. She feels that there have been shortcomings and that there is a disconnect with the Art world that she inhabits and the art world that was endorsed by her Alma Mater. The so called ‘Art world’ has bifurcated into a kind of comic book Hydra. There is a veritable spaghetti junction of paths, and none of them have clear trajectories or proven outcomes.
As disillusion and anxiety set in, Laura sets aside the drawing and painting that were once her sanctuary and goes out for walks. What can she do? There is no money for fancy cameras, so she has to use her phone,(thank heavens for that Hito Steryl essay on the poor image,(4)–a boon to poverty stricken artists everywhere. Laura does the one reasonable thing that her artist training has actually taught her, she adapts to the situation and indulges in a bit of therapy. She tells her troubles to her phone, and her digital confessor becomes an accessory to the making of her work.
Laura is lucky though, because so many of her relatives have been artists, and there is an understanding and a tolerance for the potential precarity of her future career.‼️ The native neighbours in her home place are not as understanding, they regard her with a jaundiced eye and wonder ...how in hell a young person who has studied Art (of all things) will possibly sustain herself in rural Ireland. ’God help her parents!– would she not get a some kind of a decent job. She’s out there night and day talking to herself and playing with her mobile phone–she’s probably having a bit of a breakdown. A proper job would sort her out.’ 👁🗨👁🗨
And so, Laura struggles to find out who, and what she is, and what her place is, in this space at this time in her life. That’s a luxury in rural Ireland-even as breakdowns go.
She seeks out the company and the assistance of curators, this is a first step on her career path, but the experience leaves her feeling sophistic, it doesn’t help at all with the breakdown. What she is trying to say really only takes form when she is talking to her mobile phone–she records the conversations. The rural setting that is her home is a lonely spot, most of the young people of her age have gone to the big cities to get ‘proper jobs’, and don’t get back very often, so Laura retreats into her imagination. On her walks and drives, she imagines herself as the last inhabitant of the Art Island.
This is a fictional idyll where artists once came to live communally and to make art–a kind of West Kerry, St Ives, if you will? This artist island changes and morphs into an artist colony or out of this world creative ‘make space–in space.’as the different time registers in the narrative click into position.
The voices in her head become textualized on screen and contextualised, as she visits old and creepy houses and imagines them as former studios, or as her own house, which, in her dogged dedication to her chosen metier, she has neglected, and which lie now, in decrepitude, like her imaginary practice.
Laura’s narration is self-analysis.💆🏻♀️
Similarly the cows and some very cute Shetland ponies become fictive residents on an imaginary residency, and ‘tiny ’curators’ that are interested in her work. The fields become ‘expanded fields’ for her artist practice
The cows morph into curators, flunkies, and prostitute artists in the dramatis personae of the pageant that is the artworld.
Laura l🤥🤥s a lot.
There is a schizoid quality to her thinking, she acknowledges that she cannot find a date even though like so many of her generation, she subscribes to Tinder, the dating app🔥, in desperate hope that the algorithmic affordances will cut through the chaos of modern mating protocols. The deceptions slip out of her mouth with astonishing fluency;“
“…I made the road, and these road signs are how I negotiate my Art practice–”
“….once I moved back to Ireland I started digging lines in the fields–”
“…It is true that Sisyphus did work for my father–”
“….once I moved back to Ireland I started digging lines in the fields–”
“…It is true that Sisyphus did work for my father–”
They are not just small lies either-big huge porkers that you wouldn’t in your ‘right mind’🧠 believe🤦🏼♀️. So you suspect that when she alludes to pills for making art, that the poor girl is taking some kind of medication for her anxiety–sure there is no shame in that Laura! half of the young graduates coming out of colleges are on medication nowadays–probably as a result of the trauma caused by the massive lie that a bigger social narrative is telling them;
Laura goes for the ice cream.
At this moment, we congratulate Laura for hanging on to her sense of humour; she leads us into what she tells us is grandad’s apartment (fact or a fiction-it doesn’t matter) and brings out a copy of the Ice-cream series; Ice Cream: 10 Curators, 100 Contemporary Artists, 10 Source Artists(5). She tells us that Grandad recommended at least one and possibly two helpings of ice cream a day…yes Laura–I scream–you scream–we all scream…….especially if you are a contemporary artist–it is your job to scream–and to be aware of the all of the other I–screamers too🍦🍦🍦.
Laura makes liberal use of allegory and visual metaphors.
She’s driving (an accelerated action narrative in itself) along the Dingle to Inch road babbling on about finding the perfect partner who helps with paying the bills, and about how miserable and misleading the commonly held notion of a super-productive life style is, and of how it keeps propelling you from corner to corner with the promise of riches and of success that seldom materialise. All the while there is a rainbow🌈 which registers subliminally in our imaginations, with a pot of gold at its end. Then there are the tadpoles who we know cannot all become frogs, but who inhabit the same pond competing with each other for bare life, and the narrative is all about the fledgling art career and her dismissal at the hands of the art cognoscenti, and her subsequent differences with her art college.
The ever circling Bee that is eternally busy 🐝but going round and around in circles and getting nowhere–a metaphor surely for an artist creating work that the world doesn’t want or need–it’s not personal–it’s just that there is enough ‘stuff ‘here already, and anyway-no one cares!(except perhaps the art dealers, for whom the work is an asset, and who won’t care If it ends up in a storage facility somewhere–as long as it sells!)
The allegorical tale of Sisyphus, who is the symbol of the absurdity of quotidian human existence, and who’s lot is a meditation on justifiable suicide (take your tablets Laura!) is told in relation to his surely fictional employment, at the Fitzgerald family farm (a particularly rocky hillside holding.) Laura herself berates Sisyphus for being bone idle and a ‘lazy fucker,’ who never evaluated the work that he did and he just left things lying around.(we are certainly not in that category here, Laura!)
Everything she is saying is incredulous when we see the scale of the actual Sisyphean task on the hillside and can get a sense of time(more geological than linear) that any such task would involve. We get a glimpse of 2D work(drawing) ostensibly her father’s or Sisyphus’s work but we know that it’s yours Laura. In fact that drawing is reproduced here in this article. It is intricate, and patiently crafted, it would take far more time and skill than any metric could remunerate, to try to eke out a living by creating such work, accordingly it is indeed parallel to what is endured by Sisyphus. Sisyphus has become an allegory of an allegory, he is the muse that drives the artist, once he leaves, the artists’ world falls apart. Here she sketches out the difficulties in being an artist or in living as an artist–the constant disappointments–the contacts in whom you invest hope, time and money–who let you down. The betrayals, and thefts that can leave you destitute. The need for emotional props–the drink (we know that those were your empty IPA bottles Laura!🍻) All of these miseries are part of most every profession but living as an artist also means living as‘near to the wild heart’(6)as one feasibly can. That’s the part that can wreck your head. That is what causes the aura that accumulates around you and why the curious curators (cows) (shrews) become nervous, and why networking in the art world is so uncomfortable, your work is acutely personal.
Finally there is an intimation of the conceptual foundation stones of her own practice symbolised by German conceptual artists on residency (🐄🐄🐄) who are working with psychogeography in the expanded field. Good to keep the humour going, especially in association with critical theory.
There have been clues planted throughout this work that record the bug-bears that pique when living in rural communities. Dwellings(a studio)built without planning, the road from Dingle to Inch, which was and is contentious because it tears up the natural terrain, all for a fifteen minute gain in access time to Dingle. The intensive planting of coniferous trees🌲, to the detriment of the local ecosystems. The burning of gorse🔥. The proliferation of ruins, once homes, now eyesores and testament to the devastation visited on the rural locality by an unempathetic neoliberal society.
I agree with Laura, it is difficult to imagine a future for her profession living as we do in a time where everything is viewed as a resource to be capitalised, including art. The general nonchalance of our societies towards artists and to the tending of our collective cultures and environments is disheartening, the final butterfly🦋 metaphor is fitting “…they just have days.”
©Jennifer Redmond and Laura Fitzgerald 2020
(1)Accelerate,edited by  Robin Mc Kaye, Armen Avanessian, Urbanomic, (Falmouth U.K.May2014)
(2) De Certeau, Michel, Spatial Practices, Walking In The City, The Practice Of Every Day Life,(Berkley, University of California Press, 1984)
(3)Kristeva, J. (1982) Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. (Columbia University Press, 1982)
(4)In Defence of the Poor Image - Journal #10 November 2009 - e-flux. (2020). E-flux.com. Retrieved 21 April 2020, from https://www.e-flux.com/journal/10/61362/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/
(5)Edelsztein, Sergio. “Ice Cream: 10 Curators, 100 Contemporary Artists,10 Source Artists.”Phaidon Press(New York, May 2007)
(6)Download Near to the Wild Heart. (2020). Books Library. Retrieved 21 April 2020, from https://ifarus.com/near-the-wild-heart-clarice-lispect