HomeAboutThe ImagesContact UsIn The Press




The Images

INTRODUCTION by Fintan O'Toole

"The world," says Wittgenstein, "is everything that is the case."

But, adds the poet Derek Mahon, it is also "everything that is the case imaginatively":

Tacitus believed mariners could hear
The sun sinking into the western sea;
And who would question that titanic roar,
The steam rising wherever the edge may be?

Seán Hillen's Irelantis images are maps of a world in which the imagination is part of reality, the visual equivalent of the sound the sun makes as it sinks into the sea.

At one level, Irelantis harks back to one of the most delicious impulses of childhood, the anarchic joy of having a scissors with which to cut up the images that surround us and paste with which to re-assemble them into a vision that matches our own impulses. As soon as they strike the eye, Hillen's collages also hit whatever remains of the bold child within us. They have the lawless energy that impels people to draw moustaches on photographs of the Mona Lisa, or to decorate mundane stories with fantastic lies. Many of the images use as their template John Hinde's famously garish postcards of tourist Ireland, a world of red-haired children, turf, donkeys, beauty spots and local colour that was impossibly nostalgic even in the 1960s, before the modern transformation of Ireland. To the extent that they violate these perfect pictures with strange and exotic invasions, the Irelantis images operate as a kind of satire on tourism, nostalgia, and the official ideology of nationalist Ireland.

But if that was all they did, the joke would wear rather thin. Irelantis is a much funnier, much richer and much more exciting place than that. For what Seán Hillen does is in fact the opposite of what might be expected. The normal, and now rather safe, subversive gesture would be to contrast the unreal fakery of the postcard imagery with a hard-edged, allegedly more authentic realism. That kind of easy mockery, though, has no place in Hillen's vision. For instead of taking the myth out of the romantic postcards, he puts a lot more in. Instead of cutting the dreamscape down to size, he ups the ante all the way to a cosmic extravaganza that is at once joyously funny, deeply disorienting and dizzyingly rapturous.

Behind the exuberance of these images, there is poise, wit and a real artistic engagement with what it is like to live at the end of the 20th century. Irelantis is, of course, contemporary, globalised Ireland, a society that became post-modern before it ever quite managed to be modern, a cultural space that has gone, in the blink of an eye, from being defiantly closed to being completely porous to whatever dream is floating out there in the media ether.

But this Ireland is also everywhere and nowhere. Hillen is dealing with displacement in a world where all borders "political, cultural and psychological" are permeable. In his Einsteinian universe, time and place form a continuum in which it is possible to travel from Dublin to Delphi, from Carlingford to the Valley of Kings without going anywhere. He is dealing, too, with the strange interactions of nature and technology, myth and commerce, the mundane and the supernatural in contemporary culture. Irelantis is vulnerable, not just to the invasion of dreams, but to the meteors, whirlpools, volcanoes and glaciers that remind us that we are not, after all, masters of the universe. It is a place where inner and outer realities blend into a single seamless vision. It is where we live now.




Site designed by Volta Digital Media