INTRODUCTION by Fintan O'Toole
"The world," says Wittgenstein, "is everything that is the case."
Tacitus believed mariners could hear
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.
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.
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