I went down to see the new exhibition at LCGA, How Capital Moves, by the artist team Gareth Kennedy and Sarah Browne yesterday. It was really impressive…and I’m notoriously hard to please (insert own ‘That’s what she said’ joke >here<). The exhibition’s main subject is the closure of Dell Computers’ manufacturing plant in Limerick and its de-facto relocation to Łódź in Poland. Dell isn’t mentioned by name but “The Company” of the piece is easily identifiable as the computer giant. The pseudonym also makes it about an experience rather than a specific example and adds an Orwellian 1984 edge to it. That sinister feeling comes up occasionally in the descriptions of closeted meetings, the new fence, empty offices and confidentiality contracts.
The exhibition has several elements including images of redundancy at a Dell call-centre in Oregon and boarding passes for flights from Shannon to Łódź. The main event is a video installation featuring six personalised monologues. These are based on real accounts in online forums but also with some artistic licence. As the blurb emphasises “Kennedy Browne wishes to reaffirm How Capital Moves as a composite of both fictional and non-fictional elements. However, all significant events that are referenced in this work did in fact take place”.
All the workers played by the same actor, speak in Polish (with English subtitles) and are dressed in pyjamas that reflect their personality. Why the pjs? It was Pajama Day in Oregon when 200 employees were let go. It allows you to imagine the humiliation of being fired while possibly dressed in a bunny rabbit onesie during what is meant to be a fun, team-building exercise. Ouch!
All six react differently to the news and the mixture of emotions is what makes it all so compelling. The actor is the everyman and is channelling the fear, disappointment, rage, relief, ambivalence, acceptance etc of those made redundant. They also talk about their jobs; the revelations about call centres are particularly interesting.
Many issues such as the effects of rumours/speculation/media reports, the ruthless nature of corporate policy as well as the workers’ uncertainty about the future and what to do next are touched upon.
It was originally commissioned for the Łódź Biennale in Poland but I’m glad it came to Limerick. It’s still a topical (and touchy) subject in Limerick two years on. At least 1,900 people lost their jobs—dragging up memories of the closure of local factories by multinationals like Krups (closed 1998; 500 jobs) and Ferenka (closed 1977; 1,400 jobs). And those examples further reinforce the concept of how capital moves, which is a worrying trend for the Irish economy-dependent as it is on an export-driven recovery.
Speaking as someone who was recently made redundant, it’s a pretty accurate look inside the process from both a personal and practical point of view. It links common experiences from all over the world. How Capital Moves is a considered, carefully executed artistic response to real universal concerns. Hallelujah!
The exhibition was curated by Annette Moloney. It runs until May 6 in Istabraq Hall, City Hall, Merchants Quay, Limerick. Hours are 9.30am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday.