Next time you’re heading home on the train, face pressed into a stranger’s armpit, take a look out the window at Kathleen McCann’s billboard, Monday 21. Hung across the grey expanse of the Fed Square Car Park, this poignant work has a lot to say about violence and if nothing else, is a great way to start a conversation with your train companions.
Tell us something about yourself and Monday 21.
"My name is Kathleen McCann, I am an artist, art educator and mother. I was born in Belfast in the sixties and immigrated with my family in 1972 to Australia during “the troubles” in Northern Ireland. We left a very volatile situation where political violence on the street was an everyday danger. My family came from Ardoyne, a Catholic area renowned during its troubled history as a flashpoint of sectarian violence.
Monday 21 is a vinyl billboard that measures 12 X 3.5 metres. It is a digital photograph of an entry in my sister’s diary from 1971. In her journal daily tension, bombings and shootings were recorded through the eyes of an eight year old. On Monday 21 she recorded “Today people blew up nothing”, the absence of violence being the remarkable thing on that day.
My work often begins by “mining” personal archives and shifting the nature of them subtly or radically to allow them to “speak” to an audience in ways other than originally intended.
In Belfast, I grew up with the walls of houses used as active spaces for expression, political murals were ever-present and declarations of community aspirations were explicit. I’ve come to use public space and the tools of both political culture and the advertising world (banners, stickers, stamps, billboards, postcards, broadsheets, posters) to momentarily arrest the viewer’s attention by disturbing their expectation of a commercial or politically charged message.
The Monday 21 billboard was originally commissioned by the Hobsons Bay City Council for the Conversations billboard project on Kororoit Creek Road in Altona in 2007. In 2009 The JB Seed fund provided a grant to relocate the billboard to other sites in Australia and Federation Square have enthusiastically supported the siting of the billboard at the rear of the Square in 2010.
A short video work that contextualises the isolated “today people blew up nothing” excerpt placing it amongst other diary entries from the same year will be screened in the next fortnight at Federation Square.
Avant Cards have printed thousands of postcards of the Monday 21 image through their program that supports artists and these are currently being distributed in participating venues in Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Local and independent Breakdown Press have recently printed a broadsheet of local and international artist’s work in THE PEACE POSTERS (you can find it here). A poster of the diary entries is included in this publication, one noting “today 13 people were murdered by the soldiers” relating to the now famous Bloody Sunday in Derry.”
The billboard Monday 21 can be seen from trains and from Flinders Street at the rear of Federation Square on the North facade of the Wilson Parking structure from 19 September until 10 October.
Why do you think it was important to get this work up to coincide with the United Nations International Day of Peace on Tuesday 21 September?
"The idea of a single day without the violence of war in the world sadly seems to be inconceivable, the aspiration of the International Day of Peace devised in 1981 by the United Nations is to foster the idea that this is actually possible.
My sister’s quiet message to herself as a child seems to me to align very well with the notion of celebrating even one day where hostilities are absent and the active wish to achieve less conflict in the world at large.”
Why is this work important for an Australian audience?
"I suppose because we have such relative peace in this country from serious civil unrest or war but there are so many people who live here now who have experienced life in war-torn situations. I like the idea that the billboard may make a viewer momentarily consider both what it is like to be living with war and what it means for it to be absent."
The original entry in the diary was very small, and obviously this banner is huge, how does this affect our perception of the work?
"The diary is a very intimate document and the entries are personal accounts of both ordinary and extraordinary daily events written close to 40 years ago. To propel them through time, across the world and into a very public place literally “writ large” hopefully affords them some authority and universiality. A passer-by, without the historical context can ponder where these words were written, why and by whom, forming their own conclusions. Often countries that come out of war or turmoil have to work hard to reinvent the future, and this change happens within the individual and sometimes takes generations to evolve."
How is your work part of this process?
"My work is often generated from a very personal item that has a resonance for me. It feels like an exercise in trust to present it to a broad and unknown audience. I suppose the idea of the personal being political is something that I try to discreetly manifest in my work. Given that my family were present and affected by The Troubles in Northern Ireland, I’d hope that I through work like this I am part of the re-evaluation of the communities involved, albeit in a remote way and part of the process of change."
Have you been back to Ireland since you left in 1972? If so what kind of difference/s did you see?
"I have been back to Ireland many times since I left as a little girl. Each time I return there is some development transforming the time of conflict into a time of relative peace. Compared to the situation we left in 1972, there have been some inspirational moves to create long lasting harmony in the community that were inconceivable then. Whilst I understand that there are still many unresolved issues, incrementally it appears to be a successful shift."
Where is your sister now?
"My sister Denise lives in Melbourne with her family and is a secondary school teacher. She still has a particular way of looking at things – a no nonsense glass half full perspective and a black humour that is very common in Northern Irish people."
What do you hope will happen to the banner when the Fed Square installation finishes?
"There are plans for it to be reinstalled in regional Victoria in the coming months and I hope to present a version of the billboard in Belfast sometime in the future, bringing the message “home” in a sense."
What can we look forward to?
"I am always looking for opportunities to make subtle or not so subtle interventions in ordinary sites. I’m interested in how we ascribe meanings to places and how you can activate a space by adding a surprising element or altering its function. So expect the unexpected."
Check out Monday 21's Facebook page.