Andy Hewitt / Mel Jordan
Sirius Arts Centre, County Cork, Ireland, April 2022.
We are making three visits to Sirius in 2022 to complete a 31-day secondment. Our SPACEX research project is centred around ideas of commoning and the function of art as a politicizing tool. See our forthcoming essay, ‘Relational associations and critical deliberative processes as a politicalising force in social art practice’, 2022, Art & The Public Sphere, 11.1.
Our project for Sirius takes up a particular history of land ownership, focusing on the writing of Cork born, philosopher William Thompson. It is entitled, Talk to the Land and will include the development of participatory art project and an exhibition in one of the gallery spaces at Sirius. We are also planning more visits in order to develop our work on Thompson via public events and discussions.
William Thompson’s An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness; applied to the Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth, was first published in 1824. It was Thompson’s first major work in political economy, and it contains his most comprehensive critique of capitalism as well as his proposals for a co-operative society as an alternative to the existing state of affairs, which saw acute poverty amongst the lower classes in Ireland and the UK. Thompson identified many of the themes and analysis Marx and Engels would tackle half a century later. Common to them both is the use of the labour theory of value and of exploitation in understanding the creation of surplus value, wealth, and consequently inequality and mass unhappiness. It is claimed that Thompson popularised the word ‘competitive’ as a description of capitalism and also the word ‘socialism’ in debates in London with such notable political economists as John Stuart Mill.
While on secondment at Sirius we visited Thompson’s old estate at Carhoogarriff, it was here that he proposed experiments for commoning. He willed the land to the cooperative movement although this was overturned and his sisters finally inherited the land. There is no evidence of the tower that he built as part of his experiment, no buildings remain. There is a plague memorising Thompson, (see image) but there is little more to acknowledge Thompson’s place in the history of socialism.
Our work for, Talk to the Land, will see us engaging with his book, Practical Directions for the Speedy and Economical Establishment of Communities on the Principles of Mutual Co-operation, United Possessions and Equality of Exertions and the Means of Enjoyments, (Strange and E. Wilson: London), 1830. We are working on a new film, a collaborative leaflet and a series of text works.