The Agreement is commissioned by Beaconsfield (Contemporary Art) London with financial support from public sources in UK and Ireland.
The commission has been realised collaboratively by Shane Cullen, Naomi Siderfin and David Crawforth - the creative team. The project has been championed in UK and Ireland by a range of individuals and organisations without whom the touring concept would not have been possible (see City pages of this website).
The co-founders of Beaconsfield first met the artist in 1993 in Dublin when Cullen was embarking upon his large scale painting project Fragmens sur les Institutions Republicaines IV, which monumentalised the smuggled communiques of IRA prisoners on hunger strike in the Maze prison. Siderfin and Crawforth were impressed by the ambition of the work, by its overtly political nature and contemporary relevance and maintained contact with the artist. In 2000 the artist responded to Beaconsfield's invitation to submit a new proposal by offering plans for a sculptural work of similar ambition - The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (later The Agreement).
Beaconsfield's interest in this proposal was not only ignited by the concrete form of the projected sculpture but in its potential to catalyse a moving debate about its subject. In this sense, the sculptural work could provide the environment for a living, performative public experience. Accordingly, relationships were set up with partners in significant cities in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to facilitate the tour of the sculpture during 2002-04, reflecting the new political relationships between the islands and inviting the expression of public opinion during these critical years of the peace process.
Discourse and Publication
The commission, exhibition and analysis of this work has been planned as a cumulative process, whereby the response of its audience completes the work. The initial touring exhibition provided a context for reflecting upon the effects of the constantly evolving peace process five years on from the signing of the agreement. A series of public forums, in which the issues of the day were publicly debated paid special attention to creating an environment in which Irish and English audiences communicated and debated their relative positions. Documentation of the public debates facilitated as part of the touring exhibition is archived.
A book has been part of the vision for this project from the start. It is anticipated that the publication of the debates associated with the sculpture will provide an opportunity to reflect on the tactics employed by artists for engaging the public in political debate through cultural means, at the same time providing a chance to relate the experience of the Good Friday or Belfast Agreement to the wider international peacekeeping debate.
Background to Beaconsfield
Beaconsfield (Contemporary Art) was founded in 1994 with the aim of providing a developmental space for art and artists: initiating dialogue between artists and their audiences through the strategic presentation of the work.
Set up by artists with a track record for organising grass-roots events, Beaconsfield raised private donations to refurbish the former Lambeth Ragged School in Vauxhall as a permanent cultural space and public subsidy for its programme. The curatorial reputation of the entity was established with such international and ground-breaking projects as Rude Mechanic - a visualisation of sound, Disorders - 24 hours of live art in St Thomas' Hospital, London and Ground Control - artists' despatches from Lithuania and England. Beaconsfield is one of the few remaining artist-led initiatives of the early 90's and is a fixed term client of Arts Council England.
Beaconsfield original mission "to occupy a niche between the institution, the commercial and the 'alternative'" has been realised and the entity maintains a unique venue and proactive artistic direction in order to continue the provision of a critical space for art.