What cannot be said, above all must not be silenced, but written.
Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: from Socrates to Freud and Beyond, University of Chicago Press, 1987, p. 194.
The re-presentation of existing text has long been central to Shane Cullen's work. Whether using 17th century Gaelic (Parliament na m Ban, 1992) or 20th century English (Fragmens sur les Institutions Republicaines IV, 1997), the work can be interpreted and absorbed on numerous levels. In each case, the text is fixed and its meaning changed by the context in which it is presented, shifting according to the cultural and political climate in which it is viewed.
Shane Cullen is best known for his monumental painting project, Fragmens sur les Institutions Republicaines IV. Cullen's project - to transcribe the written communiques of IRA prisoners smuggled from the Maze prison during the hunger strikes of 1981 - began in 1993. Completed in 1997, the work has since been purchased by the Irish Museum of Modern Art. In Spring 2001, IMMA agreed to loan Beaconsfield this significant work, introducing the commissioning relationship for the artist's next major piece, The Agreement scheduled for exhibition in 2002 - 2003.
Fragmens IV is important as a precursor of The Agreement.
The means of production for each work reflects its subject matter. Transcribing the diaries of dying men (originally written on cigarette papers) over a period of four years, the artist stencilled and hand-painted 96 large panels to produce Fragmens IV.
In contrast, the Good Friday Agreement was a public document constructed in the homogeneous language of diplomacy by unnamed bureaucrats and distributed for mass consumption. In line with the origins of the text, Cullen's re-presentation of this document has been achieved through digital and mechanised processes using state of the art industrial techniques.
Of particular note is the potential of these works to draw audiences on dual levels: as texts of public interest and as landmark art works of interest to a specialised constituency.
Public exhibition of The Agreement makes this significant information accessible in a new way, whilst claiming validity for the work as an art object in its own right.
This substantial work will take its place within the tradition of History Painting, raising questions as to the role of the contemporary artist as a catalyst for political consciousness-raising.