This year is the fortieth anniversary of the student protests and worker strikes that marked 1968. Given contemporary art’s current fascination with tropes of re-enactment and restaging as ways of addressing past political moments and unrealised opportunities, it seems likely that these events will be re-looked at this year.

I discovered recently, quite by accident, that one of the students I lecture in my history of visual culture class attended the same art institution I did, then at a different location, in 1968. It struck me as uncanny, that I am in a position of lecturing such a person about the situationists. Me, who was not even alive in 1968, and she, who actually participated, if only tangentially in the events of time.

I carried out a short interview with her, extracted below, that touches on some of these ideas about memory, particularly its possibiltites and overlaps with fiction. This will likely develop into a more substantial piece of work in the future… many thanks to Linda for her time and conversation.

You’d be dragged out occasionally to do little projects, apart from that they left you alone, and there was nothing as there is now, like modules, or essays, or… there was a history of art class on Fridays, which nobody went to, we all bunked off… but to be honest, I think that’s still the same… It was a very, very free existence, it was absolutely fabulous as far as I was concerned. It was enlightening.  

… I consulted with a girlfriend who was more involved in it, we’re still very friendly after all these years, and she said that it was following on from the student protests that took place all over the world, or all over Europe, as far as I know… So I think there was placard-waving, and there was protests to the papers, and the Board, and then the college just closed. It did close though, particularly because – oh, yes, there was ‘sleep-ins’. That’’s right. Which I didn’t go to either – generally I would have joined in the fun bit and let the banner-waving to other people I’m afraid! [laughs]

But again, it was just my circumstances, I had got a job and I had moved on. After one of the sleep-ins, and after rather too many beers, some of the students broke the statues. And that was such an appalling thing, that the college closed then. And the students themselves were shocked that a couple of people had done that, it was vandalism, which is commonplace now, but was not commonplace then. So the college stayed closed for many months, I’m not really sure how long. And they then brought their protest outside the college, and there were marches, and on one of the marches there were so few students that they went one at a time down the street because they couldn’t get a crowd. I don’t know whether the other colleges joined in or not, or if it was just the art college, but certainly the people in the art college were seen as being frightfully bohemian, radical, lefties. There were tut tuts of disapproval. This was 1960s Ireland, you know, the Church and the State ruled. 

There was a few people who did embrace that very strongly. There was one of my class, a girl called Yvonne, and she became a Maoist, which was the furthest left you could go without falling off the planet. And then there was the man who runs the organic markets, Denis Healy, was also a Maoist. Although a friend of his says she couldn’t imagine how he became a Maoist, because he’s a man who loves food and wine and girls and everything else. But then he embraces very… extreme things. So he would have been a Maoist for a week or two… [laughs] You’ve got to remember that most of us were just nice, middle-class kids, and a bit of banner-waving was alright, but not smashing things and kicking gardai…

As far as I’m concerned. If you ask somebody like Yvonne, you will probably get a different reply. But 68 was… no, I think it was just fun. I think Ireland was beginning to break out then. Let me see, I got married in ’70, and the Church’s grip had started to crumble. Let me see who was Pope, it was John  the 12th or 13th, who had brought a more benign influence to the Vatican. So the grip of the Church had started to go. The State… I don’t know what was happening then, I’m the most unpolitical person you could be talking to, I’m afraid. Who was in power, Lemass? There was no work, there was no jobs, as far as I recall, but perhaps things had started to move. I was just a young girl in college, it was fun. And I didn’t have strong views I’m afraid, and very few people did, apart from the one girl I’ve mentioned. There is not one person I can think of that really went into politics and fought for what they believed.

But back to 68, I think it was mimicking France, and the art students felt they should do something, and they picked on their situation within the college, but whether it had wider political meaning… I don’t honestly think it did. WE should be rioting now. [pauses, laughs] There seems to be something in the Irish psyche that always pulls us back from the edge. We’ll always go and complain to everyone else but we will never actually do something. Perhaps because everyone is nervous of getting themselves into trouble. There’s always that fear. It’s very strange. We’re very good at some things, but we’re very bad at revolution. 

No, I don’t ever go back, or wish things were as they were then. I have no desire to be nineteen again, or thirty, or forty, or fifty again. I’m fortunately happy enough in whatever place that I’m in. They were great times, but I don’t listen to the music, I don’t have the same hairdo, I don’t hang around, I do still have very good friends from that era, but we don’t ever say, ‘Ah do you remember when…?’ Well, occasionally we do, but life moves on. It was a great time for me, and that was the end of it… 

Des was showing us a video of Joseph Beuys, and mentioned that he had been in Ireland, and the image that came up was of him drawing on a blackboard and lecturing. And to his right is sitting a girl, and I looked at it and I thought, that is just how I looked in 1968. The pageboy haircut, the clothes, everything. I know it wasn’t me, but suddenly, I looked at that image and I said, that’s me. That’s how I looked at that time. I felt like it was me. But I know I never went to any of his lectures. 

It’s extremely hard to get the actual facts. My friend Claire said her memory is terribly bad, and she can’t put anything in context…     

Extracts from a conversation on March 4th 2008               

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