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Image: Rathowen, Co. Westmeath, from Ghost Estates of the Irish Property Bubble
The title of this post comes from a chapter in Jane Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, from 1963. Though speaking about housing and planning policies in the sixties and earlier in the US, the text has a sudden renewed sharpness in relation to recent events. (It doesn’t speak of diasaster capitalism a la Naoimi Klein, although there are similarities in the language of upheaval, violence and shock). Arguing for the necessity of ‘gradual, constant close grained changes’, Jacobs says:
this money shapes cataclysmic changes in cities. Relatively little of it shapes gradual change. Cataclysmic money pours into an area in concentrated form, producing drastic changes. As an obverse of this behaviour, cataclysmic money sends relatively few trickles of money into localities not treated to cataclysm. Putting it figuratively, insofar as their effects on most city streets and districts are concerned, these three kinds of money [state, private and ‘shadow world’] behave not like irrigation systems, bringing life-giving streams to feed steady, continual growth. Instead, they behave like manifestations of malevolent climates beyond the control of man – affording either searing droughts or torrential, eroding floods…
City people finance the building of suburbs. To be sure, one of the historic missions of cities, those marvelously productive and efficient places, is to finance colonisation…
This city building money operates as it does not because of its own internal necessities and forces. It operates cataclymically because we, as a society, have asked for just this. We thought it would be good for us, and we got it. Now we accept it as if it were ordained by God or the system.
The pervasive responses to the recession here  have been variations along the spectrum of  I’m fucked to I’m alright, Jack. (And maybe now is time to get a good deal on a used car?) Apparently we will have to weather this recession until times get good again. The sense of resignation to capitalism’s sometimes cruel weather systems is disheartening. There are very many diverse microclimates to be found in the shade of mountains and in gardens and small parks elsewhere, both by chance and by design.

Ballenciaga, Fall 2008 collection

Ballenciaga, Fall 2008 collection

So, before the recession was ‘announced’ I was doing some preliminary research into how fashion correlates with economic trends (skirt lengths, volume of material used etc). A day or two ago I came across this post over at Freakonomics:


The global economic slowdown has had an upside for some people. First, it was debt consolidators and private security firms. Now, necktie companies are reporting a boost in sales as the unemployment rate rises, the Telegraph reports. The (questionable) theory is that employed men want to look sharp and thereby stay employed.

To think — just last October we were wondering whether or not the tie might be on its way out.

What other fashion trends can be linked to the ups and downs of the stock market? Skirt hemlines, of course. But in this curious slideshow, The Times’s Bill Cunningham wonders if the Dow might also be dragging down the already sagging pants of New York’s youth.


So the other week the three kingpins of celebrity economics in Ireland, David McWilliams, Eddie Hobbs and George Lee were all on Saturday night TV.

However there were no handbags at dawn or any direct challenges at all to each others economic predictions/ political positions (pre June 24 this was before the official announcement of The Recession). Instead, the three men regressed into an economic nostalgia glued together with anecdotes of Curly Wurlys and half crowns found on the street and cashed in at the sweet shop.

A comment from The Property Pin:

I was hoping we would ‘get real’ but no. This is just a fluff piece with a little bit of light sabre rattling, but no killer thrusts. The three boys almost being publicly embarrassed for being so right, and having to defend themselves – ‘no miriam, i’m not a doom monger’.

I believe we’re going to need a televised blood and guts, bone crunching, broken teeth D-Day type watershed to burst this bubble.

“Why is my 100% mortgaged shoebox worth 40% less than what I paid for it, if I could even find someone to buy it? I don’t remember anyone pointing out that was a possibility when I was being brow beaten into buying it.”

With the Dans and the Austins and the Toms and the Kens in the dock to explain how this all came about.
People in Ireland aren’t long about whinging to Joe Duffy if they think they were charged too much for a meal in a restaurant, but we have an entire generation who have been ripped off for their life savings and possibly their career earnings and there isn’t a fucking murmur of discontent to be found anywhere. It’s disturbing.

It seems that the penny sweet remains the primary unit that acts both as a touchstone for avarice and a way to extrapolate larger economic structures.


There was an excellent article in the Sunday Tribune (business section) last weekend, written by Maxim Kelly, that drew attention to the recent trend of using nostalgia for advertising purposes.


There are other examples too, loads of them, some of which I’ve written about here


  1. The new TV ad for Sprite is a pastiche of Shaft, with Sprite bottles substituted for guns.
  2. The new McDonald’s TV ads cut to a flashback of ‘the eighties’ (I’ve so far seen two versions; one is of an aerobics class, bizarrely referencing fitness)
  3. Henri Hippo has been relaunched as the icon of Ulster Bank, albeit with a more digitised style of animation than before. I recently saw copy on a Henri billboard that read ‘Remember when happiness was staying up to watch Dallas?’


So there a few notable things here.


Mc Donalds and Sprite are both global corporations, and the signifiers they light on are similarly ‘global’ (ie referring to hegemonic American popular culture). Visually, these two ads also share a very distinct gritty, ‘analogue’ quality when they’re visually quoting The Past.


Henri Hippo is a much more localised phenomenon, with a much smaller audience, and the focus on Dallas as a childhood experience narrows the demographic further – to people around my age (twenties to early thirties) who lived in Ireland at the time. It’s an unusual experience to feel so targeted by advertising, and if nothing else it really makes me interrogate my memory and experience of this time. Do I really remember it like that? Is the story I have belonging to my childhood, or someone else’s?


Ulster Bank has today brought back the iconic 1980s children’s character Henri Hippo who introduced the idea of saving to a generation of Irish children nearly 30 years ago… At the re-launch of Henri Hippo, Richard Donnan, Managing Director of Ulster Bank Retail Markets said: “Henri Hippo will be fondly remembered by a generation of Irish adults who were introduced to the concept and habit of saving through a great sense of fun. Many of them will now have their own children to whom they will want to pass on a habit that will have served them well down through the years. We want to help parents encourage and motivate their children to save.”

From here


There is something larger here about nostalgia marketing and the time cycles that seem to be involved. I don’t know how ‘new’ the use of nostalgia is in marketing, but it seems to be running on a 20 – 30 year cycle at the moment.


In 1998, Nicolas Bourriaud actually wrote about this in relation to contemporary art, pointing out how art in the 80s drew from the ‘visual effectiveness’ of 60s Pop, and art in the nineties seemed to ‘identify’ with trends from the 70s, including a sense of crisis, saying

Fashion can thus create aesthetic microclimates which affect the way we read recent history.

This is a version of an article recently published in the Visual Artist’s Newsheet. It’s a response to a roundtable discussion titled ‘Creativity versus Commodity’, organised for Colin Darke’s exhibition at Temple Bar Galleries, Dublin, written about here. [February 8th 2008]

The Capital Paintings evolved from Darke’s earlier work, Capital, where the artist transcribed the entire text of Marx’s three volumes of ‘Das Capital’ onto 480 2D objects, all mounted in A4 laminates. With The Capital Paintings, Darke has returned to the previous work, reconsidering and re-presenting every piece in the earlier work as a to-scale oil painting on canvas, though removing the layer of text previously written over each object. Thus, ‘Darke flips the previous process, the ready made becomes the ‘unique’ art object, the banal commodity further commodified and rarified via its display in the gallery context’. (1) The format of Darke’s work replicates the Christmas ‘selling show’ it immediately followed, and promotes this obvious slippage.

Where Capital was perhaps a distant cousin of Marx’s text, the Capital Paintings are a familial relation at another remove from the initial work, and a further remove still from Marx. Nevertheless, he hovers as the invisible referent.

Sarah Pierce chaired the discussion, which, titled ‘Creativity versus Commodity’, set up from the very beginning a problematic polarity of these two terms. Pierce opened with remarks that questioned the usefulness of this supposed opposition, proposing the notion of a ‘circular economy’ that we are all implicated in, but it proved a difficult opposition to shift.

Read the rest of this entry »

*Amateur Hour, a new showcase at Self Interest and Sympathy for new learning, knowledge, skill or entertainment* Submissions welcome!

This week: Moneygami

I didn’t realise before I had the idea that others had had it first… unsurprising. There is an especially impressive range of dollar bill moneygami on the internet, some samples shown here. I’m not sure if this is because of the design (status, cultural cachet) of the dollar bill or the particular inventiveness of its crafters.. my own efforts in euro weren’t nearly as impressive.

Read the rest of this entry »


The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!               

… putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity and beauty mean nothing… 

In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. This is why Nietzche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht)… 

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?        

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being  

The Capital Paintings are a re-iteration, re-enactment or re-telling of a previous body of work by the artist, Capital, where he transcribed by hand the entire three volumes of Karl Marx’s Das Capital onto 480 two dimensional objects. Read the rest of this entry »


[I think this might actually be the thumb of Engels, not Marx.]

Berlin, December 2007


This blog is not usually used in the interests of self-promotion, but the content seemed to fit here, this time, so here goes.

Above are two recent works exhibited at a show called City of Ideas at a self-storage warehouse in Galway, Ireland. The show was curated by Human Resources (Ben Roosevelt and Emma Houlihan).


Model for Experiencing Economic Panic/ Excitement


Landscape of Desires and Manias [Tulipmania, 1640s; South Sea Bubble, 1720; UK Railway Crash, 1830s]

These are experiments very much informed by the research themes in this blog, and the sense of emptiness and excess that pervaded the storage space. I’ve also recently been investigating the ‘Economic Worry Matrix’ and ideas of irrationality and so-called ‘market sentiment’.


Richard Florida was the keynote speaker at a Creative City Regions conference in October, hosted by the Dublin Region Authority and the Dublin Employment Pact. (Info on the conference here)

Florida‘s presentation didn’t say anything he hasn’t said before, but the North American, evangelical-influenced delivery was extremely impressive. He is at points very persuasive in his thesis of what the ‘Creative Economy’ is and what it needs. He paraphrased the conference chair in his diagnosis of the ‘Knowledge Economy’ (old hat terminology now) as being “the last gasp of the industrial age”.

However, while the conference was eager to attach Florida’s prestige to the proceedings, the presentations that followed him (in his absence, having jetted off to another conference) showed a notable difference in their opinions/ agendas. The talk was all about the Knowledge Economy, not the Creative Economy: even the DRA website fudged the issue by describing the conference as addressing ‘the creative knowledge economy’.

Florida himself is part of a broader trend in culture where economics is becoming ‘pop’: described as a public intellectual (and he has earned a PhD so I don’t wish to imply he is in any way underqualified), his manner of delivery draws on that of the motivational speaker, informed by the legacy of North American television and evangelicism.  

In Ireland, Eddie Hobbs and David McWilliams have become similarly vocal pundits in the national media, particularly McWilliams, whose economic background has seeped into a large scale social trendforescasting. He is particularly fond of coining neologisms (Breakfast Roll Man, Decklanders, the Pope’s Children, etc – see his books and TV programmes, The Pope’s Children and The Generation Game). From this perspective, the field of economics is undeniably more enmeshed in mainstream popular culture than it has previously been.  

Richard Florida visited Ireland in October 2007.

See and

A full report on the conference will be published in the Visual Artist’s Newsheet, January 2008 

Image held here

November 2020