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Erecting a Tomb to Irish Sovereignty
Installations have always seemed the genre best suited for people whose ambition to be an artist is greater than their willingness to acquire the skills necessary to become one. Occasionally, however, clever installations are effective in conveying a message, symbolizing a tragedy, or drawing attention to an absurdity. For example, the reality (and absurdity) of hyperinflation was once beautifully captured for me by a Brazilian artist who strung a yards-long snake of blocks of valueless bank-notes, twisting and turning, across a room, threaded together by a string.
In Dublin, the artist Frank Buckley has constructed the interior walls of his flat with bricks made of shredded, de-commissioned Euro bank notes—with a face value of 1.4 billion Euros—that the Irish mint gave him for this purpose. All the furniture in the flat, including the microwave and the lavatory, is also lined with the shredded notes. He calls the lavatory “the Bertie bowl,” after Bertie Ahern, the now- discredited prime minister who presided over and benefited politically from the Irish property bubble that has indebted the country for decades to come. Buckley experienced Ireland’s economic problems first hand: his house in County Wicklow was repossessed after its value declined to less than he had borrowed to buy it.
Ireland having since been placed more or less under the tutelage of the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, Buckley has erected a tomb to Irish sovereignty in one of his flat’s three rooms. Initially intended as a private home—Buckley has praised shredded Euro bank notes for their heat-insulating quality—his flat, literally made of money, soon had so many visitors that he decided to open it as a museum. Robert Ballagh, designer of the last Irish bank notes before the country’s fateful adoption of the common currency, opened the museum with little ceremony, saying that it “asks important questions of us, of the nature of our society, of our obsession with money and property, and how that has brought us to the state we are in.”
Missing from this list of questions is whether the creation of the single currency was a good idea in the first place, and whether, being so flawed in conception, it was not bound to lead to great difficulties if not outright catastrophe—and finally, what its progenitors really thought (or hoped) they were doing.
First published in City Journal.