Ten objects that define modern Ireland
The “was” here is deliberate. What readers are being asked to do, in effect, is to imagine themselves looking back on our own time from the future. What’s the thing that a visitor to the National Museum in 2112 would gaze on and get an immediate sense of what it was like to be us? What’s our equivalent of a Neolithic hand axe or a 19th-century cradle, or a 1950s emigrant’s suitcase?
Two qualifications are worth noting. For something to be redolent of Ireland since 2000, it doesn’t necessarily have to have been made exclusively in that period. If there’s something that was widely used in the 21st century and that is especially eloquent in the way it evokes our time, that’s fine. Equally, the object doesn’t necessarily have to have been made in Ireland or to be distinctively Irish. With Ireland becoming, in this period, the most open and globalised economy in the world, it would be silly to automatically exclude objects made, for example, in China.
Beyond these criteria, the choice is entirely open. We will use readers’ suggestions to draw up a shortlist of 10 objects, which will go on display at the National Museum. We hope this display will provoke further debate and enable the judges to pick a final object that, for good or ill, really encapsulates the way Irish people saw themselves in a period of wild euphoria, bursting bubbles and, perhaps, sober optimism.
Relic: Swimming with sharks
I am a huge admirer of the work of the Irish artist Dorothy Cross. I came across Relic suspended from the ceiling of the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin in 2010. Her work always has a touch of alchemy about it. She uses whale skeletons, gannet carcasses and other wild ephemera that wash up on the beaches of Connemara and she deftly reimagines their form, casting them as mythical art objects.
Her work celebrates the mystery and beauty of the natural world. Relic, a shark skin lined with precious gold leaf, is my favourite piece of Irish art.
Talent simulator: Celebrity culture
Iarla Ó Lionáird
This image was sent to me recently and it’s emblematic of the dark rise of celebrity culture and the notion that talent is available at the push of a button.
Obviously, the object doesn’t exist in reality, but if you think about it, a museum is almost an anachronistic concept because we have to deal with the fact that nothing is really physical any more.
We’re moving into the realm of 3D printing, where a violin has recently been printed out, having started as a digital image. We’re in the transition between the physical to the post-physical world. It’s a challenge to our values, because people think they can also acquire a skill, and the product and benefits of that, at the touch of a button.
Festival wristband: Access to experience
Director of the Glucksman Gallery
The festival wristband is a small object that unlocks access to a big experience. It may seem flimsy but this colourful band is acquired at great cost so that the wearer can participate in a weekend-long carnival of arts and music. Running since 2004, Electric Picnic has become a major cultural event and an end-of-summer rite in Irish life that reverberates in playlists across the country long after the tightly secured strap has been cut off.
Rain or shine, the Stradbally gathering hosts performances and pleasures of all kinds: live bands, DJ sessions, poetry readings, stand-up comedy, artisan food producers, public debates and creative crafts. Even Fossett’s circus is there. This little bracelet enables you to sample it all.
A Euro coin: Greek tragedy
On January 1st, 2002 the Irish punt was consigned to history as the euro was introduced, bringing us one step closer to a federalised Europe. The €1 coin features a design by Jarlath Hayes incorporating the Brian Boru harp, surrounded by the 12 stars of the EU. This everyday object is symbolic of Ireland’s current financial woes and economic uncertainty throughout Europe.
The euro symbol was inspired by the Greek letter epsilon, chosen for its historical association with the country that introduced the concept of democracy and societal stability. It’s ironic then, that Greece, the cradle of European civilisation, is rumoured to be secretly printing the drachma in preparation for a potential exit from the euro. Perhaps the punt will also make a comeback, with updated designs by artist Robert Ballagh.
The gold band: A symbol of human rights
Director of the Irish Architecture Foundation: board member of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network
An object that represents a defining moment in Irish social, political and cultural history is the gold band in the context of civil partnership. It is an instantly recognisable symbol of the joining of two people’s lives. As an object it exudes power; that of a universal and immediate understanding among family, friends and the State of the status of a relationship, as well as a rite of passage in society.
One of the most significant legal leaps in recent years is the Civil Partnership Act, which was passed unanimously by the Dáil in July 2010. Civil partnerships have transformed our social landscape. Since April 2011, more than 700 couples have gone to registry offices in all counties affirming their commitment to each another and exchanging gold bands. Before 2010, that was not allowed.