PUBLIC WORRY: It Could be Political.



Pauline Beatrice Goggin, 2013.



We are living at a time when protest is to be feared, people are afraid to speak out in case they will be laid off or further penalized through pay cuts or other measures of austerity which may be imposed. In the face of declared interests in reform, the political parties do less and less in this regard or if pressed they do the minimum.


The tendency to pathologise affectedness, or feelings  that  are  natural human responses  to traumatic events , has become an accepted way of dealing with the  so called unacceptable, but I would call the ,logical condition of many of the population whose feelings spill out and over; feelings, that if not checked  could be seen as source of possible actions that could have an impact on the preferred , and now normal,passivity of our population.


James Smith refers to Ireland’s architecture of containment [1]in recognition of the extraordinary measures that were taken in Ireland to build the institutions and psychiatric hospitals whose function was to remove from society all those who were inconvenient or surplus to demand. St. Bridget’s hospital in Ballinasloe, at its peak housed 2000 souls.


The need to constrain the groundswell of affect in this time of increasing crisis has been met and demand supplied with huge profits,  by the pharmaceutical corporations worldwide. The tendency to prescribe medication for debilitating symptoms is widespread. The increasing self- anthesthetisation through addiction and the increasing numbers of deaths by suicide are telling, as more people try to block the pain and suffering that living in the after math of the world -wide political and economic decisions that impact on them daily.

Emigration has become an answer for the voiding of a young population whose felt emotion could be seen to threaten the status quo and become explosive.


We are currently seeing the new institutions of containment in contemporary society? How can we recognize their walls? The environmental, the psychological, the societal? The walls that keep whole populations in check through a range of debilitating and paralyzing feelings.


What happens to these feelings? Where can they be vented?  With the breakdown of rural centres for discussion and meaning making,  ie the pub, the post office, and the many closures of small businesses and work centres , together with a distrust of the traditional church authority,  the opportunity to talk and to share the affect of governmental and economic decisions are becoming less and with that,  the possibility of allowing the voice of protest.


The “dumbing down “ of community and society through self anesthetization with drug and alcohol addiction and through mass media efforts to manufacture an entertained and silenced population continues through promotion of tv game shows and sitcoms where canned laughter seeks to erase any realistic emotional perturbation. Charlie Brooker’s Channel 4 [2]drama, Black Mirror, 2011, laid out, in true Orwellian fashion, the possible outcome of this growing dependency,  It describes a future of consumer slavery which was also foretold in David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas,[3] where the ultimate atrocity was to feed the electronically controlled cloned and recycled slaves to each other


Lisa Duggan suggests that the neoliberal economic and social policy is characterized by the shrinking of the public sphere and that affective life is forced to bear an increasing burden as the state divests itself of the responsibility for social care and affective life is confined to a privatized family.[4]


Katie Stewart‘s writing on ordinary affects as “public feelings that begin and end in broad circulation, are also the stuff that seemingly intimate lives are made of”[5]  She describes the ordinary as a place of intensities, potentials and scenes that are not best understood or described as examples of big theoretical categories, in other words, the ordinary can be dismissed as having no relevance or contribution.

The intimate rituals of daily life, where depression is embedded, need to be understood as a public arena, or alternatively as a semipublic sphere, that is a location that doesn’t always announce itself or get recognized as public but which none the less functions as such [6]

Acceleration, precarity and exhaustion all serve to keep people silenced.


Through the initiation of the Public Worry Project in June of this year, and keeping some of the critical writing in mind, heart and soul, I sought to test some of these theories in the local environment.  I am encouraged and humbled by the ready responses of the public to the simple invitation to sit and speak at the little table with its stack of Cards and the sense of record that the space provided. I am further encouraged in a hunch that were a space to be created even in the most micro political sense, it would be used and used well.

Once it became clear that the artist was not a fortune teller and that people could use the time to voice a worry or other feelings that could be attached to a public issue, the cards became an instrument of reflection through which people not only identified issues and feelings but began to consider actions, both personal and societal in an organic and lively way.


 Steven Wright offers a way of thinking about an art form that has said its prayer and surrendered to itself. His advocacy of User – ship and the usability of art as support to social practices has brought me to the notion of extraterritorial reciprocity, the idea of true social exchange.

As an artist who has been in this process of recognition for a number of years now, I first consciously considered the user-ship of the art that I was making in the years after my daughter’s death in 2003. As I reflected on my own position in this regard it became clear that I had been “using” art as a meaning making instrument for most of my life and that my burning need to respond to social injustice, through traditional media was unsatisfying and incompetent both in its articulation and experientially.  But such was my need that I found non-art ways of being in spaces where the realms of feeling and direct affect balanced my sense of “outsidership” that was so often my experience as “an artist” and woman in the artworld. 


As I worked with survivors of Domestic and sexual abuse, institutional abuse, young offenders, social workers, Social educators, and young people at second level education, I used art and art methodology but was stuck in my constant separation between myself and “other” identity as an artist and my role of educator and activist.


In encountering the writings of Paulo Frieire,[7] Augusto Boal,[8] Pablo Helguerra[9][10] and others, I met other possibilities other ways of describing a way of working that could allow a migration away from a traditional perception of aesthetics and allow an acceptance of that shift into other territories that could contain more than one knowledge, more than one way of articulating the experience of the multitude. So in the PUBLIC WORRY project the social practice is a bridge between lack and potential, The lack of voice that so many experience in  a paralysis  of fear, anger, depression and anxiety, that could  be attributed to the political decisions made by governments. There is also a weight of generational affect, a legacy which may be both another paralyzing agent OR a force for potential reminiscence and triggering of the capacities of our forbears to take action in the face of similar injustice.[i][11]


The creation of spaces where the contestatory and agonistic can be expressed has become urgent.

Living with economic crisis, people are shown constantly being surprised at the amount, location and enormity of moral and affective irregulation that come from fading rules of accountability and recognition.[12]


Through the creation of what Loren Berlant refers to as “Intimate Publics”,[13] whatever the activity, the conversation will become political sooner or later.


This project could be seen as a guerilla exercise in allowing voice in a climate where to do so is becoming increasingly dangerous. Common concerns and anxieties relate to Economic issues, Unemployment, Pollution, The deteriorating effects of Climate Change, Racism, Increasing violence and violent crime.


There can be overlaps between the Public and the private. It’s time for the creation of those public spheres where we can say again “hang on a minute” “not in my name” or simply “I don’t agree”









[1] Smith, James. Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment. University of    Notre Dame, 2007.


[2] Brooker. Charlie,.Black Mirror, Channel 4 drama series, 2011.


[3] Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. Sceptre books. 2004


[4] Duggan.Lisa, The Twilight of Equality. Beacon Press. 2004


[5] Cvetkovich, Anne, DEPRESSION, a public feeling,, Duke University Press,. 2012.  p 157



[6] Cvetkovich, Anne, DEPRESSION, a public feeling,, Duke University Press,. 2012  p 156.


[7]  Frieire, Paulo. Pedagogy of Freedom, Rowman & Littlefield Inc. 2000.


[8]  Boal, Augusto. Theatre of the Oppressed, Consortium Books, 1985.


[9]  Helguerra, Pablo. Art Scenes, Jorge Pinto Books, 2012,


[10] Helguerra, Pablo. Education for Socially Engaged Art, Jorge pinto Books. 2011


[11] Cvetkovich, Anne, Depression: a Public Feeling, Duke University Press, 2012


[12] Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism, On The Desire for The Political. Duke University Press,  2012, p.227


[13] Lauren Berlant,  Cruel Optimism, On The Desire for The Political.  Duke University Press, 2012