Clare Carolin

1980 in Parallax: The Strada Novissima and its Double


In 1980 the first ever Venice Architecture Biennale entitled ‘The Presence of the Past’ famously announced Post-Modernism as the international mainstream of architecture. It proposed a new canon that was to be more inclusive and polyphonic, and sought to embrace a diversity of narratives, a variety of styles, contradictions and irony. Yet despite these ideals, none of the case studies and architects presented at the Biennale went beyond the European and North-American context. Looking back – once again – in order to look forward, this series of essays addressing the question ‘Whose Post-Modernism?’ reconsiders the Post-Modern canon from the critical distance of 43 years to reinvigorate the pluralism suggested by the Biennale and Charles. It invites multiple voices to collectively remap the year 1980 from various geographical and cultural perspectives beyond the West, while reflecting on its legacies today. Eighth in the series, Clare Carolin’s essay points to a formal correspondence between the Post-Modern facades of the Strada Novissima at the Venice Biennale and the illusionistic political murals of the North of Ireland, exploring how their respective narratives might overlap and outline a political climate that defined the turn of the 1980s.

In the early 1980s people in republican neighbourhoods in the North of Ireland began to write and paint on streets and buildings. It started with graffitied slogans in support of hunger striking prisoners which quickly developed into ambitious pictorial compositions that used illusionistic tricks and decorative embellishments to amplify a historically rooted language of popular nationalist symbolism. This outburst of visual expression coincided with the nationalist movement’s entry into legitimate democratic process and is linked by its formal aesthetics and communicative intent to the trajectories of Post-Modernism, which were being developed simultaneously, but under different conditions. Taking its cue from the surprising formal correspondence between the Post-Modern facades of the Strada Novissima at the 1980 Venice Biennale and the illusionistic political murals of the North of Ireland, this essay speculates about how their distinct histories and creators might connect and overlap through the larger frame of the political tensions and polarities that defined the turn of the 1980s, and as such expand the story of Post-Modern architecture.

Here is a man in an exhibition in Venice. He wears expensive light summer clothes. The exhibition is under construction and something white and diaphanous drapes from his back trouser pocket – a handkerchief perhaps, or cotton gloves for handling fragile works of art. The man’s back is to the camera; his figure framed by an ersatz doorway cut in a timber stud wall styled to conjure monumental, rusticated masonry. This aperture is exactly twice the man’s height. Its width matches his arm span. At its apex there’s a keystone in negative surmounted by the empty silhouette of a crown. The man is lifting and turning his body to fill the space around him. His arms extend, radiating imaginary lines outward and upward. Beyond the fantasy portal there’s another space where a second man descends or ascends a stepladder. Framed pictures hang on the wall behind him. Open crates lie across the floor. Light falls from a clerestory window bathing the scene in watery brightness.

Here is a woman in a prison cell in the North of Ireland. Her clothes are not a uniform; poorly fitting trousers, scuffed shoes, longish hair swept away from her face. She stands with her back to a heavy, shut door, gaze tilted up to meet the camera. The picture perspective is claustrophobic: the room is tiny and the photographer very close. To the woman’s right the obtuse angle of a wall encloses her. Against the wall is a bed: a mattress for her body, a pillow for her head; no sheets, no blankets. To her left on the floor stands a slop bucket. The walls are streaked with something dark and nasty. The shape and position of these marks imply a connection to the woman’s slender fingers and hands which she holds before her thighs. The light source is indecipherable: shadows merge with filth.

These antonymic photographs share two common denominators. First, they belong to the same year: 1980. Second, they show things that were made to be seen: camera worthy spectacles shaped by their human subjects. Any disconnect between factors and contexts that influenced their making and subsequent use should be clear from the descriptions in the preceding paragraphs. But despite the strangeness of their juxtaposition these images ask to be read together. Because individually and in conjunction with each other, they help to express a development particular to the turn of the 1980s. This shift involved the conflation of politically charged symbolism with the built environment and it would have implications for the future evolution of the urban and political contexts to which these two images respectively belong.

At the time the pictures were taken, art and architecture in the anglophone sphere were theorised under the prevalent rubric of a Post-Modernism that was distinct from precedent Modernism for its scepticism, subjectivism and investment in ‘history’. The work of New York City-based art critic Craig Owens, for instance, typified the trend because of its sensitivity to how ideology asserts and maintains political power by drawing on material from the past, notably quoting Walter Benjamin: ‘Every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably’.1

Meanwhile, Post-Modern architecture’s pre-eminent critic Charles Jencks was fascinated by an emerging tendency among the practitioners of his generation to draw from history’s extensive range of forms to create new syntactic configurations. Jencks saw no obvious ideological purpose in such exercises. Like his friend and contemporary, the architect Robert Venturi, his critical focus was trained not on form that followed function, but on design that was multivalent, excessive and ersatz: the eloquent adornments on the ‘decorated shed’ (in Venturi’s construction) not the (Modernist) contention that materials and structures spoke for themselves.

Such characteristic tendencies in Post-Modern architectural criticism, combined with the separation between the fields of art and architectural theory, are just part of the reason why the marked convergence between built form and political commentary that took the form of an explosion of political mural painting in the North of Ireland which began in the early 1980s, has not been linked to a Post-Modern narrative. Starting with the conjunction between the two discordant images described at the start of this text I want to gesture towards that deficit. This will entail the discussion of divergent geopolitical contexts: the 1980 Architecture Biennale, in Venice, which, through its photographed image, injected Post-Modern architecture into the mainstream; and the hyper-imperial statelet officially known as Northern Ireland, a place roughly the size of the US state of Connecticut, with a population of one and half million. Here, 1980 marked the eleventh consecutive year of armed insurgency by Irish nationalist paramilitaries and military counter-insurgency operation by some eleven thousand British troops whose deployment to the territory began in 1969.

The first photograph, taken by Jencks, shows the American architect Bob Stern during the installation of that first architecture biennale, in June 1980. He captures his friend apparently directing the hang of a display of recent work by his New York City-based firm LP Stern. Shot on Kodachrome slide film, Jencks’ picture is part of a series he made in the days leading up to and during the biennale vernissage. Curated by Paolo Portoghesi, and entitled The Presence of the Past, this event was staged in the vast Corderie dell’Arsenale. Over the course of Jencks’ career as Post-Modern architecture’s most visible advocate he used this series to illustrate public lectures.

Although it’s unclear who took the second photograph, its subject, Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) volunteer Mairéad Farrell, was well known at the time in her home country for her struggles for a united Ireland – struggles which the British state repudiated and criminalised. In 1976 Farrell had been convicted of explosives and firearms offences and belonging to an illegal organisation, and given a fourteen-year custodial sentence. She was released in 1986 having served almost all that time in Armagh Gaol, a women’s prison in the provincial capital of County Armagh, where the photograph was taken.

Officially Her Majesty’s Prison Armagh, a British penitentiary has stood on the same site in Armagh city centre since 1600. At the height of an Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger, which during the 1840s caused Ireland’s population to fall by a quarter through death by starvation and emigration), the British expanded their carceral infrastructure in Ireland. Armagh Gaol was enlarged and substantially rebuilt to accommodate the growing number of Irish whose attempts to survive were criminalised. Incarcerated in this morbid Victorian structure, Farrell and the other prisoners created a command structure that refused to acknowledge the authority of the prison staff and where she represented the political prisoners as their Commanding Officer.

In 1976, again as part of a policy that criminalised large numbers of people who identified as Irish, the British government abolished Special Category Status (SCS) for paramilitary prisoners such as Farrell who were serving sentences in British prisons. This meant an end to privileges including exemption from prison work, receiving food parcels and permission to wear their own clothing. On her arrival at the prison in 1976 Farrell had become the first woman to join in solidarity with republican male prisoners by refusing to wear prison uniforms to demonstrate against the removal of SCS.2 However, the photograph probably dates from February 1980, since it shows evidence of the ‘no wash’ demonstration that she instigated that month.3

From 1978, male prisoners in British prisons in the North of Ireland had begun to adopt a ‘no wash’ protest tactic which had developed from their initial refusal to take showers or slop out their cells for fear of being attacked by prison guards while doing so. Following Farrell’s lead, women prisoners in Armagh joined them in solidarity, smearing their cell walls with excreta and menstrual blood. From October 1980 prisoner protest actions shifted again, this time to hunger strikes that Farrell and other Armagh inmates would also join. Between May and August 1981 ten republican prisoners died while on hunger strike. The most famous of them was Bobby Sands, who in the highly significant first electoral victory for militant republicanism was elected Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and Tyrone on 9 April 1981. He died of starvation 26 days later while still protesting for his right to political status and the unification of the island of Ireland into a single state independent from British rule.

The photograph of Farrell, taken and smuggled out of the prison in contravention of rules that forbade the use and keeping of photographic equipment, was reproduced in pamphlets and on posters published by the PIRA’s political wing, Sinn Féin. This propaganda material was intended to draw attention to prisoners’ conditions and publicise their cause. But because Sinn Féin was proscribed, modestly resourced and subject to a British and Irish media broadcasting ban, it’s unlikely that the image of Farrell’s protest travelled much beyond the organisation’s relatively limited circles.4

Ariella Aisha Azoulay proposes that every photographic event — meaning any situation that results in a photograph — amounts to a ‘civil contract’.5 In this construction, the state’s conception of citizenship is encoded through the interaction between photographer and photographed as much as it is by the state’s subsequent use and any other afterlife of images produced out of this encounter. Azoulay developed the theory to analyse photography’s role in the processes by which the Palestinian non-citizens of Israel and women in Western societies have been rendered invisible by their states of exception. But the theory is transferable, and it can help us to understand the photographs of Stern and Farrell in terms of the power dynamics between the individuals depicted, the (known and unknown) photographers and the array of nation state, nationalist paramilitary and transnational entities whose influences shaped these images.

In Jencks’ picture of Stern, the 1980 biennale stands as a cultural proxy for Italy’s government during the Anni di piombo (years of lead), a protracted period of political turmoil at the height of the Cold War when the Italian state was pulled violently between hard left and right positions. The soft, politically ambiguous Italian state power of the biennale is inflected by its setting in Venice, an early centre for expansionist capitalism whose fruits financed centuries of intense innovation in architecture and the arts. As Stern and Jencks perform before the backdrop of an official spectacle sponsored by a European Union and NATO member state, in this world-renowned heritage location, they might also be seen to inhabit predefined roles assigned for privileged white men visiting southern Europe: as grand tourists documenting one another’s delight in the aesthetic marvels of past ‘great’ civilisations; or as the benevolent agents of post-war reconstruction largesse, endowing a subordinate client state (Italy) with superior professional expertise.

By 1980, the personae of grand tourist and Marshall Plan emissary were outdated. Still, they resonate with the scenography of a biennale entitled The Presence of the Past that aimed to foreground the importance of classical architectural language to contemporary design practice. Jencks’ picture might even be read as an illustration of how, during the post-Second World War/Cold War era, the identity of ‘global citizen’ was undergoing a transformative movement away from future-oriented Modernist utopianism towards ‘traditional’ values and conservative models. This idea tessellates with Jencks’ thesis that, between the final 1959 meeting of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and the 1980 biennale, certain architects had begun to address what he characterised as Modernism’s failure to communicate in a language of forms that were publicly legible. Indeed, as early as 1972, Jencks’ fixation on what he perceived as the inarticulacy of Modernist expression was an established theme in his writing: ‘There is an unalterable and widening gap between exterior and interior, symbol and content, form and function,’ he writes in Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation, ‘a gap which is making the environment more and more inarticulate, impossible to understand and difficult to manipulate.6

While architect and Italian Baroque specialist Portoghesi’s concerns were historicist and celebratory, Jencks’ advocation of ‘freestyle classicism’ was first galvanised by his interests in structuralism and literature, and driven by a compulsion to understand and develop architecture’s communicative capabilities. But despite these differences of position, the two men shared a common disillusionment with Modernism. As the biennale pamphlet sets out, Portoghesi aimed to bring ‘attention to the effort of overcoming the crisis of the Modern Movement and the International Style; a crisis of abstinence, too, caused by a diet that was too prudent (and moralistic) with regards to the entire heritage of architectural forms.’7 This curatorial conceit took shape as a counterfeit street running the full 317-metre length of the Corderie. Each invited architect was allocated a length of facade on this Strada Novissima (very new street) with an area behind it to install a manifesto display of models, drawings and plans. Stern’s response to this brief can be partially deciphered in Jencks’ picture.

Looking back at Portoghesi’s biennale from the time of writing, it’s clear that the exhibition’s significant achievement was to harness Post-Modern architecture’s communicative potential by transforming it into a promotional image of itself, closing the problematic gap between ‘symbol and content, form and function’ that Jencks had identified previously. Moreover, the Corderie was temporarily endowed with a spatial atmosphere resembling a Baroque church interior as much as a city street. At one end of this structure in a double-height space that would accommodate the altar of a liturgical building was the Critics’ Corner. 

Jencks was already jokingly known as Post-Modernism’s ‘high priest’, and in this ‘sacred’ space Portoghesi invited him to present his interpretation of Post-Modern style in exhibition form alongside similar presentations by theorists Norbert Schutz and Vincent Scully. Jencks designed a mise en scène of a classical-column sized pencil and a gigantic book positioned like a half-fallen temple wall and inscribed with the punning title ‘All the wasms have become isms’, ergo past is present. Alongside these ‘metaphorical’ elements was a looping slideshow of 80 images of buildings completed between 1950 and 1980. This visual essay began with a black-and-white photograph of one of the blocks from Minoru Yamasaki’s Modernist housing complex Pruitt–Igoe (1952–4) at the precise moment of its destruction by controlled explosion.8 The same picture appears in Jencks’ book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977) to illustrate his now familiar, though not uncontested, proposition that ‘Modern Architecture died in St Louis Missouri on July 15, 1972, at 3.32 pm (or thereabouts) when the famous Pruitt–Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grace by dynamite.’9

The summery cosmopolitan glamour of the biennale was over two-thousand geographical kilometres distant from the political prisoners protesting British imperialist rule by daubing their cell walls with filth and starving themselves in British prisons on Europe’s damp north-western periphery. Conceptually, too, these events appear disconnected and remote from one another. But considered within the larger frame of the political tensions and polarities that defined the turn of the 1980s, the Strada Novissima and the republican ‘no wash’ protests shared a common purpose insofar as they were both non-verbal communications addressed to the public, articulated through architecture and photographically transmitted to the wider world. In the case of the biennale, the communicative form was a lavishly resourced, ludic event played out on a world stage before an invited elite (and later paying) audience, and amplified by sympathetic media outlets. In the case of the protests, prisoners silenced by the broadcasting ban responded by denying themselves the basic means of human survival and dignity. If the law forbade their voices from being heard, then extreme acts of (photographically communicated) self-abnegation would speak for themselves. In the case of the ‘no wash’ protests, the repulsive excretal murals manifested the unsayable. As Northern Irish poet Cherry Smyth explains in her poem about Farrell: ‘She wrote with shit, spoke hunger to the world’s airwaves.’10

Farrell claimed she was not raised in an especially political environment, but her childhood and adolescence coincided with the Troubles’ bloodiest decade. On 30 January 1972, shortly before her fifteenth birthday, the conflict reached a crucial turning point when British army paratroopers shot and killed thirteen peaceful unarmed protestors (a fourteenth died later in hospital) as they took part in a civil rights march through Derry city centre. The violence was extensively filmed, photographed and reported by British, Irish and international media in (often appallingly detailed) pictures that appeared to confirm the protestors’ innocence. The most enduringly iconic of these was the image of a Roman Catholic priest and a group of men struggling to support the body of a fatally injured teenage protestor who they are attempting to evacuate from the killing zone.

The catastrophe of Bloody Sunday, as the massacre quickly became known, compounded individual deaths with the early demise of the peaceful Northern Irish campaign for civil human rights that had begun in 1968.11 The British government deployed thousands more troops to the territory and Prime Minister Edward Heath sanctioned a secret ‘propaganda war’, the effects of which survive to this day in historical occlusions, unresolved ‘legacy’ cases and casual anti-Irish racism in England. There followed an exponential upswing in violence connected to the Troubles with almost daily shootings, murders and bombings by both republican and loyalist paramilitary organisations and retaliatory as well as provocative violent action by the British army and local Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 1973 the PIRA began a bombing campaign in England, often targeting London’s transport infrastructure and public buildings. It wasn’t until 1998 that the Good Friday Agreement drew a shaky line under the conflict, bringing a fragile peace.

The end of a civil rights campaign and the metaphorical death of an architectural style are clearly not the same. But the Modern Movement in architecture and the Northern Irish civil rights campaign belong to the same ideological framework of liberal equality and ethical humanism. The photographic images of Bloody Sunday and Pruitt–Igoe both show the violent ends of utopian trajectories. What are the other symmetries between them? Can we connect these two photographs taken in 1972 to the pictures of Stern and Farrell made in 1980?

By creating newsworthy spectacles, Farrell and other protesting prisoners were not simply resisting the stripping of individuality and identity that was at the heart of the carceral system. Their demonstrations must also be understood as visual gestures in the colonial context of the North of Ireland where, since it was passed in 1954, the Flags and Emblems Display Act had made all public symbolic expressions of Irish nationalism illegal – and the British army and RUC stringently and often ruthlessly enforced this prohibition.12

The prohibition on the display of Irish political iconography meant that the emergence of a republican mural painting tradition during the ‘no wash’ protests and hunger strikes of 1980–81 was hugely significant. Not only did the murals explicitly contravene the Act, the painting of politically articulate pictures in public space blossomed, in conjunction with the republican movement’s 1981 entry into lawful political process through Sand’s election to Parliament. This concurrency demonstrates and confirms the link between the deployment of symbolic visual language in public space and political legitimacy. So, although the Act was not officially repealed until 1987, its de facto end came in 1980. Until then, there was no tradition of republican mural painting, but this changed within the astonishingly short time frame after striking inmates smuggled directives to comrades on the outside encouraging them to use the built environment as a canvas from which to broadcast messages of support. Almost overnight the gable ends of rundown Victorian terraces and the flat curtain walls of inadequately maintained Modernist housing estates in Derry and Belfast were transformed with imagery and slogans that challenged British rule and championed the striking prisoners. In a twisted parallel with Portoghesi’s pastiche Strada Novissima, the degraded housing stock in republican working-class communities – long a source of misery for the Catholic minority and a key galvanising factor in their struggles for equality – was transformed. The residents of these neighbourhoods continued with their lives as before, but now in disinhibited solidarity with the protesting prisoners and, crucially, in front of the world’s media, who instantly recognised the news image value of the murals as a backdrop for reports on the conflict.13

Messages of support for the incarcerated began as crudely graffitied slogans, but quickly reached impressive levels of pictorial sophistication. Muralists incorporated into their pictures a panoply of religious and political iconography including the Holy Virgin Mary, figures of striking prisoners, tricolour flags, republican heroes and the ‘starry plough’.14 This popular and recognisable iconography was presented using an expanding range of visual devices from trompe l’œil illusionism to ‘neoclassical’ framing. Features of the existing architecture were often incorporated to maximise a composition’s impact. For example, a mural that appeared on Beechmount Drive in 1981 shows a Sacred Heart of Jesus watching over a ‘blanket man’ on his hands and knees in the centre of a trompe l’œilprison cell. The central position of the monumental Christ figure who is shown blessing the prisoner suggests that the mural painter was reaching in the direction of High Renaissance examples such as Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ (1495–8), at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, which shares the same perspectival arrangement. Another mural on nearby Beechmount Street used a classical heroic frieze-like composition to narrate the five-hundred-year-long story of ‘British Oppression in Ireland’.

Republican mural painting of the North of Ireland is often understood as a form of folk or outsider art, but the muralists view their work not as art, but as a communicative device: political painting.15 Notwithstanding, it seems clear, even from the two examples pictured here, that there was a tenuous resonance between the scholarly historicism at work in the spectacle of the biennale and the comparatively rough, ready and improvisational character of these murals. This is not to suggest a direct link but rather to point to the existence of something readily accessible through the visual ether of the time: an impulse to speak through and about historical form.

Modern architecture’s incapacity to develop a publicly intelligible language remained a central theme in Jencks’ thinking and writing throughout the 1970s and 80s. Mainly this concerned what he perceived as the problematic blandness of Modernist architectonic forms that did not outwardly express their function: roofs that were flat and not pitched according to tradition, blank asymmetrical facades that confounded the visitor searching for the entrance, the fluid, non-hierarchical spatial arrangements of certain Modernist housing estates that were in his, albeit sometimes limited, understanding ‘rejected’ by their inhabitants. All this is quite different from two-dimensional painting on the exterior walls of buildings in republican neighbourhoods in the North of Ireland. But by deploying a commonly understood language of signs and symbols amplified with illusionistic tricks and decorative embellishments these mural painters developed a highly effective way to make buildings speak, not reflexively about their function, but about the cultural identity and political aspirations of their users. In this sense, the outburst of republican mural painting can be seen as a new method of visual and symbolic communication linked by aesthetics and communicative intent to the trajectories of Post-Modernism.

In an article entitled ‘Trompe l’Oeil Counterfeit’ (1975), Jencks begins by situating his subject within the broader context of the illusionistic transformation of public space. This, he explains,

began to happen in the sixties and not only in the artworld, but on the streets where everyone could admire the trickery. Large commercial signs, graffiti, street art or people’s art or protest art all used, to some extent, the techniques of trompe l’oeil. The justifications varied but they often included a propagandist element: you ‘fooled the eye’ to get across the message whether it was political, psychedelic, or economic. Furthermore, you used paint and synthetic materials because they were cheap, ephemeral and democratically open to all.16

Jencks lists political street art as a genre that uses illusionism, but does not discuss it in any further detail. Instead, the article analyses and illustrates, mostly with Jencks’ own photographs, a range of non-overtly political examples of trompe l’œil: a California sausage factory where a colossal mural of a bucolic landscape wraps around the abattoir block; monumental portraits of movie stars daubed on the walls of a Los Angeles garage; illusionistic streetscapes painted over their real counterparts in Hamburg and Brussels.

The title of this text, ‘The Strada Novissima and its Double’, nods towards Antonin Artaud’s The Theatre and its Double (1938) and its provocation that art is merely the duplicate of reality: the one not so much imitating the other as integral to it.17 This hazy distinction between real and unreal, sign and symbol, preoccupied Jencks too. He was enduringly fascinated by symmetry, repetition, double entendre and ‘double-coding’. The Cosmic House, his home-cum-architectural manifesto, is full of visual and spatial doublings: the useless imitation handle confoundingly placed symmetrically opposite an identical functional version of itself; counterfeit drawers, cupboards and doors opposite real ones. Jencks said that he took games, puns and jokes ‘seriously’. Because for him they were all ways of defamiliarising the banal and everyday, compelling users of functional things to think about whether a handle was really only a handle, or a wall simply a wall.

I want to return to the two images with which I began and to remind the reader that my purpose in situating them uncomfortably within the discursive space of this text is to tentatively expand the story of Post-Modern architecture. Mairéad Farrell, a PIRA volunteer and a political prisoner, is not a part of that narrative. However, both she and Jencks belong to a story in which pictures, buildings and political process are all interlinked through a particular Post-Modern moment in the evolution of the photographically mediated image world. This is one of many reasons why the images made in Armagh Gaol and at the Venice biennale still matter. For as Walter Benjamin (or even Craig Owens) would have it, they are pictures from the past that speak to the present. Jencks’ photograph concerns what is taken from the past to build the future, while the photograph of Farrell reminds us of the need to recall occluded histories of imperialist violence that may impact future reconfigurations of the nation state (in this case, post-Brexit Ireland and the United Kingdom). Read together, these two images prompt thoughts about walls that might be built in the future; whether these will be structures of confinement or shelter and in whose interest they will be maintained, defaced, destroyed or (illusionistically) embellished.

  1. Walter Benjamin’s ‘Thesis on the Theory of History’ quoted as the epitaph of Craig Owens, ‘The Allegorical Impulse: Towards a Theory of Postmodernism’, October, 12 (Spring, 1980), 67–86. A gay man working in a context of prevalent homophobia fuelled by the AIDS epidemic, Owens’ writing draws on history as a pool full of the flexible concepts and constructions to explore how certain artists questioned, upset and remade power relations.

  2. Katherine Side, ‘Mairéad Farrell in the Armagh Gaol’, The Carceral Network in Ireland; History, Agency and Resistance, ed. Fiona McCann (Palgrave MacMillan: London, 2020), 155–77

  3. Raymond Murray, a Roman Catholic priest and activist in Armagh was one of the few people (besides the prison guards) with access to the women inmates in Armagh Gaol. Later he wrote: ‘On 7 February 1980, now to go down in history as Black February, stories of the beating of girls by male officers, the subsequent denial of access to toilets, 7–12 February, denial of laundry and visits from concerned persons, and the 23-hour lock up have been broadcast around the world. The girls, now 30 in number have been locked up 23 hours a day for almost a year.’ Raymond Murray, Hard Time: Armagh Gaol 1971–1986 (Cork: The Mercier Press Ltd., 1998), 73.

  4. Far better known are the images of male prisoners participating in ‘no wash’ protests in the H-blocks of Her Majesty’s Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh. These pictures were first transmitted on 24 November 1980 as part of a Granada Television World in Action episode entitled ‘The H-Block Fuse’. As the documentary was broadcast into his home, the English artist Richard Hamilton photographed the scenes of long-haired, unshaven, blanket-clad prisoners standing before the barred windows and filth-patterned walls of their cells. Soon afterwards he used the photographs he had taken as the basis of a life-size portrait diptych ‘The Citizen’ (1981–3), now in the Tate Collection.

  5. Ariella Aisha Azoulay, The Civil Contract of Photography (New York: Zone Books, 2008).

  6. Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver, Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972) (2013), 47.

  7. First International Exhibition of Architecture of the Venice Biennale, pamphlet (1980), unpaginated.

  8. The image caption printed in the booklet that accompanied the Critics’ Corner slideshow described the picture of Pruitt–Igoe’s destruction in a qualitatively different way: ‘The failure of Modern Architecture in this award-winning scheme was apparent both on a social and linguistic level: it didn't speak the language of its inhabitants.’

  9. Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (London: Academy Editions, 1977), 23.

  10. Cherry Smyth, ‘Foreign Body’, IMMA Magazine (30 November 30 2016),

  11. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams later described how in the weeks that followed ‘money, guns and volunteers flooded into the IRA’. Quoted in David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles: A History of the Northern Ireland Conflict, (London: Viking, 2000), 89.

  12. Any visual symbol, from a tricolour flag to a picture of an Irish harp, Easter lily or republican martyr was outlawed and the Act spelled out in detail exactly what would happen if any such symbol was displayed in public space: ‘A police officer may without warrant enter any such lands or premises, using such force as may be necessary, and may remove and seize and detain such emblem.’ Conversely, the display of unionist/loyalist emblems was permitted and indeed encouraged. From April to October the loyalist marching season was protected with all the care afforded to an intangible heritage asset, while mural paintings of Union Jacks and heroes such as William of Orange and the British Royal Family were allowed to adorn the walls of loyalist neighbourhoods. ‘2. Removal of Provocative Emblems’, Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) (1954),

  13. See, for example, Andrew Doyle, ‘If the state had treated people equally, none of this would have happened’, Spiked (14 August 2019),

  14. An asterism that James Connolly, co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army had proposed to signify that a free Ireland would control its own destiny ‘from the plough to the stars’.

  15. See Belfast-based sociologist Bill Rolston’s comprehensive and indispensable work on the murals as politically motivated community expression, including the series Drawing Support: Murals in the North of Ireland 1–5 (Belfast: Beyond the Pale Press, 2021) and Politics and Painting: Murals and Conflict in Northern Ireland (Madison, NJ: ‎Fairleigh Dickinson University Press: 1991).

  16. Charles Jencks, ‘Trompe L’Oeil Counterfeit’, Studio International (Sept-Oct 1975, p. 109).

  17. Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double (London: Alma Classics, 1938).

Clare Carolin
1980 in Parallax: The Strada Novissima and its Double
1980 in Parallax