Did the Russian-Ukrainian revolutionary Leon Trotsky visit Ireland? This is the question that Stephen Brands asked in his letter
A new exhibition, Trotsky in Killchelan and Another History of Unreliable Origin, is at the South Tipperary Center for the Arts in Clonmel.
In 1940, Trotsky was murdered in Mexico City, where he found refuge after a long period of displacement throughout Europe, where he was exiled from the Soviet Union.
In those years Trotsky spent time in France and Norway, but efforts were also made to secure him asylum in Ireland as early as 1930, when Labor leader William O’Brien appealed on his behalf to the conservative Free State government at WT Cosgrave.
“It’s no surprise that they haven’t gotten anywhere,” Brandis says.
Another appeal was made to Éamon de Valera when Taoiseach was elected in 1932, but again, Trotsky was not deemed worthy of a residence visa.
Despite these setbacks, Brands believes it “meaningful” that Trotsky and his wife, Natalia Sedova, had landed at Kobe, Co Cork on their way to Mexico in 1936. In Brandes’ novel, the oil tanker on which Trotsky is traveling is forced into port. Because of the threat of storms in the eastern Atlantic.
“It’s all top secret,” he says, “but William O’Brien hears of their arrival and travels to Kobe to welcome them to Ireland.”
O’Brien invited the Trotsky family to Clonmel, where he, Jim Larkin and James Connolly founded the Irish Labor Party in 1912.
“He plans for Trotsky to give an inspiring speech at Clonmel, but then he thinks better of it, because he would be too much in the spotlight. So he decided that they should travel instead to the village of Qilchilan.”
“Along the way, they stopped at a farm to visit some of O’Brien’s friends. Trotsky went to the bathroom, and spotted some rabbits in an outside room. At that moment, something in him changed.”
The Brandes Gallery consists of a series of small paintings, drawings and a single work in video, taken from Pathé’s news footage and enhanced with his own photos.
Trotsky’s story came out of nowhere. The gallery in Clonmel approached me for a project, and it could have been about anything, really. But I was making video collages, and I used Trotsky as a character in some of these works.
“Then I asked myself, What if Trotsky had visited Clonmel, or Qilchilan? And as soon as I said that, I felt I had to support him.
“The narrative is complicated by the fact that when Trotsky arrives at Kelchilan, he feeds little Putin.”
Brands have form when it comes to providing unreliable narratives as the basis for their opposition.
Previous performances have included Albert Seitzflich’s vertical memoir and La Place des Grands Abysses, while the most recent one, on Supermodel in Sligo, was titled “Schmerzbau: It’s Not Just Misery.”
Besides his solo career, Brands, a graduate of the National College of Art and Design now based in Kinsale, Co Cork, is partnering with Mick O’Shea and Erin Murphy on the local Godless Initiative, an initiative that explores food as an artistic medium of expression.
Together they cooked – and served for public consumption – dishes such as Carpaccio of Giant African Land Snail and Chili-Chocolate Songbird Songbird.
They even published what they described as “the most useless cookbook ever,” titled The Food, The Bad and The Ugly.
Now that The Trotskys in Kilsheelan exhibit has begun, Brands is dedicating his time to a number of upcoming local atheist projects, including their contribution to James Joyce’s Ulysses 2.2 Centennial Program.
He says, “They divided the book, and gave each chapter to different people, some of them stage-makers, and more of them visual artists, like us.
“We are working on chapter eight, which describes Leopold Bloom walking through Dublin, trying to decide where to eat.
“There is a lot of reference to food, so we created a meal for a set number of people, and recorded them eating. We will present that as an audio piece, along with a large image of the meal itself, at the Museum of the Etiquette of Ireland in Dublin in November.”
There is also the small matter of breaking up his latest show in Sligo for attendees. Some of the antique paintings were included on the vinyl for which he is probably best known.
The broker is the one who practically turned to him. Large-format paintings often proved difficult to transport and store, while his work was on vinyl
It can simply be folded up and tucked away in his studio.
But the exhibition also showed a large architectural structure, six meters by four, that he built over the course of four months at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork and then transferred to the model by truck. He seems optimistic about her fate.
“I’ve spent a great deal of money on timber, but anyone can have it as firewood if they want to.”
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