Sneem on the Ring of Kerry and the Wild Atlantic Way: Paradise starts here…

Here in Paradise Contemporary Art Exhibition takes place in North and South Squares, Sneem from Saturday 31st May to 18th September 2014.

Here in Paradise takes place in Sneem’s Sculpture Gardens. The village is unique in as far as it features contemporary art in public space offered to a small community by heads of states, parliaments and private donors. Whatever the reasons for its attraction, no place as small as Sneem shows the depth of migration and interchange in the European Union better. Half of its population is made up of blow-ins, as the Irish call residents from abroad. “The beautiful destination” mirrors and attracts the diversity of its visitors. The reason is not as much the sculptures as the people of Sneem: they are speaking sculptures indeed.


Here in Paradise image 2

© Jochen Gerz, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014. Photography credit: Peter Zoeller, Sneem

Here in Paradise is a public space exhibition by conceptual German artist Jochen Gerz, internationally known for his collaborative works on memory in France, Germany, USA, Canada, England, Italy, Ireland and Austria.

Here in Paradise Art Exhibition, South Square, Sneem

© Jochen Gerz, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014. Photography credit: Peter Zoeller, Sneem

Gerz asked forty people who live or work in Sneem to respond to one of three questions:

If you had, as in the old days, a free wish

                                    what would you wish for Cul Fadda (the Ghost estate from the Celtic Tiger years)?

If you had, as in the old days, a free wish

                                    what would you wish for Ireland?

If you had, as in the old days, a free wish

                                    what would you wish for Europe?

Their answers and their photographic portraits, taken by well-known landscape photographer Peter Zoeller, present a self-portrait of the village. Here in Paradise offers a surprising and often courageous insight into the realities and the visions of contemporary people living, often by choice far from the cities “in a dream”.

Sneem is so busy during the summer that it is difficult to imagine the quietness of the village the rest of the year. A few of us though prefer the quiet days, some like the wind and rain when the streets are empty and only a few shops are open. It is difficult to imagine the many activities always taking place in the village. Most of what happens here is organized and performed by us. Of course in a city you find more choice, quality and culture, but here we do most things ourselves. We are competitors and spectators, we print tickets, paint pictures, raise chickens and we eat the eggs. Everything on offer is what we imagined and did. We are not immune to what happens elsewhere but our creativity is possibly what brings people here. We are good at making friends. (Here in Paradise)

What stunned the artist was the readiness of so many inhabitants of all ages and backgrounds to make their personal views and ideas public, while the ease of people reflecting on Europe may catch most continental visitors off guard. Initially, the Tidy Towns Committee had hoped for 20 participants but, followingthe spontaneous response, needed to set a limit.

Large families stuffed in a small barn, plenty of hard work to do, never resting; we knew pain, we knew poverty. No holidays, but we were happy. Today we would not have the endurance. I did not see the doctor, walked 5 miles to school, worked after coming home and started farming at 14. Cut a lot of turf, there was no timber. Won the National Turf Cutting Competition in 1946 in County Kildare. 6,000 men took part and I won. In the fifties I inherited the farm, and stayed at home after that. Times were not good for farming. Right here where you are standing and reading, before the squares were built, we sold the cattle for almost nothing. I never married and up to now I have looked after myself. At 90 years I am as happy as ever in my life. I have my pension and I am well off. I would like to see young people happy. (Here in Paradise)


Here in Paradise image 3

© Jochen Gerz, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014. Photography credit: Peter Zoeller, Sneem Please note the statements and photographs of participants are not exhibited side by side.

Can you imagine having a free wish today? Even wishes cost money. But for me something hasn’t changed: our friendliness is more valuable than all the things money can buy. We live in a village but our friendliness makes big cities look small. I do have a wish, and I know it does not come free. I really wish everybody had a job. Even in our materialistic world a job is not only money. I think to get money for free would not be the solution. The difference between a job, a basic salary or welfare is sanity. I have a great job, I love my job and I look forward to many years of working. I am one of the lucky people. There are not many of my age left in the village. If I want to meet up with my friends, if I want to be there when they get married, I will have to fly to New York. (Here in Paradise)

Two years after his well-publicized outdoor exhibition The Eyesore show: Where has the Tiger gone? resulting in the first sale of a ghost estate by NAMA, Here in Paradise continues the public dialogue in the iconic Kerry destination.

An international symposium on the public art of Jochen Gerz is to take place at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, on November 14-15, 2014.

image from The Eyesore Show: Where has the Tiger Gone?

Sneem 2012, The Eyesore Show: Where has the Tiger gone?
© Jochen Gerz, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014. Photography credit: Peter Zoeller, Sneem

Winner of the National Tidy Towns Competition in 1987, the village is home to Sneem Sculpture Gardens, a treasure trove of international sculptures featuring work by Vivienne Roche (President O’Dalaigh Memorial), Alan Hall (French President Charles de Gaulle and World champion Steve “Crusher” Casey Memorials), Tamara Rikman (Tree of Light donated by Israel President Chaim Herzog) and a Panda sculpture donated to the State by the People’s Republic of China.

The Israelis look for the silver tree in the north square, the French for de Gaulle, other visitors for Isis, the art lovers find Vivienne Roche’s sculpture in the south square. For some people it represents the mountains and the sea. I have seen it so often by now that it does not need to represent anything for me. I guess it is enough for me as it is. Sports fans look for Steve “Crusher” Casey, Sneem’s world champion wrestler. Asian visitors are surprised to find the panda, the first of our sculptures. What a weird idea for the communist Mao Empire to donate a panda to an Irish village! Art seems to be good medicine if you give it a bit of time. It works in Sneem. I come from England, I often feel a visitor myself. The good thing is that I do not need to take a plane to find all the things I like. (Here in Paradise)


One way to improve Europe would be to broaden the meaning of being European. Turkey’s admission would truly make a difference. It is both: inside and outside, Asian and European. Admission would not challenge Turkey as much as Europe. It would surely stabilize the Middle East. Turkey would not only change the size but also the mindset of the “old Europe”. European neighbourhoods are stained with blood. With mindset I mean: Europe will no longer be Christian only. It is difficult to refute people who do not see a place for strangers. They fear being lost in the mash. But are they ready to go to war? Not anymore. To be European affects our cultures. The concert of so many voices may hurt our ears. But look at us here. Even though you are just passing by, you already feel at home. Should we be afraid of each other? (Here in Paradise)


Sneem’s reputation is not the result of refined publicity campaigns. What you know about this village is probably what your friends have told you. And what you tell your friends will be the seeds of Sneem’s fortunes tomorrow. Here in Paradise is a bet on all our future good fortunes. (Jochen Gerz)


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Here in Paradise is commissioned by Sneem Tidy Towns and supported by the French and German Embassies, the Goethe-Institut in Dublin and Kerry County Council.