Subset launch Grey Exhibition 2 to help fight homelessness

By David Predeville

Clockwise from top left: Movember, Mural Highlighting Homelessness, Michael D and Stormzy. Photos courtesy of Subset.

Street Art is something which has become etched on to people’s consciousness in Dublin of late. No group have made more waves than the supremely talented, anonymous, Rathgar-based collective Subset.

Subset have been involved in an ongoing battle with Dublin City Council, who forced them to remove some of their stunning murals, despite Subset having the permission of the owners of the buildings or walls, or in some cases having been commissioned by them.

Their spokesperson tells me: “We never paint anywhere without the explicit permission of the owners of the buildings. Dublin City Council maintains that paint on a building needs planning permission. In that case, every time you wanted to paint your house then you’d have to apply for planning permission.”

A fiasco in which Subset had to remove a brilliant mural of Michael D. Higgins and Father Ted’s Mrs. Doyle off the walls of Temple Bar clothing shop Siopaella, drew particular attention to the stubborn bureaucracy behind opposition to Subset’s work. Siopaella took to Twitter to say how much of a benefit the street art was, as it was a deterrent to vandalism or to people urinating or defecating in front of their buildings. 

Subset, however, are not going to be hindered in their tracks by Dublin City Council any longer. Such is the passion they have for their art, they are willing to suffer any consequences that may come their way. In fact, they would relish standing up for their craft: “We’re willing to go to prison for this. We’re going to do what we do and however the chips fall, that’s it. It’s unjust and you need a martyr every now and then.”

Their spokesperson goes on to outline to me just how important his art is to them: “Street Art is the reason I get up every morning. I have things inside of me and I have to get them out and all of us are like that.” He goes on to highlight the diverse creative endeavours of their members: “We’re a team of twenty, twenty-five people. All of us are creative in some way or another, we have designers, we have street artists, loads of different things like musicians. We are a true artistic collective.”

Subset recently launched Grey Area Exhibition 2, a collaboration of multiple artists across several mediums. It was held in the Point Square on October 26th. All of the proceeds of the event went to the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH).

The event was a huge success: “We had a lot of people come down, we had over forty art pieces by 35 artists. We had two floors this time. Last time, we had just the bottom floor, this time we took upstairs as well. Much, much bigger spaces. Much, much bigger pieces.”

Whereas the first Grey Area was about highlighting the restrictions placed on them by Dublin City Council, Subset moved on to a more pertinent problem in Dublin and in their own words a “worthier cause” for the second.

Their spokesperson points to the irony of how their bid to battle homelessness came about: “Initially, the idea of tackling homelessness came about when we were in a meeting with DCC. We tried to have a meeting with the minister for housing and planning. He told us he was too busy to deal with us because there was a housing crisis going on. We took that on board to say this is a bigger thing than we are. So let’s try and sort this out. Let’s try and shine a light on it a little bit.”

It is fair to say that Subset are somewhat disillusioned with the state of modern Ireland. Their spokesperson is unshakeable in his affection for the country, but feels outside influences are having a negative effect: “I love Ireland. I love Irish people. I wouldn’t say that I’m a patriot in that way but I do love the country and the people. I think it’s the best country in the world. But America is a massive influence all over the world.”

He laments the capitalistic, greedy attitude that has spread over from the States: “Everybody thinks that’s the way it should be. Look after yourself. Second place is first loser. What happened to being proud of getting a bronze medal? We’re just competing. It should be the process rather than the end result. Looking after each other is part of our cultural heritage. Its Celtic tradition to look after a stranger. To house a stranger, to feed a stranger. And we should keep that going.”

Subset’s feelings on capitalism can also be seen in ideas they have about advertising. They have suggested that a new, progressive form of advertising, free of the current tyranny of brainwashing, would be to have companies sponsor artworks: This would also help artists around the tricky waters of how far into the capitalist machine they can go while maintaining their integrity: “We have to eat and we have to pay for supplies. Anyone who thinks that you can create art and not be somewhat within the system is fooling themselves. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Their spokesperson also feels that there is a particularly bad attitude toward artists in Ireland: “Creators find it hard in this country. Creativity is educated out of you, I believe, in this system. They want people to work in Tesco. They need people to stack shelves. They’re often people who were really creative when they were young and it’s just knocked out of them. You won’t get a job out of that. There’s no money in that.”

He highlights a general ignorance about how the art that we all enjoy is created: “We work as hard as any other craft. And we get rejected more and we get ripped off more. People want art and they don’t want to pay for it. They don’t see the process artists go through. They just think he came out and he painted that in five hours, how is that worth x amount of money? They don’t see the four or five weeks of work that went in before that to develop that concept, to go through all the changes necessary to please a client.”

The driving artistic compulsion inherent in Subset is best summed up in the closing line of my interview with their spokesperson: “It’s a hard and stressful thing but it’s also worth every second of it. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.” Subset are creating a more vibrant, colourful and artistic Dublin. Their drive is an inspiration to everyone. Long may it continue.