An Udder View: The Peter Rees Archive.
The fourth archive that emerged though X-PO was that of local photographer and truck driver Peter Rees. Like his father, Rees collected milk from farms throughout North Clare and was known throughout the county for his distinctive appropriation of the Coca-Cola logo on his Udder Cola creamery trucks. Passionate about photography from an early age, Peter carries his camera in the cab of his truck and has documented the social events, incidental happenings and changing landscape of the parish on his daily run. An Udder View was a collaborative project between Rees and I. His collection is a ready-made archive of parish life organised chronologically in albums in a small office in his house. Several evenings a week over a four-month period, we went through one-hundred and twenty-three albums, selecting approximately a thousand photographs for the exhibition.
Whether driving his truck, or through his involvement in the local organizations Rees has served as the unofficial recorder of the public affairs of the parish. He has documented meetings, boat festivals, cattle auctions, housing developments, political rallies, the school fancy dress parades, pranks played on newlyweds, the decade long history of protests at Mullaghmore - the daily life of a rural locality. We reviewed several methods for exhibiting the images and eventually decided to scan and reprint selected photographs, re-presenting the archive in two forms; in albums and projected as a slide show offering an opportunity for both a public and a private reflection.
This slide show was chronological and punctuated by recurring events: the first communions, the annual commemorative road-race for Olympic local hero Sonny Murphy, the ‘living crib’ at Christmas outside Kilnaboy Church, football matches, the protests both for and against the interpretive center. It was very uncomfortable for many to be publicly reminded of those days, yet the overwhelming response was positive. The exhibition gave space to publicly acknowledge a contentious past. An unexpected dimension to this work was Rees’ mobilization of volunteers, family and friends to host and audience the exhibition. The documentary film of An Udder View gives some indication of the temporary community that came together for the exhibition. Rees’s authority over the mediation process was clear. For the three-week duration of the exhibition he and his wife Kathleen hosted the slide show talking about the stories behind the images. X-PO became a hub of conviviality as memories were prompted while people viewed the photographs.
The public representation of private images opened a space for reflection on the present-day reality of Irish rural life and landscape demonstrating that stories of the past can create a context to acknowledge difference, and serve as a resource to stabilize the uncertain present. Rancière proposes that ‘the politics of participation might best lie, not in anti-spectacular staging’s of community … but in putting to work the idea that we are all equally capable of inventing our own translations.’ (Rancière, 2007, Bishop 2006). During the exhibition the line between artist, author, spectator and audience became blurred as visitors participated in the active translation from image to story to conversation and reflection.