2004. Single channel colour video with sound. 5:00
On the night of the 27th of April, 1974, members of an armed IRA gang
stole nineteen paintings from Russborough House worth a total of £8
million, including works by Gainsborough, Vermeer, and Velásquez.
The gang demanded the return of Irish republican prisoners from England
as well as £500,000 in ransom money. The authorities hit back
by offering a £100,000 reward for information.
Ten days after the robbery, Gardaí recovered the paintings in
a house in Co. Cork. A wealthy Englishwoman, Dr. Rose Dugdale, was charged
and convicted. She was also convicted of involvement in an earlier IRA
operation, a hijacked helicopter attack on an RUC station. Rose Dugdale
received a total of 18 years in prison, and served 9 of them.
In this work, the genealogy of this event is traced using the now outdated
library microfiche image archiving system. Shots from National news
reports of the time were re-photographed from the internet, and edited
together in a sequence of pairings that enable the viewer to piece together
the event anew. Of interest here in this exercise in spectatorship is
the series of exchanges that are presented. The Beit family fortune
which was initially used to buy these paintings was accumulated by Alfred
Beit in partnership with Cecil Rhodes as the De Beers Consolidated Mines
in South Africa, which in 1891 owned 90% of the world’s diamond
production. These profits were used to buy paintings, which were stolen
from Russborough house a total of four times over the last thirty years.
The sequence of exchanges is what is interesting here, where African
diamonds become Western European art masterpieces, swapped for political
prisoners, and later bargaining chips used by organized crime gangs
in negotiations with the Irish state.