WHAT’S WRONG? with The Consolations of Genius..


These collages are based on the phenomenon of 'cognitive dissonance', where we are sometimes faced with data that contradict our deeply held beliefs about the world..

The Irish Times wrote:
"What you see now in the Irelantis images, however, is above all the approach of the apocalypse. The montages are full of explosions, inundations, precipices, whirlpools, lightning storms and earthquakes. There is a haunting image of the Stephen’s Green shopping centre in Dublin as a Hiroshima-style ruin. Fabulous inventions they may be, but Hillen’s creations now seem weirdly prescient and ruefully realistic.

With this clearer sense of where Hillen is coming from, the new work seems less of a leap. It is dark and strange, but perhaps not much more so than most of what he’s done before. It has two strands. One is made up of images that insert pictures of collapsing buildings from the 9/11 attacks into John Hinde postcards of Ireland. The other, longer series, called What’s Wrong? with The Consolations of Genius weaves together three disparate sets of images: pictures from 9/11 conspiracy websites, photos of Irish literary giants (Joyce, Beckett, Kavanagh and Behan being the most prominent) and pin-ups of women (Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron among them) in sexually provocative poses. Each is surmounted by the phrase What’s Wrong? from the 1950s children’s puzzle game.

These collages are more enigmatic than anything Hillen has done before.

They are not anchored either in the political realities of his early work or in the notions of Ireland and globalisation that hang around the Irelantis series. But they are, as they are surely intended to be, powerfully disorienting. They destabilise the image of the literary saint that has become so central to official Irish culture. They induce the dizziness of an online world in which the cerebral and the sexual, truth and conspiracy theory, continually collide. They are not likely to inspire an advertising campaign or be taken up as semi-official images of Irishness. And that, presumably, is the point.


Seán Hillen: Born  12th April 1961 in Newry, Northern Ireland, and now lives in Dublin.

Studied at Belfast College of Art, London College of Printing, and at the Slade School of Fine Art.

First became known for photomontages, based on his own documentary photos from the Northern Irish 'troubles', 2 now on semipermanent exhibition at Imperial War Museum North, others among recent acquisitions at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery and a small collection on forthcoming permanent exhibition in Newry and Mourne Museum.
From the 1990’s, his series of collage works titled ‘IRELANTIS’ came to be described as “the most vivid and emblematic expression of the dreams and anxieties of ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland”.  Hillen has also executed video, stage design, advertisements, title graphics and permanent sculptures, including co-designing, with landscape architect Desmond Fitzgerald, the Omagh Bomb Memorial.