Mad Max, Fairy Bushes and Hellfire

Mad Max, Fairy Bushes and Hellfire

A great deal of my work as a curator has been in the context of Askeaton Contemporary Arts, an organisation I founded in 2006. Based in County Limerick, Ireland, a residency and exhibition programme has helped develop over fifty projects by Irish and international artists. With no ‘white-cube’ gallery spaces in Askeaton, artists work in public spaces throughout this small town. This form of engagement focuses on the existing dynamics of the locale, intending to bring forward the diverse layers of daily life and aiming to create a rich framework for subjective encounters. A local audience is often actively implicated into the development of projects through their assistance or participation. In many ways, this has been my training ground as a curator, where over and over again I have seen artists arrive and radically change the existing dynamic of a small town, opening up new ways of how public space might be understood, often within an undercurrent of improvisation, frugality, and haphazard formality. 


Aaron Lawless’ work involves recycling leftover materials often found in the vicinity of his studio in Limerick into startling arrangements, exhibited as installations or sculptural entities. In turn, these forms are used as discursive touchstones for participation through active conversation, organised public events and, in the artists’ words, “a form of interpersonal play that challenges the notion of a stagnant relationship between individual and artwork”. Often guided by YouTube tutorials and DIY instruction manuals, his constructions rarely hold an allusion to high art, rather he sees them as makeshift solutions, based on pragmatic decisions made on the resources at hand.


Aaron Lawless, 'What's a Little Fallout?'


Working as part of the Re-Possession Project, initiated through Annie Fletcher’s 2012 Eva International, Lawless presented mislaid passports from Shannon Airport and objects from lost and found storage of Garda, bus and train stations in the Mid-West region. This material was used to initiate a series of both organised and informal public events over a three-month period. In 2013, he took on the task of merging the rarified nature of contemporary art practice into the busiest day of the year on Irish streets, partaking in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Askeaton. His entry, an assemblage of bicycle parts, scrap timber and a gas-powered flame apparatus deliberately resembled a vehicle from the dystopian action film Mad Max, in which the Earth’s oil supplies are almost exhausted and law and order has begun to break down.


Aaron Lawless, 'What's a Little Fallout?'


In his artworks, Sean Lynch develops representations of idiosyncratic moments from the past, sometimes almost forgotten, which have left a trail of objects, events or narratives. Much of this activity is based around Lynch’s role as an investigator of sorts, often convincing individuals to share covert forms of knowledge that point to the diverse attitudes and belief systems that underlie and inform the construction of history itself. As Kevin Barry writes in a 2009 essay, “Lynch is learning the art of the stakeout. He must appear nondescript and innocent; he must will himself to recede into the shadows.” 


Sean Lynch, 'Latoon'


In 1999, folklorist and storyteller Eddie Lenihan campaigned to save a whitethorn bush from being destroyed by the construction of a €90 million road scheme in Latoon, County Clare. Lenihan claimed that the Latoon bush is an important meeting place for supernatural forces of the region, namely fairies of Munster who would meet and prepare for battle there. He warned that its destruction would result in death and great misfortune for motorists travelling on the proposed new road. The campaign was picked up and covered by CNN and The New York Times. Clare County Council, acting on his advice and mounting pressure from media outlets, eventually decided to shift the direction of the road away from the bush.


Sean Lynch, 'Latoon'


In 2007, Lenihan agreed to further explain the significance of the bush to Lynch, as part of the making of a new artwork. Initial visits to the site were thwarted by the continued construction of another road nearby, with no access possible due to building works in and around the vicinity of the bush itself. The construction company refused right of entry, and Lenihan made genuine concerns around the bush’s safety in this environment. Eventually, on a Saturday evening after the last man working overtime left the site, Lenihan and Lynch broke in. Accompanied by a local television production crew, the resulting video sees Lenihan describe his research, efforts and frustrations at the scene with the bush once more in danger…


Sean Lynch 'Latoon'


Well-known for his interplay of words and visual language as a means of revealing far-flung stories packed with layers of detail and incident, Stephen Brandes’ often evokes streaks of absurdism and satire in his work. In 2012, he reacted to the presence of a Hellfire Club, a covert secret society of the seventeenth century in County Limerick. Brandes’ artwork resembled a heritage plaque, similar to the didactic presence of signage throughout many parts of Askeaton’s medieval town. Rather than describing past events, Brandes’ instead speculated a future in the 23rd century, involving unregulated planning and a revivalist architectural makeover at the site, the Swiss Government, imports from the Ukraine, and giant slugs. When reading this ramshackle vision of the future, the Hellfire building itself remains in view as a site of unexplained mystery and foreboding curiosity.


Stephen Brandes, 'The Hellfire Club'


In the perverse nature of progress and its adoption with an Irish idiom of boom and bust, it’s very likely that some of his predictions and subplots actually might come true. In this way Brandes restores an awareness of drama and history that are effectively hidden beneath the apparently calm uniformity of social space.


The ruins of the Hellfire Club in Askeaton



Michele Horrigan 

Michele Horrigan is an artist and curator. She studied fine art at HfBK Stadelschule, Frankfurt am Main. Since 2006, she is founder and curatorial director of Askeaton Contemporary Arts. Through residencies, events and exhibitions, the organisation has commissioned over fifty artists projects in direct relationship to the town of Askeaton, County Limerick. In addition, she has curated events and exhibitions throughout Ireland and in New York and Amsterdam. As an artist she has exhibited in Dublin, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen.

30 June 2017 / by / in

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