New sculpture unveiled at City HallPadraig Conlon 29 Sep 2021
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland today formally unveiled ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’ by artist, Alan Phelan.
This is the first of six new sculptures as a part of the Sculpture Dublin initiative.
Following a competitive commissioning process, Alan Phelan was awarded the commission in December 2020 for the temporary sculpture on The O’Connell Plinth which was unanimously agreed by the judging panel as the most appropriate for the site.
The brief asked artists to respond to the historical plinth that has stood empty outside of City Hall in the centre of Dublin for over 150 years.
The plinth was originally constructed to support the monumental statue of Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’ by John Hogan, that is now located inside the building.
The removal of the statue in the 1860s dispossessed the plinth of its intended purpose that Sculpture Dublin sought to restore.
The newly unveiled sculpture stands over 5 metres tall and brings together a wealth of historic and contemporary references to celebrate emancipation and hope.
This is a temporary artwork will be on view outside City Hall for one year.
Speaking today at the unveiling, Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland said, “It brings me great pride to unveil this important inaugural piece for the Sculpture Dublin Programme today. Sculpture has played such a vital cultural and aesthetic role in Dublin life, now and historically, and the various stories and perspectives reflected in this contemporary artwork strive to create a shared sense of time and place. The past 18 months have been incredibly difficult for the people of Dublin and our arts community in particular. As we move together and begin to re-engage with each other and our city I welcome this inspiring symbol of hope, now placed on the historic O’Connell Plinth, and I hope it becomes a destination piece among our many sculptures throughout the city. I want to congratulate Dublin City Council for continuing this ambitious programme throughout the pandemic and I wish them all the best in future unveilings.”
Commissioned artist, Alan Phelan, said: “I am honoured to have been selected to create this very special work for the city. Sculpture Dublin is an incredibly important initiative to bring contemporary sculpture into the public awareness. I would like to thank all the team for their wonderful work and support over the past year in reaching this point. I have always been very interested in presenting alterative and inclusive readings of our shared history and the location of City Hall is the perfect emblem to express these interpretations. I wanted to make a sculpture that looked familiar yet was rooted in a tangle of historical references that bring different contexts and content to the work. I hope Dubliners will enjoy this new sculpture and create their own multiple interpretations and personal meanings from it.”
Programme Director of Sculpture Dublin, Karen Downey, said; “The O’Connell Plinth has stood empty in the centre of Dublin for over 150 years; a plinth without a purpose. Alan’s sculpture has brought it back to life in a really exciting way that reflects the historic, contemporary and diverse city of Dublin and its inhabitants. This unveiling is the culmination of over a year of hard work and collaboration and I am looking forward to the rest of the programme’s unveilings.”
The New Sculpture ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’
Alan Phelan’s work frequently questions traditional historical narratives or perceived truths. He looks at small and, sometimes, forgotten details and cross connects and expands them to bring about new understandings and stories.
Emphatically different to the monumental and traditional sculpture that stood on the plinth previously, this new work still draws its context from the surrounding buildings and nearby histories. Alan was inspired by the celebration of different forms of emancipation that have occurred in the area, moving through Irish independence, EU Presidencies, tribunals of inquiry, and important civic events related to marriage equality and reproductive choice. City Hall itself contains many histories and stories from commerce through to civic council chambers, to active participation in a new Ireland. Alan wanted to emphasise the symbolic power of the location.
The strongest historical reference in the proposed work is stucco plasterwork, which all Dubliners know as the familiar and iconic Georgian architecture that is all over the city. However, Alan wanted the sconce or wall mounted candle holder to sidestep the restrained, decorative aspect of Georgian architecture and to play off its roots in the Baroque and Rococo art style, which was more rebellious, theatrical and illogical. As a free standing 5m high 3D printed plastic and paper covered sconce, the sculpture challenges the materiality of monuments normally made in stone or bronze. The work also builds from the Pop Art enlargements of Claes Oldenburg, and Duchamp’s ideas around the readymade that is a foundation of contemporary art practice.
The subtitle of the work ‘Hold Your Nose’ points to an historic reference that is a reminder that history is often dif?cult and problematic. The title comes from a poetry pamphlet that was published during the 1884 Dublin Castle Scandal, when Irish Nationalists revealed homosexual activities of high ranking British civil servants, using this as proof of corrupt and immoral British rule. The poem instructs ‘decent men’ to ‘hold their noses’ so not to breath in the perceived debauchery of the castle. Reclaiming this little known history and subverting this term to show how much Ireland has changed was of significant importance to Alan.
The bright red, green, and blue colours of the sculpture are used a lot in Alan’s recent work. Photographic references point to every colour coming from the mixture of red, green, and blue- signifying the diversity of modern Dublin. The candle flames can also be seen as torches. These are often associated with ideas of the enlightenment, as the torch of knowledge, but also ideas around commemoration. Ultimately the work remains open to interpretation.