Amanda Rice: Monument to Gataneo. Photo by Ray Griffin
Last April I was invited by artist and curator Michele Horrigan to participate in Askeaton Contemporary Arts, Welcome to the Neighbourhood, an annual contemporary art residency which takes place during the summer months in Askeaton Co. Limerick. It was founded by Michele in 2006 and has hosted a variety of contemporary artists from throughout the world, including places such as Argentina, Mexico, Holland and Belgium to name but a few. This years selected artists included myself, Susan McWilliam (IRE), Steve Maher (IRE) Mike Cooter (UK) and Jorge Satorre (Mexico).
The residency in Askeaton runs for a fortnight, and within that timeframe the participating artists are invited to conceive and exhibit an artwork in the town. At the end of the residency the five artists are asked to informally present their works as part of the Welcome to the Neighbourhood open day, falling on the final Saturday of the two week period. As there is no formal exhibiting space in Askeaton the artists in residence have the choice to present their outcomes in a variety of venues including the Askeaton Community Centre, a number of vacant shop units or site specifically around the town.
The outcome of the residency is very open. You are not specifically required to have a 'finished' piece of work at the end of the two weeks, a work in progress or possibly a body of research you could utilize in the future is welcomed. Whilst working at Askeaton, a socially engaged angle relating directly to the locality isn’t a necessity either. However, basic engagement with the town can come in the form of frantically wandering the streets seeking out some tool or a service, and simply bumping into someone who knows somebody else who has exactly what you’re looking for. It’s this distinctive foundation which allows the process of making work to happen quickly in Askeaton, whereas in other circumstances the time constraints might be a little bit too tight to enable production.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a tight two weeks for this years residents! As part of the residency, studio visits were scheduled with visiting curators including; Eamonn Maxwell (Director, Lismore Castle Arts, Waterford), Paul McAree (Director, FLOOD, Dublin) and Paul Luckcraft (Curator, Zabludowicz Collection, London), alongside days trips to The Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, tours of Askeaton with local tour guide Anthony Sheehy and a memorable Magical Mystery Tour led by Sean Lynch, to name but a few.
Despite the intensive nature of the residency, there is a unique infrastructure that enables the making of work at Askeaton. The willingness of the people in the locality to lend their time and support to aid and facilitate the artists was extraordinary. The range of services and supports that exist on the residency are distinctive, there’s a team of technicians on hand to aid with everything from structural fabrication to video editing and installation. Limerick city is a 20 minute drive away for materials, but one really doesn’t have to leave Askeaton as you really can find everything you need there, even some rather specialist services that Limerick city would be envious of.
Michele advised before commencing the residency to perhaps have some idea of what I might work on whilst I was there, on account of the short timescale. I had expressed an interest in looking at some of the larger multinational companies in the Askeaton area, with an overriding curiosity about Aughinish Alumina.
The Aughinish peninsula is located between Foynes and Askeaton in Limerick, on the Shannon estuary, and houses the Aughinish Alumina refinery. The peninsula was formerly an island, and it’s common for people in the surrounding area to still refer to it as such. Bauxite ore1 imported from Brazil, is refined here using the Bayer Process2. This process involves washing and treating the bauxite ore with caustic soda, the resulting product, a white powder known as aluminium oxide or simply Alumina. This product in turn is exported from Aughinish to undergo further refinement to become Aluminium; a versatile metal found in a range of everyday products. The refinery produces up to 1,500 tonnes of Alumina per day and over the years has played a huge economic role at both a local and national level. The construction of the refinery between 1977 and 1983 employed hundreds at a time of grave austerity, and has continued to employ hundreds more, which should not be underestimated.
In terms of environmental impact, there have been concerns about the significant amount of waste material, known as 'Red Mud', produced from the refining process. This waste takes the form of reddish rust coloured clay, which is high in alkaline content. It can be stored either wet or dry in special reservoirs - as there’s no proven method to recycle this by-product. At Aughinish Alumina there is a dry mud storage facility. Cappagh Farmers Support Group (CFSG), which represents local farmers in the Askeaton area have had concerns about both factory emissions and dry dust blowing onto their land. Caustic contamination via the ground water is also a potential issue. Here exists a very complex relationship between industry, the locality and the landscape. On one hand the refinery generates a huge amount of local and national revenue along with employment, whilst farmers of livestock and crops are equally concerned about their own livelihoods. Opinions on the refinery are largely divided in the community. I wanted to use my time at Askeaton to make some sense of the refinery’s integration into the landscape at both historical and local levels.
I was immediately taken with the idea of seeing this red caustic vista which has integrated into the natural landscape along the Shannon peninsula. I was also fascinated by the thought of the naturally occurring bauxite mineral becoming transformed into a bogus element and re-introduced into the landscape, as a consequence of the Bayer process. Its pigment both visually appealing and in its sheer vastness3 represented something of a sublime and incomprehensible nature.
To gain further understanding of the Island on the day before the official kick off for Welcome to the Neighbourhood, myself, Michele Horrigan and Orlaith Treacy4 set off for Aughinish and walked several of the nature trails that are situated around the island. The area has a unique range of plant and wildlife due to the lands predominantly limestone composition. These trails are maintained by Aughinish Alumina. During these walks we spent some time wandering the trails in an attempt to view the Red Mud Reservoirs but to no avail, our view obstructed by ridges, trees and large piles of shale. The inability to view the red mud mound stoked my curiosity, and only increased my desire to see it more.
Before the building of the refinery in 1977 the island would have homed up to 10 families. Walking around the Island I found it difficult to locate traces of its former inhabitants. Whilst venturing along the former main road of the island we stumbled across the remains of a concrete wall and a rusted water pump. Deviating from the path, on a clear stretch of space next to a lake there were overgrown traces of a ruined castle gable. Nearby there appeared to be traces of a concrete courtyard which may have lead into a farmyard, although there were no signs of the accompanying farmhouse or barns. Michele, a native of Askeaton remembers the island from her teens and recalls the ruins of previous farmhouses; these dwellings either swallowed by the dense gorse rampant along the roadside, or likely even demolished by the refining industry.
I began to consider the purpose built paths around the island and their function; to present the walker with a display of the unique flora and fauna in the ecosystem. But perhaps these paths also serve another purpose, to manage and control what the viewer sees on the island. I was very interested in the idea that these paths controlled ones navigation around the peninsula in a prescribed way, limiting the viewer’s perspective of the landscape - concealing traces of life before industry or even some aspects of the industry itself. I wondered were there other routes that accessed the island in a non-prescribed fashion.
I learned of a decommissioned railway line linking Askeaton to Foynes running past Aughinish which might have been the potential key to viewing the island from another vantage point. So it was here that I began a series of dérives, unknown journeys along this railway line, with a view to seeing parts of the island I hadn’t been able to access before, and perhaps see the red mud reservoirs. The railway line hadn’t been used since 2002, so certain parts were quite overgrown and at times I found myself almost crawling through briars to keep on with my expedition. On my first walk from Askeaton to Foynes I was met with a herd of bulls at the end of the railway line intersection, which interrupted my progress - prompting me to hurl myself over a wall onto the grassy edge of the main road not far from Aughinish, where a very amused Michele Horrigan picked me up tired and covered in briars! My other walks along the rail line were equally unsuccessful, faced with more obstacles such as steel gates, thick gorse and in one instance a high pile of aggregate preventing me both reaching my destination and obstructing my view. I documented my journeys with a camera phone; with my GPS purposefully turned off. Whilst hiking onwards towards the island, various sites such as field’s that appeared rust coloured in the distance, the beginning of the estuary and the various obstacles that blocked my view were analyzed as potential parts of Aughinish due to my unknown whereabouts.
I decided to consult the Askeaton Library for further potential information on the surrounding area of Aughinish. It was here I came across some ordinance survey maps pre-dating the factory's construction. According to the map there were a number of prehistoric sites where the factory and red mud reservoirs are now situated. This discovery linked to my previous discussion with Michele, as we had speculated about the bulldozing of farmhouses after the factory was built.
I also came across a marking for a Trigonometrical station on the map exactly where the factory is now situated. 'Trig Points' are geodetic ordinance survey tools used to map the land. Structurally, trig points are four-sided, four foot concrete pillars placed at a high position in the landscape. Each pillar is in view of several others so that their position may be triangulated. They are part of a larger network of surveying stations that were used by Ordnance Survey for mapmaking. Upon further research into these stations I discovered they are now more or less obsolete within the landscape, used mainly as landmarks by walkers and hobbyists when hiking. Trig points from other countries vary in structural make up; Canadian and New Zealand trig points are constructed from four, 2 x 3 inch lengths of wood that measure up to 10 feet in height, and come together to form a foreboding triangular silhouette in the landscape. The symbolic interlinking of my own walks around Aughinish and todays hikers use of Trig Points as a site marker on the journey was notable.
I thought it might be interesting to build my own variant of a Trig Point and bring it to Aughinish, both as a monument to the originally removed trig point, and also as a symbol of the elimination of localities and their way of life before industrialisation. Having roughly sketched how the sculpture should look, Askeaton Contemporary Arts technicians Ray Griffin and Carl Doran took on the task of building it.
I met with Liam Dundon, born on Aughinish and Aughinsh Alumina's wildlife warden on the island in charge of maintaining the nature tails. Dundon has an extensive archive of research on the island, and produced a beautiful map marking out old place names on the island predating the factory. Through comparison of records acquired during my research and his maps, we established that this trigonometrical station would have existed at a place called Gataneo. The trig station sculpture was brought to Poulaweala Creek - directly across from the factory where the trig station might have existed, and it was documented here. In order for this documentation to take place the sculpture had to be taken apart and reassembled on site at Poulaweala, which was a four person task on account of the structures height of fourteen feet. Poulaweala is easily assessable to the public by road, and a preferable choice to working along the main thoroughfare into the Island which is locked after 9pm - getting trapped on the island was a risk we weren’t willing to take.
For the Welcome to the Neighbourhood open day the final work was displayed in two locations. Firstly, the documentary photo of the trig station structure at Poulaweala Creek was placed in a map display case on a traffic island; a reference to Aughinishs artificial 'island' status. The second component was the trig station sculpture itself. Following the original documentation, the structure had been dismantled and removed from Poulaweala Creek and brought to a second location - in a field behind the barracks, where it was then reassembled. An experiential feature of the work involved bringing the audience on a walk just outside of Askeaton town centre, along a trail and into the field to see the actual sculpture, mimicking the walking processes in my work.
Amanda Rice: Monument to Gataneo. Photo by Ray Griffin
Alongside my personal research conducted during the residency, the Welcome to the Neighbourhood open day allowed me the chance to see how the other participating artists individual projects were finally realised.
Membrane Technology, a silk screen company in the centre of Askeaton is a group Mike Cooter worked quite closely with in the fabrication of his industrial print based and laser cut acrylic works, for his installation entitled Mussel Mind (Loaded Die). The installation investigated the nature of objects, with his work referencing a range of subject matter. This included a Stéphane Mallarmé poem relating to the subject of chance, a borrowed dice from the Hunt Museum and a reproduction of an Eileen Grey table. The level of sophistication and finish achieved in the final work within a two week period was notable.
Mike Cooter: Mussel Mind (Loaded Die). Photo by Ray Griffin
Susan McWilliam worked with a piece of research surrounding the Limerick Meteorite Fall of 1813 and Aldous Huxley’s novel The Doors of Perception, the subject of which is Huxley’s exploration of the psychedelic drug mescaline. Her installation IC ITE OID was sited in the Franciscan Friary, it began with a spoken word audio recording which featured excerpts from the Doors of Perception, whereby the narrator discusses unusual visions and phenomena he has witnessed. The excerpts were interspersed with a rhythmic chant of suffixes relating to the word Meteor such as – IC – ITE – OID – ITICAL – ITICALLY. These sounds repeated and reverberated within the ruins creating a mystical ambience, almost echoing the chanting that might have taken place amongst the monks in the 15th Century. The audience then followed the rhythmic chant further into the Friary where there were a series of steel words relating to the meteor placed on fallen pieces of the friary - which themselves almost have a meteoric quality.
Susan McWilliam: IC ITE OID. Photo by Ray Griffin
Steve Maher created three works during this period. Ghost Estate Model Village was situated on the main road entrance to Askeaton which made reference to the Model Villages of early to late industrialist Britain, and also to the remains of unfinished housing complexes known as Ghost Estates, a phenomena relating to Ireland’s economic downturn. A hacked LED advertising sign outside Supervalu offered a subliminal experience for the public, as Maher added irregular texts and excerpts from a famous Askeaton poet and integrated the messages with the shops own advertising - causing the unsuspecting viewer to double take over what they had just seen. Maher's final work was a video piece in Cagneys bar which discussed the Poitín trade in Askeaton.
Steve Maher: Ghost Estate Modal Village and Sentences. Photo by Ray Griffin
Jorge Satorre worked collaboratively with Anita Guinane, local resident of Askeaton and head of Askeaton Civic Trust. With no previous information about Askeaton Contemporary Arts, Jorge gathered information about past artworks using Anita’s descriptions of various projects and concepts throughout the years, and visualized the imagined pieces and scenarios in the form of drawings. The drawings were presented as enlarged xerographic prints, which were then posted up under the New Bridge in Askeaton. A number of one-line, handwritten sentences accompanied the drawings, these perhaps excerpts from Jorge and Anita’s conversations regarding past incidents at Askeaton Contemporary Arts. These out of context statements lead the viewer to conjure up their own images and myths surrounding the artists residency. As bridges can often be targets for vulgar graffiti and the obligatory swear word; the placement of these delicate works offered an element of surprise for the viewer, and a subtle humour in their discovery.
Jorge Satorre: Untitled. Photo by Ray Griffin
I particularly enjoyed having the opportunity to work closely with the other artists; the discussion of progress within both their projects and my own created an exchange, where I gained further insight into their respective practices and working methodologies. I found the intensive and fast paced nature of working at Askeaton Contemporary Arts emphasized the substantial amount of work that can actually be achieved in a two week interval, in comparison to the production levels achieved in regular everyday art making over a prolonged period. I sometimes afford myself the luxury to mull over decisions within a project in progress, whereas whilst working at Askeaton there was an instantaneous cutting of ideas when they weren’t effective, resulting in subsequent adaptation and immediately moving on to the next thing. The feeling of necessity engendered on the residency is not that dissimilar to the intensity experienced whilst working in college; possibly why Michele Horrigan refers to the residencies past artists as Alumni.
1 A reddish brown ore containing a number of aluminium hydroxide elements.
2 The principal industrial means of refining bauxite to produce aluminia.
3 Reservoirs can hold up to 12 million tons of red mud.
4 Curatorial Assistant Askeaton Contemporary Arts.