artist bio
some words


Fragile Absolutes Part 3

Limerick City Gallery of Art
11 October 2012 - 23 November 2012




Include Me Out of the partisans manifesto, 2012
single channel video projection
11 minutes (with credits)

This a short film about a couple having an argument over the destruction and recycling of their DVD collection. The script was developed from a catalogue essay on Phelan’s work by Tony White who used notes given by the artist to constructed a parallel narrative about Phelan’s practice. The film’s seemingly ordinary narrative is complicated by an intense internal monologue which shifts the tension to address the cyclical nature of ideas and how process implicates content. While the characters could represent Phelan, the story is not so literal and it is more the process they engage in that makes the connection.

The dialogue and voice-over is not so straight forward however as the narrative described above as the writer, Tony White, has a unique approach to writing fiction. He uses chunks of appropriated text derived from non-fictional sources, as he describes it “cutting-up, remixing and renarrativising fragments”. These included the Žižek notes plus chunks from a recycling website, an Indian site explaining papier-mâché, a text about motoring in the Balkans, and partial transcripts from the Slobodan Milosevic war crimes tribunal.

The design of the film also adds a further narrative layer. The styling, costumes and music soundtrack are based on Gattaca, the 1997 science fiction film yet share none of the genetic –determinist content that the film grapples with. There is however an interesting connection to the debate the film stirred through its flawed science and heroic tragedy not unlike some of the key arguments made by Žižek. Overall the piece takes on the diegesis of the cinematic narrative, only to fall short and end with full closure.

Scent of Orange Rim Cleaner (object petit object), 2009-2012
limited edition cologne, scent, delivery system
developed by Demeter Fragrance Library

In 2009 Irish artist Alan Phelan contacted Demeter about mixing up a fragrance for an upcoming museum show. He wanted to re-create the smell of an orange scented wheel de-greaser that was used by modified car enthusiasts at an event he had organised a few years prior. The smell of this cleaner was his strongest memory of the day, where modified car owners cleaned their parked cars all day prior to judging in a “Show and Shine” competition.

Rather than show photographs or make some kind of ‘boy racer’ artwork, the memory trigger through fragrance was how Phelan wanted to represent the idea. As an art piece the scent grapples with the o-object, as ultimate dematerialized artwork, an unobtainable object of desire, a smell.

The limited edition cologne is being issued in for the 2012 show at Limerick City Gallery of Art, with 100 signed bottles.

see Demeter Fragrance Library for sales

Death Drive, 2009
commercial screenprint
6, 60 x 60 cm
IMMA edition of 40

When modified car enthusiasts get together they sometimes turn into boy racers. The showmanship of this pastime is pretty central to the owners of these glammed, pimped-up cars. It’s not just the bodywork that gets modified, however, but also sometimes the engine. Some meet late into the night for private races on public roads. These also include burnout sessions which leave behind circular patterns of rubber on the road surface. Freud’s ‘death drive’ postulates a drive leading potentially towards death, destruction and non-existence, although Lacan resolved this in a different way.

See IMMA Editions for sales

The Seven Oracles, 2012
marble, adhesive sticker, acrylic
350 x 250 x 30 cm

This installation of seven carved marble animals derived from the fad of psychic animals predicting scores of football matches – Paul the Octopus from the 2010 FIFA World Cup being the most famous and accurate. Soft toys manufactured in China were sent back to their country of origin to be carved in black marble. Brought together now on a geometric floor arena these psychic friends now command a selection of cross-references where orifices become oracles, zodiacs are re-inscribed as Pythagorean, abject turns to marble. It’s a faux transformation, fixated on the mis-understanding of fact, the deliberate distancing from truth.

FYI the animals are Paul the Octopus, Leon the porcupine, Petty the pygmy hippopotamus, Jimmy the Peruvian guinea-pig, Mani the Parakeet, Pino the Chimpanzee and Apelsin the Red River Hog.

Speaking of Drives, 2011-12
Multi-channel video projection

This is a multi-channel video where three improbable characters meet in an underground car park to uncover the meaning behind the elusive o-object from differing psychological standpoints. Imaginary place, imaginary time - footballer’s girlfriend Charlene Hume-Berkeley encounters former Carmelite nun, Dame Judy Tutler, and Irish Nationalist Arthur Griffith in Erottaja underground car park and tunnels, Helsinki. The script was developed from text written by Medb Ruane with the film covering the third section of the text.

Zastava Factory, Kragujevac, Serbia, 2006-2009
inkjet billboard sheets
various sizes cms

These images are of the most popular car model made by Zastave (Yugo) being made in their factory and on the streets of the town where the factory is located.

Mine Past, 2012
Ink-jet print
111 (w) x 153 cm

This image of a wrecked stadium floodlight is from Tašmajdan Stadium which was built in the 1950s in Belgrade city centre. When Phelan photographed it in 2006 it seemed hugely symbolic of the mess that Serbia found itself in that post war time. It was one of many devastated buildings but this one had not been bombed by NATO like several government buildings in the city. Like Yugo it was a victim of several regime changes. The stadium is built into a large cliff, with the name derived from the Ottoman word for stone mine. Renovations on the structure are due to be completed in late 2012.

Provisional People, 2007
ink on paper
57.5 x 76.5 cms

Hopital Irlandaise, 2007
ink on paper
57.5 x 76.5 cms

These two drawings are traced from text in other images. Provisional People are two words plucked from the 1916 Declaration of Independence issued from the GPO. Hopital Irlandaise is taken from an photo of the hospital that Samuel Beckett volunteered in during the Second World War.

Woman who stole from farmer (it is only truth that matters), 2009
archival paper, EVA glue, toner
77 x 79 x 59 cms

In February 2009, a story appeared in the Irish national media concerning a Woman who stole from a farmer. This work is based on an image from the Irish Times showing the Woman covering her head and face with a striped hooded shawl while exiting the court. Kathleen Lewis (55), a mother of 10, was found guilty of stealing or rather bribing through intimidation, up to €70,000 from retired farmer George Berry (88), after an incident in the car park at a Centra store in Killeagh, Co Cork, in March 2006. A car driven by Berry was reputed to have damaged Lewis’s car, in which two of her grandchildren were alleged to have been thrown by the impact and injured. In sentencing, the Judge said “This is a particularly nasty and unpleasant crime”.

Roger should have stayed in the jungle, 2006
archival paper, toner, EVA glue, balsa wood, rubber car tyre, plastic pot
(papier-mâché made from articles from the Daily Telegraph)
34 x 27 x 27 cms, with pot 54 x 67 x 58 cms

Roger Casement is a troubled Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary and nationalist hero, being of a Protestant background, knighted for humanitarian work in Peru and the Congo, but executed for treason after a failed gun running attempt in a German submarine. His treason court case was made more controversial by the revelation of disputed forged diaries containing frank accounts of homosexual activities.

Douglas (lacked the dimension of radical Evil), 2009
archival paper, toner, EVA glue, cocktail sticks, plywood, varnish, stainless steel basketball stand
(papier-mâché made from pages in jPod 2006 novel where the character Douglas Coupland appears in the story)
head: 34 x 21 x 28 cms
stand: 100 x 250 x 250 cms

Douglas Coupland (born 1961) is a Canadian novelist probably best-known for his 1991 novel Generation X. He has written many novels which pretty accurately describe the work antics and social networking of young people and their search for meaning in an overly commodified world. His novels are generally quite sharp and witty, representing an ennui that is bleak yet very entertaining. In jPod, computer game workers encounter the character Douglas Coupland, appearing as himself, only really mean, shifting the course of the novel and quite narcissistically or self-reflexively causing mayhem and then saving the day.

Goran’s Stealth Yugo, 2006
diazo print
200 x 450 cms

This car design is a drawing of the most popular model of car made by Yugo (Zastava Automobili) and the only one in production from this former giant of Serbian industry when Phelan visited the factory in 2006. It was made in collaboration with car designer Goran Krstic from the factory in Kragujevac. The car is based around a defunct or out of production Fiat model and was the most common car on the roads (and also the cheapest). Zastava had strong market links with the ‘non-aligned’ nations which the former Yugoslavia was a leading political player. The factory has since been bought by FIAT and is currently being re-purposed into a spare parts facility.

This design however was eventually realised as a 3d work in 2009 and installed in the Formal Gardens of IMMA for 6 months. The sculpture was fabricated by Goran Krstic in Kragujevac utilizing many of the car manufacturing skill sets of the local population.


Limerick City Gallery of Art presents “Fragile Absolutes Part 3” by Alan Phelan

Previewing Thursday, 11th October, the exhibition will run in Limerick City Art Gallery until 25th November, 2012. The exhibition will include the premier of two new films Include Me Out of the partisans manifesto and Speaking of Drives, Dialogue 3 as well as several other new works.

The exhibition will be opened by Seán Kissane, Curator at IMMA.

Phelan has created a trilogy of exhibitions that contain elements of his broad-ranging reactions to Slavoj Žižek’s turn of the millennium book “The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why Is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?” Phelan’s artworks within each exhibition have unfolded as alternative chapters to Žižek’s thoughts. The compelling narratives that run through the exhibitions present humanity’s desperation and insecurity through the twists and turns of a society seeking to redress the loss of some assumed equilibrium. In each, Phelan clearly indicates through a myriad of narratives that intersect with popular culture, revolutionary history, and the contradictions of contemporary revisionism.

Society’s nervousness about what is reality pervades the exhibitions, and in Part Three Phelan makes his most personal manifesto. He shows a bleak belief in history, perhaps best displayed in the text drawing “Provisional People”, a tracing of words from the 1916 Irish Proclamation of Independence. As such the exhibition opens with a discomforting mix of players and icons. The hoodied figure of a criminal hiding their identity on exiting court is rendered only as a garment, solidified in paper and glue. The work is sternly partnered with a bust of Roger Casement re-worked as a house plant. Both exalt and disrespect in equal measure.

This is not just a political statement, it is also the personal history of the degraded life that each individual sought out. Hope is not something that Phelan provides lightly. With Include Me Out of the partisans manifesto, we find a suburban couple battling through the apparent obliteration of their shared experience. As their DVD collection is painstakingly broken up and recycled, the male character works through inner torment interspersed with his dreams of what could have been. The film adopts several cinematic tropes to address the cyclical nature of ideas and how process implicates content.

The expectation brought by the psychic animals in The Seven Oracles, a new marble installation, objectifies moments of humanity seeking out a confirmation of what the future will bring, albeit through predicting the results of football matches. Times may pass, but the games continue and so does the insecure human need to know. In Speaking of Drives, Dialogue 3 an improbable encounter of Arthur Griffith, an ex-nun mechanic and a footballer’s wife in a nuclear fall-out shelter and underground car park, results in a conversation about the very nature of desire. The discussion centres around the ‘o-object’ from conflicting psychological perspectives – old, new and intuitive – resolving little and soon parting ways.

Phelan renders this ‘o-object’ differently in the form of a scent, available as a cologne and also diffused through the gallery as a room fragrance developed with Demeter Fragrance Library – a company specializing in smells as memory triggers. Orange Rim Cleaner is the sweet chemical odour of a wheel degreaser used by modified car enthusiasts at a Show and Shine event organised by Phelan in 2006. The work grapples with the o-object, as an ultimate dematerialized artwork, the unobtainable object of desire, yet now re-packaged in a 30 ml bottle.

The dominant theme of car culture in Phelan’s recent work is represented with the first showing in Ireland of the original blue print design for the car sculpture Goran’s Stealth Yugo. Made in Serbia in 2006, the piece was an important starting point for this project which now draws to a tentative close.

Born in Dublin in 1968, Alan Phelan studied at Dublin City University and Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. He has exhibited widely internationally including Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Chapter, Cardiff, SKUC, Ljubljana; Feinkost, Berlin; SKC, Belgrade. OK11 Helsinki, IMMA, Dublin, mother’s tankstation, Dublin; MCAC, Portadown; Limerick City Gallery of Art, and Solstice, Navan and The Black Mariah, Cork.

He was editor/curator for Printed Project, issue 5, launched at the 51st Venice Biennale, and has curated exhibitions at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, Project Art Centre, Dublin, and Rochester, New York. Work on this exhibition was short listed for the AIB Art Prize, 2007.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Seán Kissane, Curator, IMMA; Dušan Bjelic, Professor of Criminology at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, USA; Medb Ruane, writer and journalist, and Tony White, novelist and journalist.

LCGA would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of Demeter Fragrance Library, IMMA, and lenders to the exhibition.

For further information contact Helen Carey at Limerick City Gallery of Art, Pery Square, Limerick Telephone 0035361 310633;