The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
16 November 2019 – 04 January 2020
Curated by Sarah Searson

This exhibition marked the first major exhibition of this body of work. The photographs are small 4×5 sheet film sized images as they comprise of the sheet film from a large format camera and a colour screen. The Joly Screen Process is not a chemical process but instead filters light on exposure and display to create colour. The screen is made up of red, green and blue stripes which Phelan then engages as installation devices on walls and windows to reference the process and a wider art history of installation. The small images have the intensity of painted miniatures, illuminated by LED panels, slowing down the viewing of a photograph as well as allowing for a unique colour shift that happens on display.

The images have nostalgic feel given muted colours and the content of this selection of work which reference historic flower paintings made in collaboration with Dunboyne Flower and Garden Club. For Phelan this is an opportunity to expand his interest in participatory practices, art making that involves working with others to expand the notion of authorship into a shared activity, one that remains unfixed and creating agency as well as new knowledge in the process.

Joly Screen Process Photographs:
Toned gelatin silver sheet film (reverse processed), duraclear c-print screen, acrylic panels, LED panel, MDF support, electrics, archival paper tape, insulation tape, steel and rubber profiles.

Gallery arch by door on right:
1. Juan van der Hammen 1627, when the last aurochs died, 2019
2. Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1580, when Drake was second to circumnavigate, 2019
3. Constance Spry 1957, when post-war austerity was ruined by The Treaty of Rome, 2019

4. Anna Ruysch 1690, when Aqua Admirabilis could have smelt of Orange (red), 2019
5. Joseph Lauer 1850, when Neanderthal fossils were The Origin of Species (green), 2019
6. Sofu Teshigahara 1950, when things turned ugly for ikebana (blue), 2019

7. Jan van Huysum 1720, when a different proposal by Swift was of Irish manufacture, 2019
8. Jean-Baptiste Belin de Fontenay 1705, when Mirabell and Millamant were in full Restoration abundance, 2019
9. Jan van Huysum 1724, when The South Sea Bubble inspired unconsolidated debt
, 2019

Over Fireplace:
10. Hans Memling 1490, when the prophetic extinction occurred, 2019

RGB, 2019
Photographic paper in red, green and blue, cut in 15cm strips.

Red Lines, 2019
Red photographic paper, cut in 15cm strips; mirror polished stainless-steel lettering backing on black expanded vinyl

With thanks to:

Louis Haugh, photography and darkroom

Members of the Dunboyne Flower & Garden Club, who participated in workshops:

Mary Dalton, Jean Hamilton, Beatrice Hartog, Adrienne Hatch, Geraldine Johnson, Kay Kelly, Veronica Madden, Isabella Molloy, Ciara Murphy, Noreen Ní Chinnéide, Dolores O’Leary, Marie Orr, Harriet Phelan, Margaret Rowan, Angela Sheehy, Margaret Rowan, Mary Ronayne

Alan Phelan and Dunboyne Flower and Garden Club were recipients of Meath County Council Cultural Services Creative Award 2019. This award is supported by the Meath County Council Creative Ireland Programme. Research for this project was thanks to an Arts Council Visual Arts Bursary.

Installation shots by Paul McCarthy

Download essay below:

Joanne Laws Arts Writer in Residence: A response to an exhibition ‘Red Lines’ Alan Phelan_JOANNE_LAWS_A_response_to_an_exhibition_Red_Lines_Alan_Phelan_(1)-min


Further notes:

Red Lines are all too familiar in political parlance right now. They mean everything and nothing, intractable demands that must shift but cannot shift, but then do. History is filled with similar moments, and with this exhibition the origins of photography and conceptual art are called out, asking questions about fundamentals and apparent universals. Leading on from Phelan’s counterfactual approaches in Irish revolutionary history, this exhibition presents a body of work that creates a new perspective on the photography, based on forgotten methodologies to make an alternate history.

On entry to the former court house building where The Dock is located, the staircase and mezzanine are fitted with red strips. These mark a line between decorative intervention and conceptual conceit – playing off the infamous stripes of Daniel Buren, who was both ridiculed and celebrated for his ambition to render art mechanically systematic yet perceptually site sensitive. Ultimately his work was embraced by the museum it sought to smash yet embedded in much art history as it is impossible to think of stripes with him.

The lines also refer the photographic process revived by Phelan over the past three years. In this first large showing of contemporary Joly Screen Photographs, Phelan presents a historical overview of floral art, giving this unique colour process a history it never had, having been abandoned from use over 100 years ago. 

Since the Joly Screen Process has been forgotten, reviving it creates a new history, one that also shifts the origins of photography itself into a different timeline. Located instead in the socio-economic framework of imperialism, the Joly Screen photographs in the show reference the writings of photography theorist Ariella Azoulay, presenting a photography that originates in the 1490s, displacing it from the technology of the 1830s connecting to a different “imperial temporality”.

The images in Red Lines are based around the history of flower painting and flower arranging. Work titles name the source artist, year of their activity and a related historical event. The works do not seek to perfectly re-create or re-appropriate but construct a flawed approximate, out-of-sync and yet connected to a related flow of events. For example, it should be impossible to look at the Dutch Golden Age flower paintings without acknowledging the Tulip Mania that swept the financial markets, laying the foundations for the boom/bust economic cycle. Indeed the cultivation of flowers mirror the rise of the bourgeoisie in early Western imperial and colonial travels and land grabs, charting not so innocent trades routes, that are now the subject of much discussion and revision in decolonising Western art traditions. In a sequence of three images based on paintings from the early 1700’s, exotic flowers are made-up from domestic gardens and German supermarkets, assembled to resemble abundant Baroque designs, exotic Spring bulbs and unconsolidated debt. The references are subtle but the direction of interpretation is away from mere aesthetics.

The photorealism of much flower painting belies the mixed-seasons of specimens on show and oddly negates the creativity required by the artists in assembling these painted arrangements. Similarly the history of floral art is often dismissed as craft. The thematic categories in contemporary flower arranging competitions however, require imaginative and conceptual leaps that are not dissimilar from art yet function and operate in parallel worlds. Working with members of Dunboyne Flower and Garden Club over the past 9 months, Phelan has held monthly workshops where arrangements were created and photographed. Seasons, art eras and floral art ground breakers like Constance Spry were used to make this history for the Joly Screen spanning 500 years. 

Red Lines begins a history that was forgotten, re-drafting a timeline for photography that enables it to speak about a wide range of topics. This is the first exhibition of five upcoming shows into 2020 that will re-align photography to different histories and timelines, not to re-enact but create something that should potentially exist.