RGB BIRR, 2022

Spectacular Vernacular
In the Open | Faoin Spéir – Offaly
24 March – 27 April, 2022

Colours have lots of different associations, generate different moods, or imply different meanings. Flowers too, have a long history of associated meanings which peaked with the Victorian Language of Flowers, where coded love messages could be sent via the selection of flowers in a bouquet.

In the realm of physics and light, the primary colours are red, green and blue. Isaac Newton discovered that by using prisms and mirrors he could combine the red, green and blue (RGB) regions of a reflected rainbow to create white light. Newton deemed those three colours the “primary” colours since they were the basic ingredients needed to create clear, white light.

John Joly, a native of Offaly and Professor of Geology and Physics at Trinity College was the first person to make a stable, fixed colour photograph using red, green and blue light in the 1890s. For the past 4 years Alan Phelan has been using this way of making colour photographs with the Joly Screen method which was abandoned from use over 100 years ago.

Working with this historic process has led Phelan to consider what kinds of images could have been made with it. He has subsequently worked through several genres to create photographs and an ever-expanding image bank for the process that was never used.

Several historical narratives intersect in the work on display at Birr Castle the poses in the photographs reference early male nudes shot by the Von Gloeden’s in Italy; the flowers on the costume are gentleman’s buttonholes that relate to the poems adjacent which are from a homophobic nationalist pamphlet decrying the Dublin Castle Scandal of 1880s; the pronounced used of red, green and blue paint and paper mirrors the process, an additive colour process.

Three sites around Birr town have painted railings in the Joly screen RGB. These serve as framing devices for possible striped camera phone photographs of views of the castle, a river and theatre building. Locations are the Marian Hall opposite the Castle Courtyard entrance; Birr Theatre on Oxmantown Mall; and the bridge on Croghan Road just past the Arrabawn Co-Op.

Thanks to everyone who made this exhibition possible in these difficult times. Many thanks to Birr Castle for hosting and facilitating the project. The project was curated by Brendan Fox and produced by Terri Dale-Kearney and with the assistance of Simone Martelloni. Photography was by Louis Haugh, working with Stephen Quinn as model.

Supported by The Museum of Everyone, The Arts Council, Birr Castle Demese, Birr Theatre and Arts Centre, Offaly County Council, Bord na Móna Lough Boora, Birr Music Festival, Offline Film Festival and Hullabaloo.