An exhibition of new and recent work by Irish artist Alan Phelan opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art
(IMMA) on Wednesday 22 July 2009. Alan Phelan: Fragile Absolutes presents 16 works inspired by the artists ongoing engagement with political history, cultural theory, popular culture, masculinity and modified cars. A new IMMA-commissioned sculpture, created to coincide with the exhibition, is located in the Museums Formal Gardens . The exhibition continues a strand of programming at the Museum showcasing emerging Irish and international artists, which has already included Shahzia Sikander, Ulla von Brandenburg, Orla Barry and Paul Morrison.
The new commission, Gorans Stealth Yugo, 2009, began in 2006 during a residency in Belgrade , Serbia , where Phelan collaborated with Goran Krstić, a car designer from the Zastava/Yugo car factory in the city of Kragujevac . The work resembles a stage in the design process, where 3d modelling is used to approximate a structural framework for a new car design. This phase has been rendered in chrome-plated steel, supported by extended twin exhaust pipes, attached to an underwater stabilising base. The effect is both dynamic, as the car turns and points into the sky; as well as disguised, with the framework covered in Phelans signature fake pine twigs, drawn from the blend-in techniques used in the telecommunications industry to hide mobile phone masts (generally as fake trees). As Duan I. Bjelić writes in an essay published in the accompanying monograph on Phelans work, the sculpture represents the complex totality of geopolitics, history, industrial production, and aesthetics using the car as a central metaphor.
The titles, subtitles and structure of the exhibition are derived from a project Phelan completed during his time on IMMAs Artists Residency Programme in 2008. Taking the italicised words from the Slavoj iek book The Fragile Absolute or, why is the Christian legacy worth fighting for? and using them as random word associations towards 15 ideas for works, now realised in a variety of materials and processes, from hand-carved marble, through to video and papier-mâché sculptures.
The works in the exhibition traverse numerous sources and time periods, from current affairs, popular fiction, boy racers, nationalist heroes, world war, economics, psychoanalysis and globalisation. Phelan sets up a complex mix of the literal and metaphorical references, simultaneously providing background information on many of his subjects, yet leaving them open to conflicting modes of interpretation. Heroes are vilified and despots are celebrated. Good and evil mix freely, undermining the certainty of truth. The decapitated head of Douglas Coupland, the Canadian writer famous for creating the term Generation X, is displayed on a basketball hoop stand; while laudatory death notices for former Serbian President Slobodan Miloević are framed on the wall. Irish nationalist hero Arthur Griffith is rendered as an irritating mosquito, while fictional Irish Times columnist Ross OCarroll Kelly is celebrated for his legendary sexual prowess. A woman who stole from a farmer is represented by her court-exit outfit and cute baby seals made from papier-mâché are clubbed to death. Classical Greek statuary is reduced to a store-bought modelling hand, resized and carved in marble in China , while the beginnings of World War I are displayed as a mock-billboard television bank.
In these, and other pieces, we see the artist humorously undermining the content of his own work by setting up sometimes inappropriate, or even tasteless, relationships between his subjects. These works operate side by side in a form of parataxis, without hierarchy feeding off, informing and contradicting each other yet shaped from Phelans interests in narrative, trans-cultural potential, and provisional meaning. As he reconfigures diverse elements they are lent a new voice their context providing a means towards interpretation. A number of common elements can be discerned within the Fragile Absolutes body of work. They have a raw, unfinished quality almost a sense of incompleteness which points to the artists intention of presenting discursive or dialogical structures in the place of finished artworks. Duan I. Bjelić uses Heideggers term Zuhandenheit to frame the materiality of Phelans practice, pointing to a type of infrastructural aesthetic which focuses on what is left in the background of a philosophy rather than on what it specifically brings to light.
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; SKUC, Ljubljana ; Feinkost , Berlin ; SKC, Belgrade . In Ireland he has exhibited at mothers tankstation, Dublin ; MCAC, Portadown; Limerick City Gallery of Art , and Solstice Arts Centre, Navan. 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 Arts Centre, Dublin , and Rochester , New York . Phelan was short-listed for the AIB Art Prize in 2007 for his work on the new commission, Gorans Stealth Yugo, 2009.
The exhibition is curated by Seán Kissane, Curator: Exhibitions at IMMA.