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Installation shot of Regressions exhibition at Belltable Art Centre
2012

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Notes:

Text written by Michele Horrigan, curator of Regressions at the Belltable Art Centre.

For his solo exhibition at The Belltable, Belfast-based artist Allan Hughes presents two artworks, The Listening Station (2008) and Neutral States (2011). Each piece consists of video, audio and photographic elements, all used to investigate military histories in Ireland. Hughes’ carefully structured representations contemplate locations that are often considered sites of covert activity, hidden from public discussion. His fluid, overlapping narratives derive from intensive fieldwork in these sites and develop crucial and necessary understandings of territorial landscapes and military surveillance.

The Listening Station focuses on a British Army communications base at the summit of Black Mountain on the edge of west Belfast. The facility was initially put into service in 1949 at the outset of the Cold War and later figured as a symbol of political and military surveillance of Belfast during The Troubles, visible from nearly anywhere in the city on its’ strategic vantage point. Video footage shot by Hughes in 2008 present some of the very last moving images made of the location as it had then existed, prior to its ongoing disassembly as part of the Good Friday Agreement. A series of photographs document the site after demolition of several parts of the complex, with only transmitting apparatus now remaining. Enquiries made to the Ministry of Defence,requesting the nature of communications sent or received there still remain unanswered.

Neutral States is set around the legacy of Second World War battlement infrastructure along the Shannon Estuary. Commissioned and produced by Askeaton Contemporary Arts in 2011, Hughes’ project examines ideas of the ‘neutral state’, not solely as it pertains to the neutrality of Ireland during the Second World War, but also as an exploratory idea of historical memory and site as an ever-evolving understanding. A sound work was produced from interviews made with Michael Foley, John Guinane and Michael D. Ryan, all of whom had volunteered in the Local Security Force (LSF) and Local Defense Force (LDF) in the 1940s. As they each reflect on their life and work during ‘The Emergency,’ their recollections frequently intertwine and sometimes interrupt their respective accounts. Hughes subsequently photographed several pillboxes in the West Limerick area, small concrete structures these men would have been stationed in.¬† Ardmore Point, the only defense battery built by the Irish government during World War II, features prominently in Hughes’ accompanying video.¬† Located in County Kerry on the mouth of the Shannon, a sprawling variety of lookout structures and underground bunkers were constructed to prevent the invasion of German or Allied forces. Over the last seventy years, the entire complex has gradually disappeared from view and local consciousness: overgrown by bushes, and forgotten, with no conservation program enacted.

As these environments shift and change over time, modified by progress, neglect or erasure, Hughes’ work does more than simply inform us and create awareness around these places. ¬†Instead, by situating us as viewers and audience for his investigations, he democratically exposes the hidden power that these structures represent. The resulting mediation, within the politics of memory, social and political circumstance, proves that landscape and territory are anything but neutral.

Michele Horrigan is an artist and curator, based in Limerick & Berlin.

Examples of work included in this exhibition can be viewed here, here & here