Anthony Haughey: Settlement / Reviewed by Dorothy Hunter / 26.08.12
The settlement that titles Anthony Haughey’s exhibition is not one of human choice: people do not feature, or indeed exist, in the photographs of Ireland’s ghost estates. With citizens floating on an economic tidal turn, the structures themselves settle through stasis. Half built as a result of the short-lived immigration boom, their monetary foundations have disappeared, and as a result these patches of land have slipped into established inactivity.
In being such a familiar scene and subject within Ireland, the photography within Settlement could easily have amounted to banal architectural imagery. Yet by virtue of Haughey’s technique, these sites that are now symbolic of the fall of the “Celtic Tiger” have been transformed, creating images that are simultaneously uncanny and conceptually developed.
Each image was created by a moonlit film exposure created over several hours. The resultant images form warm casts in their highly exposed areas, creating the effect of a strange internal sun within an otherwise dusky environment. In some images it could be a symbolic dawn or evening; in others, the buildings glow in false divinity.
As the constituent colours of the printed image are unpicked through its heavy noise, there are no defined edges to these images’ components. The area shown in each image feels less like an actual space, and with no humans around to “fulfil” the estate, it may be considered thus.
Alongside this alignment of concept and method, the photographic technique of Settlement feels like a nod to and inversion of “Boulevard du Temple”, widely thought to be the first depiction of the human form in photography. Whilst Daguerre’s prolonged exposure of a busy Parisian street committed only a halted gentleman and his shoeshiner to the light sensitive plate, in Haughey’s work humanity is implied yet not available to the camera. The halted construction work takes the place of Daguerre’s pedestrians, yet it remains long after the image is formed.
Whilst Haughey’s photography displays material results of unfulfilled expectations, a collection of architectural proposals suggest theoretical uses for empty spaces in Dublin city. Created in collaboration with architecture firms and students, they range broadly in tone and focus. One proposes a community-centric space for informal education; another more acerbically suggests a clubhouse for the powers-that-be held responsible for the Irish economic downfall. Some of these proposals feel more focused on atonement for capitalism and the provision of a material perspective, giving old corporate buildings agricultural and horticultural uses. Another wishes to shift focus to Ireland’s cultural riches in the creation of a national audio archive.
Similarly, the wooden maquette proposes that the conspicuously unfinished Anglo Irish Bank be turned into a gallery for Ireland’s public and corporate art collections. A table and stools constructed from plasterboard and pine batten surround the piece, suggesting a collective, constructive, but potentially degradable space to discuss.
Whilst these proposals aren’t commissioned, and are more expressive of each architect’s own desires, there is something slightly poignant about these rendered ideals when placed together in a gallery context. It seems to emphasize their fantastical nature. Dramatic geometry and graphic figures often give planning sketches a utopian feel, and all strategies of architecture depend on presumed interaction. When such proposals are shown alongside the new relics of Haughey’s photographic series, it cannot help but highlight the unpredictability of society’s movements.
Yet whilst these particular proposals shall probably never be realised, it is through this work that we consider what alternative methods exist for gaining control of a paralysed environment – be they artistically expressive actions, or spatial solutions. As the imagery of photos and renderings are combined with texts and statistical data present in the space, Settlement presses for raw and interpreted information to exist more pertinently in national consciousness, so that Ireland may negotiate new systems of space.
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