As one of the “most grounded, incisive artists working in Ireland today” (ARTFORUM, Critics’ Picks, August 2013, Ara H.Merjian), Brian Duggan (*1971) has long concerned himself with questions and difficulties within labor and leisure, history and tradition, politics and popular entertainment: their insidious rapport, their respective traces in the social, cultural and geographical landscapes. Trained as a sculptor, he works in large-scale installations, smaller stone and wood sculptures, as well as video.
In “A cause for concern, but not alarm” Brian Duggan will present a new body of work made of marble, quartz and slate with a strong installational component. The specific elements of the show are inspired by the engineering plans and fully functioning aspirational graphics of the atomic reactors of Three Mile Island (USA), Chernobyl (USSR) and Fukushima (Japan). All three experienced dramatic accidents with far-reaching consequences. The spirit of Sellafield, the reactor closest to Ireland across the Irish Sea in the UK, holds an unexpected domestic presence within the installation. Sellafield was responsible for turning the Irish Sea into one of the most radioactive bodies of water in the world with planned, yet undisclosed radioactive emissions over many years. It is now being decommissioned and most of the site is classified as nuclear waste.
The use of stone and slate is not coincidental and has a long tradition in Duggan’s work. While nuclear waste would never be stored in slate, it is an example of metamorphic (but also a metaphoric) rock, in that is has changed, echoing the fission process that the works imply. Duggan states: “There is an instability within the material that is exciting to work with, in that I do not know if it will work when cutting it; it could shatter and fall apart. Yet the cutting process is a way of trying to see if we can put order to this unpredictability. The pieces are looking at the narrative of such endeavors, taking the start and the ending as one, within the same piece.” Two slate pieces are included in the show.
“For an unknown reason, the feed pump stopped” (2016) one of the works in the exhibition, is a laser-cut piece in black marble, showing the Three Mile Island (TMI) atomic power plant silhouette in bright red quarz. It is immediately recognizable to the viewer for its emblematic cooling towers, so typical for this type of power plant. In 1979, the plant experienced a partial melt-down with unforeseeable consequences. As Perrow stated in his book, such events appear trivial to begin with before unpredictably cascading through the system to create a large event with severe repercussions. TMI stands as a metaphor for the unpredictability of nuclear power, how small elements suddenly have unexpected consequences – a pump stops working and suddenly, not only the system, but the entire plant and the future of nuclear energy “float off” into an unknown future. Brian Duggan’s rather ‘Pop’ take on this serious issue is highlighted the infinite blackness of the Unknown, aka the black marble. The bright red and sparkly power plant – a marker or beacon within the limitless difficult space ahead.