Excerpt from a text by Michele Horrigan for Allan Hughes' solo exhibition at the Belltable Art Centre, Limerick, Ireland:
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.