O'Connell Plinth City Hall
The O’Connell Plinth stands outside City Hall on Dame Street, where it is passed by tens of thousands of pedestrians and road-users each day. City Hall was originally built as the Royal Exchange, Dublin’s main centre of trading and commerce in the eighteenth century. It has been the seat of the capital city’s local government since it was purchased and renamed by the City Corporation (now Dublin City Council) in the early 1850s.
The O’Connell Plinth was originally constructed to support the monumental statue of Daniel O’Connell – ‘The Liberator’ – by John Hogan, that is now located in the Rotunda in City Hall. The plinth is made up of six blocks of Dalkey granite, with mouldings at the base and top, and is located at street level in a paved area leading to the main entrance of City Hall.
This commission invited artists to respond to a historical plinth that has stood empty in the centre of Dublin city for over 150 years. Commissioning a new artwork for the O’Connell Plinth is an opportunity to restore to it its original function: the public display of sculpture. The space left behind by the O’Connell statue is a provocation, one that demands a physical and conceptual response. It is waiting to be occupied – but by what?
Artists were invited through a two-stage open competition to imagine a new, temporary sculpture for the O’Connell Plinth. Full details of the commissioning process are included in the Commission Brief.
The Selection Panel for the O’Connell Plinth included:
- Councillor Donna Cooney (City Councillor)
- Councillor Mannix Flynn (City Councillor)
- Charles Duggan (DCC Heritage Officer)
- Gráinne Kelly (representative of DCC Culture Recreation and Economic Services)
- Sheena Barrett (representative of the City Arts Office)
- Paula Murphy (representative of Sculpture Dublin Steering Group)
- Barbara Dawson (representative of the Hugh Lane Gallery)
- Grace Weir (external art expert)
Non-voting Chair (Stage 1): Ruairí Ó Cuív (DCC Public Art Officer)
Non-voting Chair (Stage 2): Karen Downey (Sculpture Dublin Programme Director)
‘I am thrilled and honoured to have won this very special inaugural commission for the O’Connell Plinth at City Hall. Sculpture Dublin is an important initiative in bringing contemporary sculpture into public awareness in some really exciting new ways. I look forward to working with the Sculpture Dublin team in delivering the proposed artwork and being part of the great tradition of public art in Dublin city. Engaging with multiple histories is an important part of what I do as an artist, so I hope to be able to create a rich conversation between art, the city and its people with this sculpture.’
Alan Phelan studied at Dublin City University and Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. His practice involves the production of objects, participatory projects, as well as curating and writing. Selected exhibitions include: Void, Derry; Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris; RHA, Dublin; The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon; The Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery, IMMA, The LAB, Dublin; LCGA, EVA International, Limerick; Solstice, Navan; Chapter, Cardiff; Bonn Kunstmuseum; Detroit Stockholm; Treignac Projet, France; Bozar, Brussels: ŠKUC, Ljubljana; SKC Gallery, Belgrade; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Public works include Kevin Street Library; Fr Collins Park, IMMA formal gardens and Void Offsites Derry.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland unveiled ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’ by Alan Phelan on 29 September 2021
‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’ is an exuberant sculpture that brings together a wealth of references. As a free standing 5.5metre-high, eco-plastic and paper covered sculpture, the work challenges the materiality of monuments, more typically made in stone or bronze. Building from the Pop Art enlargements of Claes Oldenburg, and Duchamp’s ideas around the readymade, a small-scale model was created at home during lockdown and then 3D scanned and printed to scale before assembly, papering and finish.
A recognisable visual starting point for the work is the stucco plasterwork that adorns the interiors of many iconic Georgian buildings in Dublin. Phelan however, wanted the sconce, or wall mounted candle holder, to sidestep restrained Georgian repetition and symmetry. Instead, the work uses Baroque and Rococo styles, which were more rebellious, theatrical and illogical. The original source for the work was an anonymous French 18th century design for a sconce.
While markedly different to the monumental and traditional sculpture supported by the plinth previously, this new work still draws its context from the surrounding buildings and nearby recent histories. Phelan was inspired by the different forms of emancipation that have occurred in the area, moving through Irish independence, EU Presidencies, tribunals of inquiry, and important civic events related to marriage equality and reproductive choice.
The subtitle of the work ‘Hold Your Nose’ refers to a collection of ‘sanitary songs’ that was published during the 1884 Dublin Castle Scandal, located in the adjacent building complex which was the site of the British colonial administration. Irish Nationalists revealed homosexual activities of high-ranking British civil servants, using this as proof of corrupt and immoral British rule. The poetry pamphlet instructs ‘decent men’ to ‘hold their noses’ so not to breath in the perceived debauchery of the castle. Reclaiming this little-known history and subverting this olfactory phrase into the visual realm, builds in a self-critique where flamboyance and failure are united to reveal different narratives about the past.