‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’

by Alan Phelan

Image © Naoise Culhane
Watch David Archbold’s video to find out more about the ideas and histories that informed ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’.

Unveiled in September 2021, ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’ is an exuberant sculpture that brings together a wealth of references. As a free standing 5.5 metre-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.

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. alanphelan.com

For information about the commission and commissioning process:


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