The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland launches ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’ by Alan Phelan

Sculpture Dublin is delighted to announce a new sculpture for the O’Connell Plinth at Dublin City Hall!

Sculpture Dublin is a Dublin City Council initiative set up to raise awareness of sculpture in Dublin and to commission six public sculptures for parks and public spaces city-wide. ‘RGB Sconce, Hold Your Nose’ by Alan Phelan is the first commission to be launched.

Alan Phelan was awarded the O’Connell Plinth commission in December 2020 and invited to create a temporary sculpture for a historical plinth that has remained empty in the centre of Dublin for over 150 years. The plinth was originally constructed to support a monumental, marble statue of Daniel O’Connell, a key figure in Irish history who played an important role in securing Catholic emancipation in 1829. The removal of the statue in the 1860s dispossessed the plinth of its intended purpose, which Sculpture Dublin has sought to restore with a contemporary artwork.

‘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.