Published in the 2016 "In Place" catalogue. Dublin.
Over the past few years I have developed a body of work based on my research into abandoned buildings, of various types, in different locations around Ireland. As a painter, I have a long-standing fascination with the phenomenology of space, and these buildings, in their various stages of neglect or decay, offer us an opportunity to see and feel things that we cannot in the ordinary world.
In rural areas, I found that many of the abandoned dwellings I investigated were left untouched, in near-perfect preservation. Such places contain old and obscure objects that are imbued with loss and layers. There is a presence that seems to linger in these places - a memory of the life that once inhabited the now vacant space. These buildings provide ghostly glimpses into the past and expose us to a layered multisensory experience and a different perception of time.
My urban explorations involved buildings of a more industrial nature – a disused factory, and an abandoned power station for example. In some of these places nature has taken a surprising hold on the once functional space. These buildings provide an entirely different aesthetic to the normal, over-designed layout of a functional urban space. Moss-carpeted floors of buildings and birds nesting in unorthodox places provide sights and sounds that evoke an aesthetics of disorder, sensuality and surprise. Such places offer a tactile encounter with space and materiality.
An abandoned building is like a portal onto the political history of the recent past, symbolising the destruction and decline of cities and landscapes. Ruins are often seen as symbols of decay, melancholia and statis. They are regarded as disturbingly non-functional spaces. Through my work, my aim is to rebuke the idea that space needs to be productive and profitable and to convey instead a Utopian view of these ruins. Urban ruins in particular, offer an escape from an increasingly sterile urban environment in which only a restricted range of sensory experience may be experienced. These are places, where playful, experimental and unhindered interaction with objects and matter is not prohibited.
In contrast to the careful preservation of heritage sites, appreciation of history through ruins does not invoke a material preservation instinct. Places are experienced and appreciated in the present, but material remains are not prevented from continuing their mutations toward inevitable material obscurity. Abandoned buildings thereby create a relationship with the past, and offer us a history that has not been museumized or curated by experts, a history that is non-static and continues to metamorphose daily, inexorably towards decay. It is precisely their fragmentary nature and lack of fixed meaning that renders these abandoned spaces deeply meaningful.