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Púca in The Machine exhibit coming to Bray

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Púca in The Machine, exhibition at the Mermaid Gallery, Bray from November 12.

Púca in The Machine, exhibition at the Mermaid Gallery, Bray from November 12.

R639 Scenic Views: Poulaphouca Lake near Blessington. No date (February 1954?) (Part of the NPA/Independent Collection)

R639 Scenic Views: Poulaphouca Lake near Blessington. No date (February 1954?) (Part of the NPA/Independent Collection)

R1002 View of Poulaphouca Lake with the snow capped Wicklow Mountains in the background. March 1955. (Part of the NPA/Independent Collection)

R1002 View of Poulaphouca Lake with the snow capped Wicklow Mountains in the background. March 1955. (Part of the NPA/Independent Collection)

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Púca in The Machine, exhibition at the Mermaid Gallery, Bray from November 12.

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Wicklow’s famous Poulaphouca reservoir is the subject of an interesting art exhibition coming to the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray in November.

The Wicklow Arts Office-funded exhibition Púca in the Machine first opened at the nearby Blessington Library in February and has now begun touring, with Bray its next stop. The works will be on show there from November 12 to January 7 and admission to view them is free for the duration.

Reasearch in to the project began late last year with three artists led by local man Shane Finan keen to examine the myths and legends that surround the famous west Wicklow site.

Shane Finan said: “We wanted to look beyond the well known and obvious stories like the eviction stories and dig a little deeper in to the mysteries of the area.”

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In the 1930s in west Wicklow, the rivers around the Poulaphuca Valley were dammed and the valley flooded to facilitate a new hydroelectric power station. The human residents of the valley were evicted prior to the flooding and given compensation that the state calculated as more than reasonable. Yet the displacement caused more than monetary suffering.

Writing around the same time as the valley was being submerged, French philosopher Simone Weil recognised how uprooting people en masse can have dangerous and long-lasting repercussions, especially where a long-term rootedness had been established and where removal is forced.

The power station at Poulaphouca, which is still in operation today, at the time represented a major engineering project in the young Irish Free State’s history.

Responding to this traumatic event, Púca in The Machine is an exploratory collaboration between three artists, coordinated and curated by Shane Finan. The artists are Alannah Robins (mixed media, Interface Inagh, Galway, Ireland), Niamh Fahy (print and photography, University of the West of England, Bristol) and Finan (interactive digital media, Valleymount, Co Wicklow).

The three have worked on new interpretations, creating artworks that respond to the unique and unusual history, mythology and ecology of the Poulaphuca Reservoir, first exhibited at Blessington Library in February 2022.

Using mixed media including electronics, lights, print kinetic sculpture and paper, the works evoke the unknown deeps of this this man-made like and its borders, where remnants of its past emerge and disappear as it fills and drains.

Fahy’s responses have explored the edges and borders of the lake, where the shore meets the water and what this boundary suggests.

The boundary is, of course, manufactured, but real enough to create two spaces of existence. This is what Alannah Robins has created work in response to, seeing the submerged space as a past, present and future narrative of nonhuman life. Finan’s work straddles these ideas, drawing from myth and many walks on the lake shore observing the colours, forms and lives that exist in and around it.

Shane Finan said: “The main goal of doing this was to try to recontextualise a well known story of the famous resevoir. We hope people feel there are other stories to be told and they will seek those out. We hope visitors to the exhibition in the Mermaid will come in with a sense of knowing what they think or expect it to be, but go away thinking stories can be told in a lot of different ways.”


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