In the 1930s in west Wicklow, Ireland, the rivers around County Wicklow’s Poulaphuca Valley were dammed and the valley flooded to facilitate a new hydroelectric power station. This station, still in operation today, represented a major engineering project in the young Irish Free State.
The human residents of the valley were evicted prior to the flooding and given compensation that the state calculated as more than reasonable. Yet displacement causes more than monetary suffering and any uprooting of lives can have long-term emotional and social consequences. 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.
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 video, print and paper, the works evoke the unknow 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.