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Corrib Gas row the subject of show in Tulca Festival of Art

The Connacht Tribune

Putting a human face on people who have been dragged through the media was among the reasons why one of Ireland’s top young artists, Seamus Nolan decided to tackle the controversy surrounding the Corrib Gas project in Mayo.

His video, Oral Hearing re-enacts the final session of the Bord Pleanála oral hearings about the laying of controversial high pressure pipes in North Mayo to bring gas onshore from the Corrib Gas Field. This work is being shown as part of this year’s Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, which is currently running in the city.

In Oral Hearing, Seamus presents the words and opinions of local people including teachers, farmers and retired citizens who opposed the Corrib Gas project, as planned by oil and gas company, Shell.

These people based their arguments on potential health risks as well as for ideological reasons. For the video, actor Seamus Moran (ex Fair City) re-enacts the role of An Bord Pleanála Inspector Martin Nolan, and Donal O Kelly plays the part of Shell Lawyer Mr Esmond Keane.

Oral Hearing covers the final two days of the 2009 hearing when objectors made final submissions that summed up their concerns about the pipeline, explains Kilkenny-born Seamus, who graduated from the National College of Art and Design with a first class honours degree in sculpture in 2004.

He was deeply impressed by “the information and expertise these people had gathered about their environment and own place and their knowledge of the judicial and democratic process”. But they were sidelined and Oral Hearing, which was produced by Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, explores how the local had become marginal.

“No matter how much knowledge or information people had gathered, it was secondary to a homogeneous globalised model of how things work,” Seamus feels.

“These people were making arguments against professional people, such as Shell engineers, based on local knowledge. The arguments being put forward were precise and accurate and very revealing in what’s spoken about and the process and format.”

His approach is not necessarily about having sympathy for the opponents of the pipeline, he says – it’s about exploring what is happening.

“It’s important as an artist to try and figure out what’s going on around you and how your own concerns can have an effect on your environment. . . . to challenge the limits that you have.”

Ultimately, for him the oral hearings were “an interesting space where culture was being discussed and our attitudes and the idea of civil rights”. And the whole process raised a lot of issues.

“There are very legitimate arguments on both sides. The State wants what it calls ‘a gateway to sustainability’ and that’s a good idea, but how it’s being brought into place and the basis it’s agreed on, is not good.

“The State is facilitating private interest ahead of public interest but it’s giving it the name of public interest.”

For his reconstruction of the oral planning hearing into the Corrib pipeline, he used the local community centre where 60 people came in. All of them listened through the re-enactment and some took part in the process.

Seamus, who is currently Artist in Residence with the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and who has been chosen to represent Ireland at the 2011 Europalia Arts Festival in Brussels, doesn’t always use film as a medium for his work.

Posted Date: 
19 November 2011