Cliona Harmey, Vanessa Daws and Dan Shipsides have each been commissioned to produce a new moving image work for port | river | city. As an artist, Cliona Harmey has often explored the meeting points between technological histories and communication infrastructures and in 2015 she made ‘Dublin Ships’, a temporary public artwork through which the names of the most recently arrived and departed ships from Dublin Port were screened onto two large screens sited at the Scherzer Bridges beside the Samuel Beckett bridge. Cliona’s new work will stream live footage from the interior of Poolbeg Lighthouse, offering the public the chance, for a limited time, to experience an expansive view of Dublin and its coast that is ordinarily out of reach. This moving image work also lays bare the sophisticated technology of lighthouse mechanisms and foregrounds the network of which they form part, a precursor to the systems integral to more contemporary internet technologies.
Vanessa Daws’ art practice explores place through swimming and for port | river | city, she has created a new multi-screen Liffey-based work which will be back-projected onto the street-level windows of the Dublin Docklands Dublin City Council building on Custom House Quay. Daws’ work captures the experience of being in water, and what this does to our perception of land. From this vantage point, the camera has a tendency to distort – hefty structures and some Dublin monuments sit at implausible angles, precarious and unstable above the blurred water in great motion underneath.
Like Vanessa Daws, artist Dan Shipsides is interested in augmenting or distorting the visual and in exploring the encounter between artistic endeavour and unusual or inhospitable space. Adopting an experimental approach to developing material for his new moving image work Three points down to Zero, Dan undertook an experiential journey, hauling, dragging and shunting a cart around Dublin and spending time camping overnight in three different locations around the city. In each location, he installed a large temporary star sculpture as a kind of provisional waymark, or, as he says, a distraction. The locations Dan occupied, which descend from the highest to the lowest point in Co. Dublin might be initially thought of as points within a triangulation but this linear conceit soon collapses against the granularity of each location and the subsequent tangential musings drawn from the experience and through the editing process.
Another core feature of port | river | city is Dan Shipsides’ mobile T5 Field Cinema. Designed to bring artist and experimental moving image works to remote locations, this mobile cinema uses a converted T5 generation VW van to screen works selected to respond to or inform the environment in which they are shown. T5 will pull up to three different locations on three dates over the course of the project to screen three custom-made programmes – including Dan’s own new film work – hopefully drawing attention from an audience made up of both the curious onlooker and the avid spectator.
The interplay between content and situation is also integral to artist and architect Fiona McDonald’s ‘Image Projection Support Structure’, commissioned and built especially for port | river | city and which will be located at the end of the Great South Wall right at the bottom of Poolbeg Lighthouse and which will screen Pat Collins and Sharon Whooley’s Fathom (2013), a non-narrative, meditative film on isolation and thinking, framed by the Fastnet Lighthouse off the south-west coast of Ireland.
From here, the project moves indoors to the Irish Film Institute on Eustace Street, where Moira Sweeney will present a premiere screening of Keepers of the Port, a single screen version of a work she previously exhibited as a site-specific multi-screen installation. As the film moves through discrete yet interconnected hubs of Dublin dockland activity, the filmmaker narrates her reflections on the evolving picture of a rapidly changing port life. This screening will be preceded by a programme of three 16mm films by Peter Hutton, a seminal figure of American experimental cinema who died in June of last year and who was greatly influenced by the time he spent working in the merchant marine. Rarely if ever screened in Ireland before, Peter Hutton’s work resonates strongly with the concerns articulated in Keepers of the Port and this programme of his films includes the extraordinary Time and Tide (2000), a complex study of the relationship between man and sea, nature and industry, combining archive material with footage shot by Hutton aboard various vessels moving slowly through American rivers and ports.
port | river | city concludes at the end of September with a day-long event which includes a screening of William Raban’s Thames Film (1986) with the filmmaker in attendance. Narrated by John Hurt, Thames Film combines archive footage and still photography with Brueghel the Elder’s ‘Triumph of Death’ and T.S. Eliot’s reading of his own ‘Four Quartets’. As Raban describes, ‘By filming from the low freeboard of a small boat, the film attempts to capture the point of view of the river itself, tracing the 50 mile journey from the heart of London to the open sea.’ This screening will follow on from discussions and presentations on themes and ideas that arise elsewhere in the project, allowing time for open, honest and shared reflection on port | river | city as a whole.
Realising a project like this is always a process of discovery and the hope is that this will translate for audiences who encounter the works that comprise port | river | city in any number of ways. Better still if the project can elicit a process of rediscovery that will reveal new or hidden aspects of Dublin and its port. While we are particularly excited at the prospect of new works, we are equally looking forward to giving some older works – such as P.V. Garrett’s 1964 film about the construction of the Kish Lighthouse in Dun Laoghaire – an entirely new life. In every case, the artist and filmmakers involved seek to make visible attributes of Dublin or other port cities that are so often taken for granted or overlooked entirely. These blind spots are evocatively discussed by Gabriel Gee in his text for this publication and also addressed by Alice Lyons in ‘By Grand Canal Dock’, a poem from 2008 that she has reworked especially for this project. This idea of a productive process that is never fully complete is entirely apt for port | river | city which we hope will continue to reveal new tributaries and openings long after the screenings conclude. In the meantime we are deeply grateful and indebted to all who have participated in realising this project.