púca in the machine
three artists explore the more-than-human beneath poulaphuca reservoir, wicklow, 2021-22
february 17th-march 5th 2022
print,kinetic sculpture, painting, photography, electronics
niamh fahy (website), shane finan (website), alannah robins (website)
venue and collaborating partner:
blessington library, blessington, wicklow, ireland
Wicklow Arts Office Strategic Projects Award 2022.
About/contact the organiser
Niamh Fahy is an artist specialising in Print and photography , currently based in Bristol,
her practice explores ideas of transformation, connection and absence. Her work begins with a
physical connection to landscape and the embodied experience. Sensual and instinctive, her
visual language veils, interrupts, blurs and reveals layers of information from the landscapes
interior. She examines dichotomies of movement and stillness, silence and noise, harmony and
dissonance, alluding to the continuously changing cycles of landscape and deep time. She
reconsiders the connection between the solid and the fragmented, what is now separated was
once connected, what was once the deepest ocean now forms the highest peak.
“Terra firm becomes Terra Mobilis”
Shane Finan assembles things into art, including interactive
contemporary technologies, found objects and traditional
artistic media. His work is based in rural environments and
examines the role of contemporary technology on nonhuman and
Shane makes nothing alone and always collaborates, most
recently working with ecologists, sheep, fungi,
epidemiologists, artists, historians and bacteria. He
is coordinating this three-artist project, Púca in the Machine
"I believe that myth is truer than history. I believe that the
artistic process is visionary, that artistic investigations into
the nature of reality have the potential to prepare the way for
scientific discoveries. In the words of James Baldwin, ‘The
purpose of art is to lay bare the questions which have been
hidden by the answers.’
With this belief at the helm of my practice, I allow myself to
be immersed in my surroundings and to work intuitively.
Elements of my environment inevitably find their way into
my work, be they suburban cityscapes, tangled hedgerows,
children’s toys, or furniture and domestic objects.
What recurs with persistence is a reference to man’s
relationship to nature, an interrogation into how both
man and language are characterised by the landscape and
The project was initially exhibited at Blessington Library in February 2022 before touring to two other venues in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Blessington Library, Blessington, Co. Wicklow
February 17th-March 5th 2022
The launch at Blessington Library was a booked out event, where guests were treated to a talk by all three artists.
Some images from the exhibition are below.
Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre, Limavady, Co. Derry
Obctober 8th-November 5th 2022
The Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre staged a second leg of the exhibition later in 2022, with a talk on myth-ecology and technology by project organiser Shane Finan on November 5th.
For more information about this leg of the exhibition, follow this link to Roe Valley Arts.
Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow
November 12th 2022-January 7th 2023
A third and final date for the tour is in Wicklow's county art centre, the Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray. This third leg includes an artist talk and runs through into 2023.
For more information about this leg of the exhibition, follow this link to Mermaid Arts Centre.
Alannah Robins The Water Was The Sheriff (2022) [above]
Alannah Robins And Still They Run (2022) [below]
Niamh Fahy Edgeland (2022) [series title]
Shane Finan My Echo, My Shadow, and Me (2022)
poulaphuca and art
by shane finan
In the 1930s in west Wicklow, Ireland, the rivers in the area of
Poulaphuca were dammed and the valley flooded to create a new
hydroelectric power station. The 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, 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 (Weil, 1948). Writing mostly about France’s position
during World War II, her acute understanding of the social
connection to urban and rural place preceded the social geography
of the 1970s and 80s (Tuan 1978, de Certeau 1984), but it was at
this later stage that urban planners and philosophers began to
see the social and psychological impact of major changes to place
(Albrecht 2019). The voices of those evicted people at Poulaphuca
and the stories of those evictions have been recorded in numerous
histories, including in a large-format photographic publication
(Corlett 2002), a documentary film by Irish national broadcaster
RTÉ, and many other publications, events and documents.
Unrecorded voices from beneath the reservoir include nonhuman
and more-than-human presences in the valley. In undertaking
such a massive engineering project, homes of many critters
were inevitably destroyed. Rodents, birds, insects and
fungi were among those evicted. Farm animals, bacteria,
parasites and others accompanied humans to new places.
These evictions were uncompensated. Also among the
casualties were many trees that lined the walls of old
estates and roads, leaving haunting stumps that were soon
submerged, and that today have had the soil around their roots
eroded to create monstrous objects that I have chosen
to call Snámhaire, translated into “creeping things”.
In the 21st Century, we have begun to understand the importance of
complex ecological entanglements that affect human, environmental
and technological development (Haraway 2017). While technology and
human become more entangled, it is easy to forget the nonhuman that
is also affected (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017); however, these
critters have voices even if they are often unacknowledged or
misappropriated (Despret, 2017).
Local lore tells that the púca, a trickster character in Irish
mythology, lives in the form of a metre-long pike in the King’s
River, one of those that was flooded. The púca is mischievous,
occasionally malicious, and on a rare occasion helpful to travelers.
As a shapeshifting character of the “other realm”, the púca has
little material interest in the day-to-day lives of humans. Today,
the púca-as-pike’s area of roaming is the much larger expanse of
Blessington Lakes, and perhaps with the otherworldly nature of
electricity the púca can move further still through the wires
and cables of the generating station, out into the national grid.
We have no way of predicting what this free reign might cause,
or might have caused.
In 2022, we present Púca in The Machine, an exploratory
collaboration between three artists, coordinated 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). The three
artists have worked on new interpretations, creating artworks that
respond to the unique and unusual history, mythology and ecology of
the Poulaphuca Reservoir.
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, and 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.
Artworks will exhibit for the first time at Blessington Library,
opening on February 17th 2022 and running until March 5th 2022
before touring to other venues in Ireland.
The work has been supported by Wicklow Arts Office and Blessington Library.
A small project book
A book about this project was launched in Blessington Library on March 3rd 2022, and subsequently had a second print run in November 2022.
The entire book is embedded in PDF below.
giving free reign to mischief
written as part of a nature writing course with Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder delivered by Emergence Magazine, in 2020
They warned the residents in the valley. Even with the warning, some
refused to leave. There is a story of a man who barricaded himself
into his one-room cottage, threatening and insulting the state
workers who came to offer help moving him on. He had seen generations
grow old in those buildings. The water had risen to his ankles
before he was finally, forcibly removed.
They were given new homes. Modern buildings that had conveniences
never dreamed of in the valley. Even so, a sense of place is hard
to detach, and these people knew nothing else. To lose your home,
even when offered one that appears better, is to suffer grief.
The houses had to be taken down, stone by stone, and dethatched,
to protect the bottom of future boats on the future lake. The trees,
too, were a risk, with their high branches a perceived danger to
workers who will come onto the water. They were cut straight, every
single one, the valley soon becoming a graveyard with trunk stumps
marking the demise of themselves. They had no warning, but perhaps
this was better than suffocating, drowning under the slowly filling
water. We cannot ask them now.
People playing god created the rain, the waves, the lakes. Nearby,
electrical lights blinked on for the first time. Progress and
comfort, and a valley immersed.
The other residents had no warning. The nests above had at least
been suddenly moved on – no choice there! Time to go! But for the
soil and surface dwellers: the mice, the rabbits, the spiders,
the hares, the badgers, the beetles, the foxes; the floods come
as a trickle. Steady. They sought out higher ground, taking with
them only what they could carry.
In other places, across the sea, a human-made war raged. The other
residents had no choice in that either, suddenly expunged by bombs
dropped, suffocated by DMT clouds, or crushed under rolling wheels.
Countless white crosses in mute witness stand: one for every ten
Today, countless calcified stumps stand on tiptoes of roots, the
soil eroded away around the tentacles, hard as rock and embedded
deep in the shale. In times of drought they emerge, one by one,
as a reminder. The graveyard surfaces. First the stumps, then the
stone walls and roads. The memories don’t stay buried.
But the sets and burrows are long since filled by swirling waves.
Sandy soil filling every crevice. Their homes reveal no
archaeological record. Maybe somewhere, when the lake floor
reappears, in symbols we don’t recognise, we can memorialise
them. A patch of grass that is a touch too green. A swirl of
sand that moves anti-clockwise. And there, to the trained eye, we
can remember the spirit that once lived under the soil.
Flooded too are the legends. Drowned. But the púca can move freely
now where it couldn’t before. Once confined to the river in the
body of a pike, now it can swim to and fro in the valley. It can
tap into the power supply at the dam – a mischief that spreads
with progress. And who are we to stop it?
Progress, progress, comes at a cost. But was it ever measured?