Dan Dubowitz & Fearghus O’Conchuir at Martello Tower, Skerries
Public art commission by Fingal County Council
00 Outlaws-of-History-Skerries2009

The Martello tower at Skerries, all of the dozen on the Dublin coast in fact, are remarkable buildings: highly idiosyncratic now, and quickly anachronistic even when they were built first  in the nineteenth century.
The collaboration between Dubowitz and O’Conchuir – visual artist and dancer/ choreographer – over the last two years departed from this initial curiosity. The resultant work manifests in the Skerries tower as a 12 screen video installation, to be regarded from a single point of view on a platform built for visitors. Each screen shows a single slow panning shot from the canon position in each of the twelve towers, coolly surveying the remains of each tower’s interior architecture and the view beyond, from chic inhabitation to rugged folly. Ah, Portmarnock golf course, says a visitor at my shoulder.
Within this structural grammar there is enormous variety and openness to chance within and across the series. The canon-eye of the camera seems cool and objective, its pan motorized and removed from the touch of the cameraman, but it catches intimate moments that have been choreographed (at least partly) for its benefit. A different individual is active in each tower: an older woman describing her memories of the place; a young boy and a young girl (Dubowitz’s children); an older man sending Morse code signals; a female dancer; a male dancer (O’Conchuir himself). They each carry on their business uninterrupted, sometimes within view of the camera and sometimes not.
The modesty of O’Conchuir’s interventions and movements in front of the camera (in front of the camera rather than for it) is striking. The sometimes obscurely expressive language of contemporary dance has been translated into an unusual but relatively banal context on the tower tops: the movements of the two contemporary dancers’ bodies seem simply like equal but different articulations to the other bodies on the towers who are speaking, playing, thinking, tinkering with obsolete communication technologies.
The sense of partiality, of the impossibility of a total viewing experience, is reinforced by both the duration of the piece (53 minutes) and it’s visual layout, as the screens can’t all be seen at once. Despite all the slick technology though there is the odd glitch (water droplets on the lens here, a HD render blip there. It’s unclear too if the decision not to align the horizon lines across the twelve pieces was deliberate or enforced). The installation in the tower has the obvious function of opening the space to the public and encouraging a discussion about its future and its potential; there has been great interest and involvement from both visitors and local residents, particularly the heritage group. Downstairs there is a space where visitors can leave comments and suggestions for its future use, and it seems that from this forum the towers may be addressed seriously as a third level architectural research project.
Clearly it is a coup for Fingal to pull off such a logistically and technically demanding public art project, that has fostered a collaboration across artforms that has not happened in Ireland before – it sets another ambitious precedent for the quality of work that is possible from public art projects, and also for the kind of work that ‘the public’ may be expected to enthuse and welcome. As rich as these discussions are, it would be challenging now too to separate the work from its immediate site of production and see it displayed in a more conventional black box/ white cube context, and see what discussions could arise there.
Public Art Online profile
Irish Times review by Michael Seaver
Bodies and Buildings, Fearghus O’Conchuir’s blog
Civic Works, Dan Dubowitz’s website [image]
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